Steamed Egg Bliss

I read about steamed eggs and got curious.  One recipe was for blending eggs and a little water, putting then mix in a small pan, covering it and placing the pan in a larger one and steaming it in the oven.  The result was a fluffy, puffy egg that, because of the size of the pan, was just the right size for sandwich.  Interesting, but I haven’t tried it yet.

What I did try was cooking eggs in a steamer basket over a half inch of water.  Add water to a sauce pan, place eggs in a steamer basket, bring water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pan and steam for about seven minutes.  Remove the eggs to an ice water bath. When cool enough to handle, peel them.  The result is tender white and a silky smooth  yolk.  I discovered that it takes practice.

The first time I steamed eggs, the ones I was peeling remained in the ice bath.  As the eggs cooled off, the membrane around the white glued the shell and white together making it almost impossible to peel the egg without tearing chunks out of the white.  I was really disappointed by this.  The eggs were delicious, but ugly.  And the ones that had stayed the longest in the ice bath were really chilled through.  This was not what I had hoped for.

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Egg whites torn in peeling are lot the look I’d hoped for.

It was time to get busy in the Gringo Gourmet Academy Test Kitchen and figure out how to make this work. The taste is so good! I wanted the appearance to be just as good.

A couple of days later, I wanted an egg garnish on avocado toasts, so I made hard boiled eggs.  Again, I put the cooked eggs in an ice bath to prevent the gray ring around the yolk that sometimes happens.  Again, the eggs were hard to peel after the ice bath.  I tried a YouTube video inspired peeling method that worked pretty well. It was very entertaining.  Chip away some peel at both ends of the egg, place it to you lips and blow very hard. The boiled egg pops out of the shell into your hand.  It was fun to do this with a couple of eggs but I think it is a technique I will save for Easter eggs after the hunt. The  youngsters will get a kick out of watching and trying it.

This morning, a Sunday, I gave it another go.  I steamed the eggs, and this time plunged them in the ice bath and immediately took them out.  They were much easier to peel while still a little warm. As they cooled, it became a little more challenging.  I tried blowing one. The soft white and yolk didn’t stand up to the blow and I had to clean up the countertop and backsplash.  I did have to laugh about it.  I served the virtually empty and deflated egg white to a friend and told him it was a low cholesterol egg since he takes a cholesterol medication.

My last peeling attempt was to crack the shell on the side and remove enough to allow me to slip a soupspoon between the egg and shell.  Carefully I worked the spoon around the egg and was able to remove it easily and neatly.  A little of that adhesive membrane remained on the shell, but none was on the egg. I was greatly relieved that I had smooth eggs to plate this morning.

While the eggs were  steaming and peeling was going on, I cooked a few strips of thick-sliced bacon and placed them on paper towels to drain.  After removing most of the bacon drippings, I sautéed some chopped onion and coins of tiny fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes were a mix of blue, red skinned and white skinned potatoes.  I had used most of the white skinned ones the first time I steamed the eggs.  This time, I had more blue and red potatoes than white, so the presentation potatoes were dark.  I removed the potatoes from the pan and dumped in the remains of a box of mixed spinach and arugula leaves to add a little flavor and color to the plate. A slice of multigrain toast was included to sop up the silky egg yolk.

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What a difference a smooth white makes on the plate over a pitted one!
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Sunday breakfast bliss. Steamed eggs on wilted greens, bacon, sautéed fingerling potato coins and toast to soak up silky egg white.

 

Crepes – Sweet and Savory, What’s Not to Love?

Sunday morning, I needed to use some macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries that were waiting in the fridge. Rather than top a bowl of cereal with them, I decided to make crepes.

Crepes sound difficult but are only as hard to make as you want them to be. I use a very simple recipe that works with minimal hassle.

After enjoying the berry crepes for breakfast, I still had about half a recipe of batter left. A fond memory of a crepes treat years ago inspired me to experiment.

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Strawberry and Blueberry crepes in a strawberry yogurt sauce.

Back in the 1980s, the Hotel Paso del Norte was renovated and expanded into an El Paso showplace replete with a Tiffany glass dome over what had been the lobby and now is a bar. After the renovation, the historic Trost designed hotel became the Westin Paso del Norte*. I had the pleasure of organizing a number of functions there for the then Texas Tech Regional Academic Health Center at El Paso.

I was invited to a Chef’s Table, a private dining area off the kitchen of the hotel where guests enjoyed an elegant meal with then Chef Paul Bellegarde. We dined on blue corn crepes filled with quail in an exquisite sauce. I was naïve enough to ask Chef Paul for the recipe. He pulled an old chef trick on me. He gave me the list of ingredients, but no quantities and told me to figure that out for myself.

I made the blue corn crepes a few times and filled them with chicken in an herby sauce; they were quite passable. I have never tried to cook quail and don’t really know if I could find them in El Paso. I know there are some in a flood control basin near my house, but I am not a hunter, especially within the city limits.

As I thought about what to do with my leftover batter, I thought about Chef Paul and the many great meals of his I enjoyed. He later served as chef de cuisine for the Hospitals of Providence and for the University Medical Center here in El Paso.

As I worked out what might be a good thing to do with my batter, I decided on savory crepes with a chicken and green chile filling and sauce. I used measurements equivalent to half the original crepe batter and substituted corn meal and mesquite flour for the white flour. Mesquite flour has a nutty/sweet flavor and made a good tasting batter. The corn meal added a little texture and helped hold the batter together. I combined the left over batter and my amended version. That gave me six good-sized crepes and one not so good that became my test taste and reward for all the work. I felt I was on the right track .

It was still morning, so I made my crepes, let them cool, layered them between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerated them until evening.

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Crepe cooking in a shallow skillet.
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A finished crepe.

For my sauce, I sauted onion and garlic, added low sodium chicken broth and then boiled two chicken thighs and about ¾ lb of chicken breast to make an enhanced broth. I skinned the thighs and removed the bones, but boiled the bones in the broth. By the way, this was done without a recipe, but I am giving you the ingredients!

When the chicken was done, I removed the meat to a platter cool a little and strained the savories and bones from the broth. I removed the thighbones and celery pieces and scraped the onion and garlic bits back into the broth. When the chicken was cool enough to handle I cut it into about a 3/8 inch dice, covered it and set it aside. I also diced a few roasted and peeled and green chiles. For garnish and kick, I brushed oil on a couple of jalapenos and lightly charred them on the grate of a gas range burner.

As dinnertime neared, I made a roux using equal parts butter and flour. As the roux thickened and lost its raw taste, I began to add small amounts of the broth and stirred like crazy with a small beater to make a smooth sauce. When the sauce was simmering and of a good thickness, I added the diced chicken and chopped chile and brought it up to temp. I didn’t want the roux and sauce to be too dark in color because mesquite flours cooks dark by itself.

I warmed my crepes in a pan and filled them with chicken and chile removed from the broth with a slotted spoon so they wouldn’t be too soggy. I wanted to tuck the sides and ends of the crepes to make a nice package on the plate. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It is a skill I’ll have to work on another day.

On the plate, I drizzled a bit of sauce over the crepes, sprinkled chopped cilantro and pickled red onions on top and served them with a simple salad.

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Cornmeal and Mesquite Chicken and Green Chile Crepes. A flame roasted jalapeño adds a little kick.

I was very pleased with the texture of the crepes with the corn meal. It added a very subtle rich undertone to the dish. The mesquite flour made the crepes a little darker than they might have been otherwise. There was no sugar in the original recipe. The mesquite made the crepes a little sweet that balanced the rich chicken sauce. I had been worried about the sweetness, but it was just right.

Below are the original recipe for the crepes and the half-recipe with corn meal and mesquite flower I developed. If you choose to try this recipe, you could use all corn meal – white, yellow or blue, and it would work. If you want mesquite, get food grade meal from a reputable source.

I made the half recipe because I had what looked like half a recipe of left over batter to begin with. You could halve the original recipe or double the corn meal and mesquite version.

SIMPLE CREPES

INGREDIENTS

1 Cup flour

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

1 tsp vegetable oil

¼ tsp salt

METHOD

Combine flour, milk, eggs and oil. Add salt.

Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet; remove from heat. Spoon in 2 Tbsp. batter; lift and tilt skillet to spread the batter evenly. Return to heat and brown on one side only. Carefully using a spatula, release the edges of the crepe from the pan. Peek under the edge to check doneness. Your batter and subsequent crepe are very thin, so you don’t need to brown both sides. To remove, invert pan over paper toweling.

Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with your favorite filling.

Note: You may add a Tbsp sugar to the batter if you are making sweet filled crepes.

HALF RECIPE CORN MEAL MESQUITE CREPES

INGREDIENTS

¼ Cup plus one Tbsp corn meal

2 Tbsp mesquite flour or meal

¾ Cup milk

1 egg

½ tsp vegetable oil

dash of salt

METHOD

Combine corn meal, mesquite flour, milk, egg and oil. Add salt.

Heat a lightly greased 8 inch skilled; remove from heat. Spoon in ¼ Cup batter. Lift and tilt skillet to spread evenly. Return to heat and brown lightly. This crepe will be a little bit thicker than the simple crepe above. Loosen the edge of the crepe all around and peek under the edge to check for doneness. The surface should be honey colored. Carefully take the edge of the crepe between the thumb and forefinger of each hand and turn it over. After a minute or so, that wide will be done. It will have spots of color and not be an even brown like the first side. Slide the finished crepe out of the pan onto a waiting plate.

Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with a savory filling.

CHICKEN AND GREEN CHILE CREPE FILLING

INGREDIENTS list

Chopped onion

Minced garlic

Celery

Chicken broth

Chicken thighs, skinned and boned, but use the bones in your broth

Seeded and chopped long green chiles

Butter and flour for a roux

 METHOD

Re-read the description above and cook the filling and sauce, or as Chef Paul instructed me, go figure it out and make it!

PICKLED RED ONION

I like pickled red onion as a garnish on dishes with green chile. I slice onion strings using a hand held mandoline (a chef’s knife works, too). I put a generous half cute of the onion strings in a glass measuring cup and cover them with white vinegar. I microwave them for a minute to a minute and a half and let them cool until needed. They become a very tasty garnish.

*A few years ago the Mexican Camino Real hotel chair acquired the Paso del Norte and operated it. Sadly, it has declined considerably. The property has been acquired by and El Paso group who, this month, announced their intent to restore the hotel to its former glory and make it a showplace convention hotel. The city has given them 10 years of tax rebates to encourage the project. Let’s hope it becomes a star in downtown again.

 

Does a Club Newsletter Item Count as Being Published?

Cactus, Chorizo and Eggs

I’ve been a member of the 70+ year old El Paso Cactus and Rock Club for at least ten years. Some time ago, we hosted the club meeting to show off the work we had done on our back yard, including cactus landscaping and a brick patio. I remembered I had a Prickly Pear Cookbook on the shelf and decided it would be fun to do a cactus oriented luncheon. Every dish included prickly pear cactus in it in some form or another.

When the club started an annual public program for Cactus Appreciation Month, I was invited to do cactus cooking demonstrations. My cooking style is cactus  dishes that are more modern than traditional. I have some cookbooks from authors in Arizona who make very exciting dishes featuring prickly pear pads and fruits and flower buds from cholla cactus and many more foods from native plants. I’ve learned from them and have created a few recipes of my own. I say this way of cooking is “estilo Gringo” – Gringo style.

I am happy to say I’ve developed a reputation and have done demonstrations and classes in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I have become the Gringo Gourmet  My daughter built the Gringo Gourmet blog site for me for Christmas in 2013. I enjoy writing the blog and shooting the food photos. I even get some reader hits on the site! Of course it doesn’t hurt that I post food pix on FaceBook with a link to the blog.

This long winded introduction leads to my being asked to provide a recipe and photo(s) for the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club quarterly news letter. I try to come up with something original for each issue and have fun inventing recipes and doing amateur food-styling for the newsletter. I also come up with new ideas for my demo dishes that way.

The next issue will feature what I consider the most difficult meal to prepare – breakfast. I tend to think of breakfasts fit for a farm hand – biscuits and gravy, pancakes and waffles, sausages, toast, eggs over easy cooked in pan drippings. And of course there must be butter and a variety of jams, preserves and jellies on the table. I cannot conceive of a green smoothie for my breakfast! Once or twice a year I fix what we called “big breakfast” in the good old days. The rest of the time, we try to enjoy more healthy fare and pretty much succeed. It still can be a challenge to make a country boy really want a healthy breakfast.

For the next Cactus Club Newsletter, I wanted to do a Gringo Gourmet more healthy twist on a Mexican egg and chorizo burrito breakfast.  I’ve added prickly pear cactus the mix and serve it in a flour tortilla.

First Gringo twist – I chopped about half a pound of prickly pear paddles into a half-inch dice. I cooked the cactus in about two teaspoons of canola oil. The cactus released its mucousy okra-like sticky secretion. I added a tablespoon of water at a time to the pan which created steam that helped evaporate away the sticky stuff.

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Diced prickly pear cactus pads simmering in the pan.

Second Gringo twist – bulk chorizo sausage made fresh with ground pork at local markets. It is surprisingly lean and just as spicy and tasty as the mushed mystery meat plastic tubes labeled chorizo. I don’t mean to be crude, but I’m told that tube chorizo is made of ground lips and a**holes. I don’t want to visit a processing plant to find out if that is true. I’ll stick with ground real meat as the sausage base.

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Ground pork with chorizo seasonings = bulk chorizo.
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Browned and crumbled and ready to be added to the cactus and eggs.

 

I bought my market made chorizo and browned it with some chopped onion and garlic. There was minimal fat in the pan when it cooked. It was a texture similar to hamburger after been broken up and stirred in the pan.

When the cactus was an Army green color I added four beaten eggs and swirled them until they began to firm up, then I started to stir them and made sure the cactus was well mixed in. Before they were too well set, I placed an estimated half cup of the cooked chorizo and stirred it into the eggs as they finished setting up.

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Cactus, chorizo and egg scrambled and ready for breakfast.

I tried three different platings of the eggs and chorizo for the newsletter. Each plating included the cactus, egg and sausage mixture, some refried beans and a handful of grape tomatoes for color and their special sweet-tart taste.

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First was a breakfast burrito made with a whole wheat tortilla. Please note that what I call a breakfast burrito would be called a breakfast taco east of the Pecos County line. Go figure that out. The second plating was three tacos. I softened the corn tortillas on a cast iron griddle until they were soft tender and had a little color. The final presentation was a griddle crisped flat corn tortilla topped with the egg and chorizo, some grated Mexican cotija cheese and a dollop of red chile salsa for a little extra kick.

The three platings tasted pretty much the same. Their difference was the tortilla and prep of the corn tortillas.

I do enjoy the bulk chorizo because I feel more like I know what is in it. That is important to me. I’ve been researching chorizo recipes and next time I’ll buy ground pork and make my own. I’ll report on that when it happens.

After word

I had left over cooked chorizo in the fridge and decided to add it to stacked red enchiladas the way some cooks add hamburger to theirs. Of course, I had to have an egg on top since it was for breakfast. I liked the enchiladas with a runny egg yolk best of all.

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Enchiladas with chorizo and a runny egg. I may have to run out and buy some  bulk chorizo before fixing dinner tonight!

More Research on Salt-Tenderizing Meat

Another day in the Academy Test Kitchen working on salt-tenderizing a tough cut of beef.

Ingredients

One one-inch or thicker top round steak

Diamond Chrystal Kosher Salt

A dash of patience.

Method

Let the steak come to room temperature before starting the salt treatment. A thick steak might take a couple of hours to lose its refrigerator chill.

This time instead of burying the steak under salt, I gave it a very heavy sprinkle of salt on both the top and bottom. My guideline for timing was again 1 hour per inch of steak thickness.. This steak was about an inch and a quarter, so I set my timer for 1.25 hours. As fate would have it my sous chef was in piddle mode and took his time making a vinaigrette dressing for a very lush salad. I worked on the fringes of the counter to make an asparagus gremolata. By the time this Frick and Frack-like team finished these tasks, an hour and a half had passed.

I thoroughly washed the salt off the steak and patted it dry, seared and cooked it in a dry heavy pan on the stovetop. I turned it regularly to give the outside good color and help the heat spread more evenly through the steak. I cooked it to an internal temperature of 145º, removed it to a cutting board, tented it and let it rest for 10 minutes.

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Salt-tenderized top round steak with asparagus gremolata and a tossed salad and fresh corn on the cob.

The result was much more to my liking than the first attempt at salt-tenderizing a steak. Extra time in a lighter coating of salt made a decided difference in the tenderness of the meat.  While it was not “tenderloin tender” as purported in the article I had read, it was more tender than you would expect top round to be. With a few grinds of fresh pepper, it was a very good steak.

Another part of this experiment was an asparagus gremolata. Gremolata is traditionally chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic as a garnish for meats.  Who would think asparagus could be a condiment! I reduced the below recipe to make about 3/4 cup of the gremolata and it reduced well. It was so good, that I’ll make a whole 2 cup recipe next time!

Asparagus Gremolata

Ingredients

1 lb asparagus, trimmed and very thinly sliced crosswise (about 2 cups)

2 scallions, while and pale-green parts only, think sliced on a diagonal

2 2×1-inch strips lemon zest, julienned thinly

1 clove garlic, finely grated

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

1 Tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp finely graded green chile (serrano or jalapeño

Generous pinch of kosher salt

pinch of sugar

Method

Place asparagus in a fine mesh sieve. Fill a medium bowl with enough ice water to cover the asparagus in the sieve. Swish asparagus with your fingers.

Dip and swish asparagus at least three times to keep it crunchy. Pat dry. Empty and wipe out bowl.

Toss asparagus, scallions, lemon zest garlic cilantro, vinegar and chile in dry bowl to combine. Add salt and sugar and toss again.

Serve on meats, eggs, seafood.  I might even call it a salad dressing with the addition of a little oil and put it on greens!

Research

I’ve read a couple of articles about using a heavy coating of salt for a period of time to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. It sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. I had my meat cutter  slice me couple of inch thick top round steaks. I used Diamond Crystal Koser Salt and covered the steak both top and bottom and let it sit at room temperature for an hour, per the instructions. The author’s rule of thumb is the meat stays in salt for one hour per inch of thickness. The technique calls for using a coarse salt – sea salt or kosher salt and definitely not table salt. Thinner cuts  sit 30 – 45 minutes.

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Top round steak marinating in kosher salt.
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As the steak sits in the salt, moisture drawn from the meat is absorbed and changes salt’s color. Plenty of salt remains on the meat surface.

As it sits, the salt draws moisture from the steak. The proteins in the meat break down during the process and become tender. Some of the meat juices soak back into the meat and salt or other seasonings are taken up by the altered proteins.

After an hour the inch thick steak needed to be thoroughly rinsed to remove the external salt.  The meat must also be patted extremely dry. If the meat is moist, it will be steamed when it is cooked. After all this work, you don’t want to steam your steak! And don’t season the meat with additional salt. You may add pepper.

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After the salt process is finished and the steak rinsed and thoroughly dried, you will note the surface is a darker color than it was originally.

Per the article, I cooked my steak on the grill for eight minutes per side, then let it rest for about 10 minutes to allow the internal juices to redistribute. If  you don’t let meat rest, all the flavorful juices run out when you cut it. Resting makes a great flavor difference.

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Good old steak and fries!  The fries were baked avocado fries and a chipotle cream dipping sauce you’ve seen here before as was the caprese salad. The steak was beautiful and flavorful, but not as tender as I had expected. I’ve done more reading and found another article that uses far less salt in the tenderizing process. My market ran a buy one guy one dress special on the steak, so I have another one in the fridge and will run the salt tenderizing experiment again.

Avocado Fries Rethought

Toro Burgers and Bar has moved closer to where I live. That is a mixed blessing of convenience and temptation. The Toro logo is branded onto their buns. They offer 21 designer burgers on  including game, chicken and, allegedly, crab. The menu features creative appetizers and sides, too. We’ve grown fond of the avocado fries – battered and deep fried avocado slices with a chipotle cream dipping sauce. Very rich and very good, and a bit on the wicked side, calorie wise.

Meandering through foodie sites on the web, I found recipes for oven-fried crispy avocado fries and a chipotle dipping sauce. Of course I had to give them a try. For this meal, I considered the avocado as both a side dish and a fruit serving accompanying a pan-roasted chicken tampequeña entree for dinner. Panko crumb breading was the starch in the meal. Baking them works and yogurt in the dipping sauce lowers the calorie count considerably.

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Pan roasted chicken tampequena and baked avocado “fries” with chipotle dipping sauce for dinner.

The baked avocado slices were crispy and buttery delicious on the inside. They’ll be popping up again for sure. I’m already contemplating adding some Tajin chile lime power to the Panko crumbs, nest time.

Crispy Baked Avocado Fries

Ingredients

1 Avocado per person – ripe but on the firm side for ease in breading

1/4 Cup flour

1 egg, lightly beaten.  I like to use a boxed  yellow egg product when breading.  It is easier to add more egg from a box than to stop, wash my hands and beat another egg if I run low while breading.

1 Cup panko bread crumbs

Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp oil

Fresh lime juice (optional to prevent darkening of avocado during cooking)

Pre-heat oven to 400º F. Line a sheet pan with foil. Drizzle pan with some of the oil and spread it over the pan with a pastry brush.

Peel and slice avocado.  I find it easier to halve the avocado, remove the pit and slice the half into thirds while it is in the skin. The slices can be easily removed from the skin by carefully using a soup spoon. Sprinkle avocado slices with lime juice, salt and pepper. Dredge slices in flour, dip in egg and coat with panko crumbs.  Make sure the slices are well covered in panko.

Place breaded slices on the greased sheet pan. Drizzle with remaining oil or cooking spray to help the slices crisp in the oven.

Bake 15 – 20 minutes until the avocado slices are golden and crispy.

Serve with chipotle dipping sauce.

The recipe says the fries will last up to 24 hours and then reheated in a toaster oven.  That made me laugh out loud. No chance for left overs of these babies in my house!

Chipotle Cream Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce pause 1 tsp sauce (or more to taste)

1/2 Cup mayonnaise

1/3 Cup plain Greek yogurt (or light sour cream)

1/4 Cup chopped cilantro

1/4 tsp ground cumin

Kosher salt to taste.

Method

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Keeps covered in refrigerator up to four weeks.

My dinner partner ate the leftover dipping sauce with a spoon and said if it were a little thinner, it would be as good as the chipotle crema enchilada sauce at the Carnitas Queretaro restaurants.

 

Boys Have to Have Toys

I am admirer of food photography. My meat market guy tells me I buy meat to photograph, not to eat.  Not so.  I eat what I photograph, but sometimes it gets cold while I indulge in being a food stylist wannabe.

This morning, I wanted to try a new approach to the ham, apple and cheddar panini I made last week. I built a new version substituting Swiss cheese for cheddar and leaving out the mayo. I took pictures along the way…

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Layering bread, mustard, apples, ham to be followed by Swiss cheese.

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My panini press is small. It holds two sandwiches, but not at an angle which is more attractive in my opinion.

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My solution is cut the sandwich on the diagonal, but not corner to corner.  A little more interesting visually.

Here’s where the boy’s toy comes into play. My studio is the least uncluttered corner of the dining table. I don’t want to invest in fancy lighting, so I found a something to try in the cheap gifts from Brookstone section of the department store during the holidays. I’m finally beginning to play with it.

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Messing with light.

It is a little LED flashlight and octopus tripod. My intent is to try and deal with some shadows and reflections in my photos. My overhead dining light sometimes shows up in reflections and sometimes creates awkward shadows. I want to see if a little extra light might help. I can see it is going to take some practice.

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This little guy puts out a lot of concentrated light. The light has three LED bulbs and is about 3.5 inches long. On the tripod, it can be about 8″ high. The tripod legs flex and can lower it a few inches.

The light is little but powerful for its size. I’m wondering if I need two of them to aim from both sides.

With a little tinkering, I was able to take a photo of the sandwich that I like. There will be more experimentation with the light.  I have noticed the whites are on the yellow side, so I’ll learn to manage that in time.

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Here, again, is the lighted photo I liked.

By the way, I like the ham, Swiss and apple panini, but overdid the dijon mustard by putting it on both slices of bread.  One would have been plenty.

No Recipe Breakfast, but Some Handy Techniques – or Inventing the BCT

I had a craving for a late breakfast/early lunch BLT – classic bacon lettuce and tomato. I was out of L and only had a partial carton of grape T’s. I wasn’t about to let mere ingredients stop me!

My goal was to create a BCT sandwich – bacon cheese and tomato. I recalled a bacon cooking technique I had tried and liked but hadn’t used in a long time.  I sliced four pieces of thick-sliced bacon in half, put it in a pan and added a half inch of water and set it to simmer. Boiling the bacon renders the fat without splattering drippings everywhere.. When the water in the pan evaporates, the bacon crisps up nicely in the drippings without making a spatter mess and it doesn’t curl.

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Bacon slices coming to a simmer in a half inch of water on the stove top.
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The water has evaporated leaving drippings in the pan to crisp the bacon. You can save the drippings for another use. I blot up bacon dripping with shredded news paper and toss them into the garbage when they are cooled. Makes clean up easier.

While the bacon cooks, I made a blistered tomato sauce, a favorite you’ve seen here before.  I halve the grape or cherry tomatoes using a technique friend Darryl taught me. Fill a saucer level with the tomatoes. Top with another inverted saucer and slice between the saucers to halve the tomatoes.  Watch your fingers while holding the two saucers tightly together and move the knife through. It is a slick trick. I fill the depression in the bottom saucer tightly so the tomatoes don’t get pressed agains the far edge by the knife blade. I prefer a serrated blade for the slicing.

Once the tomatoes are halved,dump them into a hot dry sauté pan and let them get a slight blister or char. Reduce the heat and add a tablespoon or so of water to steam the tomatoes and cook them faster. I like to sweat the juice from the tomatoes and let them soften and caramelize.  The result is a thick, chunky sauce with a flavor reminiscent of sun dried tomatoes’ intensity.  This time I mushed the tomatoes a little with a potato masher to make them thicker and spreadable.

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Grape tomatoes go into a hot dry pan.
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Blistered tomatoes ready to mash a little and let dry out a tiny bit more.

Now the assembly of the BCT. Toasted multi-grain bread, a schemer of mayo to seal the bread, a slice of sharp cheddar to hold the tomatoes, a heaping spread of blistered tomato sauce, strips of crisp bacon and the toast topper for the sandwich.

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BCL under construction. Layers of toast, sharp cheddar, blistered tomatoes and bacon.

There is always an internal debate over adding a second slice of cheese on top of the bacon.  Fortunately, the second slice of cheese won!

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The BCT is now an official creation of the Gringo Gourmet Academy. No recipe. Just ingredients that work together and a review of some good techniques to try.

Play With Your Food

I found a recipe for Creamy Grits and Black Beans that sounded good. It had a companion recipe for a Pice de Gallo Salad. It perked up my interest because I’d been reading about a new cookbook by Anthony Lamas, a Mexican American chef in Louisville, KY, and Gwen Pratesi who are adding some Mexican and Latin touches to Southern-style cooking. I’ve ordered it digitally and am looking forward to exploring it.

I forwarded the grits and bean recipe to my vegetarian daughter.  We are to compare notes when we both have made it.

The spices called for made my mouth water.  The picture with the recipe was a little bland looking, so I started to play with it. I roasted the corn in a hot dry pan to give it a little color and intensify the flavor. Instead of canned chiles, I bought roasted green chiles, peeled them and gave them a coarse chop for some extra color in the grits. I used yellow grits (polenta), as well.  The recipe’s salad was so simple (read that skimpy looking) I knew I didn’t want it on the side. It it didn’t look finished, so I decided play to with it and use it for garnish on the dish.

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Plated, its not bad, but a little on the blah side visually.

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A sprinkle of cilantro makes a big difference visually!

And then the big finale! I wouldn’t mind this as a side dish or as an entree for the house vegetarian, but I’m a carnivore. I decided to do a southern riff on grits and shrimp by adding a Mexican beat.  I love Tajin chile/lime powder and use it on many dishes. I marinated shrimp in a little olive oil and a lot of Tajin for a couple of hours while I napped before starting dinner.  Tajin is a soft heat with a bright lime under current.

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The shrimp picked up some color from the Tajin. A couple of slices of avocado left from the avocado diced for the salad and a wedge of lime make a big difference on the plate.  Meatless Monday was a success if you count seafood as a meatless addition to the meal.

CREAMY GRITS AND BLACK BEANS – RIFFED

This dish comes together quickly (unless you count the time it takes to peel roasted chiles), so make the salad first.

Serves two

Ingredients:

for the grits

1 1/2 cups milk

1/2 cup corn grits (polenta)

1/3 cup diced green chiles (canned or fresh roasted)

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

salt to taste

for the beans:

1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn

2 tsp each minced fresh garlic and vegetable oil

1/2 tsp each ground cumin and dried oregano

1/4 tsp each ground coriander and cayenne pepper

1 can black beans (15.oz), drained and rinsed

1 avocado, diced

Method:

for the grits

Heat milk in a saucepan until boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and gradually whisk in grits and chiles, stirring to prevent lumps; cook five minutes. Stir in cheese, season with salt and set aside.

for the beans

Heat a medium sauté pan. Add corn and brown slightly. Add oil and garlic, stir while garlic softens, stir in spices and stir until they bloom (release their flavor and scent), add beans and 1/4 cup water and cook until water has evaporated and ingredients in pan are heated through. You can mash the beans a little with a potato masher if you wish.

Serve grits topped with beans, diced avocado and a squeeze of lime.

Pico de Gallo Salad

1 large tomato, cut into wedges

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion (I like to soak the sliced onion in water for about 10 minutes to reduce their sharpness.)

1 fresh jalapeño, thinly sliced (I like to seed the jalapeño before slicing it.)

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice.

Salt to taste

Method

Drain onion, combine tomato, onion,  jalapeño; stir in lime juice and season with salt.

Riffs: how to play with your food

I added shrimp to the dish.

I marinated the shrimp in olive oil and Tajin chile lime powder and cooked them in the dry sauté pan, then set them aside in a bowl. I wiped the pan clean and lightly browned the corn in the dry pan, then added the other ingredients.

I put the avocado in with the pico salad and saved the cilantro for garnish on the whole dish. My avocado was large, so I diced half of it for the salad and served the other half sliced as garnish.

I used the salad on top of the grits and beans instead of as a side dish.

 

Whole Lot of Shakshouka Going On

I’ve seen several recipes this spring for shakshouka. I think I may have finally learned to pronounce it. The dish features eggs poached in a tomato sauce. I’ve seen it as a breakfast and as a dinner meal. It appears that every cook has his or her own version of the condiments for the sauce and even different protein content.  The dish has middle eastern and middle European versions and might be claimed by many ethnic groups. After finding recipes containing jalapeños, decided to look up Mexican Jewish food. That continues to be quite an adventure. I’ve learned there are more than 50,000 Sephardic Jews in Mexico. The Sephardic Jews are those who, during the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400’s had to become Catholics, leave Spain or die. Many became Catholic on the outside but remained observant Jews in secret. Many still suffered persecution and immigrated to countries across the globe and learn to blend their traditional dishes with those of their new lands.

I discovered Susan and Alex Schmidt, a mother daughter team, who now live in California, but have roots in Mexico’s Sephardic Jewish community. The two have a blog called Challahpeño which discusses a blending of Mexican and Jewish foods in ways that amaze me. They talk about Pozole con Matzoh Balls, Schnitzel Torta, Totopos de Gribenes con Guacamole and even Schmaltz Tamales. They have a cook book in the works, but I haven’t found that it has been published so far.

One article I found suggested that my favorite Lenten bread pudding, capirotada, might have been created so that the Sephardic Jews could have unleavened bread during Passover. Interesting thought, but who knows for sure?  However it came about, capirotada is a big Lenten tradition with me!

One of the recipes I found had chickpeas, feta cheese and jalapeños and cumin among its ingredients. That started the wheels turning and I figured I could make a Mexican Jewish influenced Shakshouka.

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Salsa captured at a family gathering from one of my niece’s sisters. Great flavors and real heat.

I followed bits of three recipes and came up with two good servings of my Mexi-Shakshouka,  below is what I think I did.

Mexi-Shakshouka

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium onion chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp ground cumin

1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes

3/4 can tomato sauce or the whole can if you like

1 can pinto beans

1 bunch spinach leaves or other greens, chopped

3 Tbsp or more to taste red tomato based salsa; add in increments and taste for heat

two eggs (one or two eggs per serving)

Chopped parsley or cilantro for serving

Asadero cheese, finely crumbled, for serving

Method

Heat oven to 425

In an oven proof skillet, heat olive oil and sweat onions until translucent and soft. Add garlic and let bloom for a minute or two.  Add cumin and let bloom for a minute.

Pour tomatoes and tomato sauce into pan with savories and bring to a simmer.  Add greens and let wilt and become tender.  Add salsa one spoonful at a time and taste for heat level. Let simmer a few minute for flavors to meld then add beans and warm through.

Simmer long enough for the sauce to thicken, but remain wet enough to poach the eggs. Break eggs carefully into the sauce. Transfer the skillet to the oven.  Cook about 8 minutes until the egg whites have set, but the yolks remain soft.

Remove from oven, garnish with parsley or cilantro and cheese and serve warm.

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Scrumptious Mexi-Shacksouka.

Notes: The recipes I found suggested cooking the shakshouka in a cast iron pan. I’m wary of acidics like tomatoes in cast iron. I used a heavy anodized aluminum pan. My friend, Daryl, posted a Shakshouka with skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and lemon and a range of spices which sounds delicious. I’ll try his recipe next time. Passover starts a week from tomorrow night, so I’ll commemorate with at least one more shakshouka during the week.