Wednesday, April 22, 2009

a tomatillo sauce

to me, the making of mexican food is daunting, and i really don't know why. perhaps it's because in the back of my mind i know that if i want good, quick, cheap food, i can run up to the El Azteca on the corner of Haynes Bridge and Old Alabama, where they'll also serve me a yummy margarita on the rocks with salt the size of my head. But how "authentic" is that chain, really?

One time a few years ago i spent all afternoon attempting to make empanadas from a recipe i found on the innernets. they weren't very good; the dough was tough, the filling not as flavorful as it could have been. the following week the boy raved about the empanadas that his dishwasher at work made (his dishwasher was mexican and used a family recipe). i wonder if this is what it's like for someone who embarks on cooking french food without prior familiarity with it. i feel almost lost.

i bought a copy of Rick Bayless' book Authentic Mexican sometime last year, and i've barely cracked it open. i kind of feel as though i have to attempt all the variations of salsas and sauces before i can really get into it and make something more substantial. but so far, the only one i've made from the book is a tomatillo guacamole that is so good that i keep going back to it repeatedly because i love it so.

i love the chunkiness of it, the bite of onion and cilantro, the heat of the pepper, the soothing addition of avocado. i love it all and i want to marry it. it lends itself particularly well to tacos made with grilled flaky white fish. the picture below shows it smeared on pieces of pan-seared grouper and mixed greens; i had two of these for lunch one day last week.

tomatillo sauce (guacamole with tomatillos) adapted from Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican

makes around 2 cups

5 or 6 medium fresh tomatillos, husked and washed (must wash them... the husk gives off a sticky substance, or maybe it's pesticides, who knows)
1 jalapeno, deseeded and roughly chopped
leaves from a few sprigs of cilantro ( 5 to 6 - i like the flavor - and you can use the stems themselves, one of the only herbs where you can do so)
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado
salt to taste

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt liberally. toss in the tomatillos and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and place in food processor. You can use a blender in case you don't have a food processor.

2. add the jalapeno, cilantro, onion to the tomatillos and blitz into a coarse puree.

3. cut the avocado in half and scoop out each half into a large bowl. mash avocado with a fork, add the tomatillo puree, and stir to mix. add salt to taste. cover with plastic wrap, pressing it to the surface of the salsa. refrigerate if you want to, but i like it right then at room temperature.

4. if you prefer a smoother puree, you can toss the whole thing back in the food processor and blitz even further, but i'm a big fan of the chunky texture of this.

lends itself really well to a flaky fish taco.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

did you think I was kidding about having fries for Easter?

because i wasn't kidding!

were they worth the wait? oh you bet.

we were in the Raleigh area visiting the boy's sister and her family over Easter weekend. i thought they would think i was nuts for wanting fries as part of our Easter dinner, but they played along with my game. anyway, they didn't complain once they tasted them.

cooking good fries (good = the way i like them) means three things:

first, a long soak in water.
second, a long cook in low temperature oil.
third, a quick fry in hot oil, topped by copious amounts of kosher salt.

you can use the special blades that come along with your mandoline to cut the potatoes into matchstick form, or you can easily do this with a knife. i prefer my fries to be on the somewhat skinny side, but cut yours into however thickness you'd like.

i'm very bad at gauging how many potatoes to use per person. if you pick larger sized Yukon, you will be surprised by how many fries one potato can yield. i peel and cut one potato at a time, that way i don't end up with too many fries, although it's a good thing that potatoes are cheap and that people love fries because they usually all end up being eaten.

you'll need:

Yukon gold potatoes
a good amount of peanut or canola oil
kosher salt

1. fill a bowl with cold water and set to the side. cut the potatoes into the size of fry you like best, and add these to the cold water. let fries sit in the cold water for a good long time. do this several hours ahead of time.

2. when ready to start cooking, preheat your oil in deep fryer or large heavy bottomed pot (like a cast iron Le Creuset type) to 280 degrees F.

3. drain the potatoes and pat dry with paper towels. fry in small batches for around 6 minutes until the fries become opaque whitish. dump each batch out onto a cookie sheet, and try to spread them out a bit so that they dont all pile up together. repeat with the rest of the potatoes.

4. when done with all the potatoes, turn the oil up to 375 degrees F. frying in small batches and starting with the first (oldest) ones, cook for about 3 minutes until golden brown. immediately dump the fries into a paper towel lined bowl and shake them around with the paper towels to blot some of the oil. dust liberally with salt. cover with another paper towel while you finish frying the remaining potatoes, if you can manage to not eat them all while waiting, that is. i immediately dug in, seeing as i'd not had any since Mardi Gras, and let me tell you that they were the best fries i've ever had.

they take a while to make from start to finish, but they are well worth it.

we served these along with other sides, like sauteed broccolini, brussel sprouts with bacon, gratin dauphinois (who said too many potatoes are a bad thing?), and a ham.

ah, the ham was a glorious thing. we bought a spiral sliced pre-cooked one and made our own glaze. the boy ususally throws out the packet of "glaze" which comes with hams and makes his own, recipe based on the one that the HoneyBaked Ham© people make. you can Google "honeybaked ham glaze" and find all kinds of variations of it. the one we use is:

1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon paprika
pinch ground ginger
pinch ground allspice

1. mix all these in a bowl and set aside until ready to use.

2. place the ham on top of tin foil lined countertop. dump the glaze ingredients into a sieve and slowly coat the ham while blowtorching a nice caramely sheen onto it. place ham in roasting pan and cook according to the directions that came with it.

by "blowtorch" i dont mean one of those dinky creme brulée jobs that one can buy at Williams-Sonoma for an arm and a leg. what, you don't have a blowtorch? why the hell not? they are fantastic to have around. you can get one for cheap at Home Depot. you never know when you need one handy, and they're great for fighting off intruders as well.

and you think i'm kidding.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

i'd like to apologize for being human.

As my husband often says to no one in particular while watching CNN, “Stop your infernal whining”, so I’m going to go ahead and do that.

I do want to thank everyone who sent a kind note, and to those who sent a kind note and questioned whether I was going to hurl myself into I-285 traffic, no I won’t do that. March really sucked, but we now have April, and April better be good or else... or else what? Hmm. Something to ponder over my next martini while soaking in the bathtub.

So I went to the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago, as one of my dearest cousins is expecting twins and was having her baby shower. I rarely hang out with my family, and before I get a barrage of email telling me what a horrible child I am for neglecting my folks, let me tell you why: my mother is crazy. This is no news to my friends, especially those who have met her; and if you’ve read back through some of my posts from years past, you’ll understand why. The woman makes me crazy. exhibit A:

Mom:Tu sais, when you’re only 5 foot 2, you really need to watch your weight. You cannot be all big and fat and overweight like you are. Have you seen the size of your behind?”

Me: “I’m not 5 foot 2, I’m 5 foot 4”.

Mom: (shocked) “Since when?”

Me: “hmm, at least for the last twenty five years? where have you been?”

Mom: “No you are not. You are the same as me, 5 foot 2.”

Me: “Okay, stand up and I’ll prove it”.

Mom: “No. I will not. You are 5 foot 2. Tu m’ennuies”. (waves me away).

this was one of the tamer conversations. after 5 days of escalating non-stop negativity, i nearly hurled myself off the Golden Gate Bridge. good thing they sell booze on airplanes. and incidentally, did you know that the price per adult beverage in coach on Delta is now $7? first they make you pay to check a bag, now 7 bucks to get your drink on. argh. end rant.

I did manage to go skiing up in Truckee for one day. The weather was glorious. I haven’t skied in 10 years, and I’m happy to say that yes, it is very much like riding a bike. After a few runs, we stopped for a slope-side beer; and post-beer skiing was much more fun. No fear! No fear means swooshing straight down the mountain. Also, there’s a neat little brew pub in Truckee called the Fifty Fifty, and there I enjoyed a nice pale ale along with a pulled pork sandwich, and substituted a salad for the fries.

How am I doing with the lack of french fries, you ask? Very well, thank you. Although I will admit that there were a few instances that week in California when I really nearly caved and headed for the nearest McDonald's. When one is under stress, one craves comfort food. My comfort food is mashed potatoes, but fries will always do. however, I didn’t have a single fry (or mashed potato, for that matter). The night before I left, the boy and I went to our favorite brew pub here in Alpharetta, 5 Seasons, where the boy indulged himself in fries and allowed me to smell them. it’s a little game we like to play, you see. Call me a masochist; so be it. I know that come Easter, that pile of fries with side of ham will be the best thing I’ve ever had and I am looking forward to it like the coming of the Messiah (no pun intended).

So in order to get over my infernal whining this past month, I did a couple of things that do lead me to question my own sanity. Namely, I woke up one morning and signed up for the Peachtree Road Race. From couch to 10 K in 3 months? Totally doable, don’t you think? Ye Gods, I must be crazy. In order to prepare for said race, I’m running in the Sweetwater 420 Fest 5 K, which is in a little over two weeks, with Patty and one of her brothers. Totally doable? I guess. yesterday i ran a half mile through my neighborhood before i nearly passed out from all the pollen in the air, so who knows if i'll even make it to the finish line.

While I was visiting with the folks, I rarely had any alone time; so I was really glad that I packed my nikes as I went for a few really gorgeous runs early in the morning. I ran along Bridgeway in Sausalito; and the view was so breathtaking, the fog rolling in at breakneck speed was so peaceful that it almost made the trip out West worthwhile just for that alone. I took a few pics with my crackberry, which is why the quality isn’t so great on these, but I swear there were times when the clouds would part and I would look up as if waiting for a sign of some sort. It was just that surreal.

but no sign came from above.

ah, April. as Tina Turner once sang, you better be good to me.