Holidays

Cinco de Mayo Menu — Guacamole, Ceviche, and Margaritas

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Happy Cinco de Mayo!  You know what that means — time to get your drink on!  But what it really commemorates is the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 (the Mexican Day of Independence is September 16, 1810).  Napoleon was looking to get some money back that Mexico owed France and this invasion was a way of doing that.  But things on this day didn’t turn out the way he had planned and Mexico defeated the superior (yet uncoordinated) French force.  It’s like the Alamo. . . if Texas had won.

So this isn’t really a menu per se.  More of a collection of recipes that are easy to make and that you can have for your holiday celebration.  So let’s start off with the Guacamole.  It’s simple and easy to make.  Plus it’s easy for you to put your simple twist on it.  Por exemplo, you could keep everything in a rough dice and make an avocado salad, or add some jalapeno or serrano chiles, or add cilantro (yuk — I am one of those folks who cannot stand cilantro).  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 or 4 Hass avocados, about 1 1/2 lbs.
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1/2 of a small white onion, diced
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare the avocados by cutting them in half lengthwise and twisting them to open up the halves.  Remove the seed.  Scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl.  Now mash it with a fork (depending on how chunky you want it).

2.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir.  Serve with some tortilla chips or use as a topping for tacos, burritos, eggs. . .  anything really. . . except like blueberry pie and the ilk.  Press down a cover a plastic wrap onto the surface of the guacamole if you’re not using it immediately.  I have heard that in order to keep this from turning brown, you can place the avocado pit on top of the mixture.  Not sure how or even if this works.  But if it does, in theory, you won’t need to cover this dish and can even cut back on the lime.

Ceviche.  There are all different kinds of ceviche, but they all involve “cooking” or marinating fresh seafood in some citrus juice, usually lime.  “Cooking” doesn’t necessarily happen in this dish, but the citrus does denature the proteins in the seafood, which is what the heat from cooking does.  It probably originated in Peru and made its way up the coastline to Mexico, although some place origins of the dish closer to Central America.  There are some cultures in Asia who may also have a claim on “inventing” the dish (I luv Hawaiian Poke).  Again, a variety of seafoods are used — different fishes, scallops, squid, octopus, crab, I even saw one with smoked fish for those who have concerns about eating raw fish.  Since this is Cinco de Mayo, I will “de-Asian” my recipe to put it closer to the Mexican version (I like to put a little ginger, green onion, and soy sauce in mine).  I will be making some later today.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. ocean fish like halibut, mackerel, or snapper (go to your fish monger and see what’s fresh and use that.  you could also tell them that you’re planning on making ceviche and ask them for suggestions.  any good fish monger should be able to help you out.  if they can’t offer any good advice buy your fish somewhere else!).
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1 c. fresh lime juice
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley
  • hot chiles, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sugar

1.  Cut the fish into about 1/2 in. cubes.  Place in a non-reactive bowl (like glass or stainless) with the onion, garlic, and lime juice.  The fish should be covered with the lime juice, if not just add some more, or top it off with some water.  Let marinate in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours, to get the fish well done.  If you want it more raw, just marinate it for about an hour or two.

2.  Strain out the lime juice and discard it.  Add your tomatoes, chile, cilantro (or parsley), and olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Season with the salt and pepper.   Balance out the flavors with just a scant amount of sugar, maybe 1/2 teaspoon.

Margaritas.  What would today be without a good margarita?  Origins of this drink are highly debatable, with several stories about where and why this drink was created.  But it is definitely Mexican in origin and can be made in lots of variations, which I’m sure y’all know.  Just go to a local restaurant and see what different kinds they have.  This recipe is simple, requires only three ingredients (not including ice and salt or sugar on the rim of the glass) — Silver Tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.

1.  Prep the glass by running a lime around the rim and dipping it into a shallow plate of salt or sugar, depending on your taste.

2.  Pour your tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau into a pitcher.  If you use a cup of each, you’d probably get 5 margaritas, depending on how much of a booze hound you are.  Fill a cocktail shaker about half full of ice.  Add enough of your Margarita mixture for a couple of drinks and shake vigorously for about 15-30 seconds to chill and dilute it.  Strain into the prepared glass.

Now these are just a couple of things that you can make today to help celebrate the holiday.  We typically think of this day as an excuse to drink, but take some time to celebrate Mexican culture and heritage.  One e-magazine that can offer some information on a wide variety of topics ranging from culture to cuisine to travel is MexConnect.  On the Culinary side of things, one great resource is Chef Rick Bayless.  He has a series on PBS called Mexico – One Plate at a Time where he explores the culture and food traditions  of Mexico, as well as the variations across the different regions of the country.  He has won various awards including a couple of James Beards.  You can learn about his books, restaurants, products, and his bio at the hyperlink above (I did not know that he did some doctoral work in Anthropological Linguistics at the University of Michigan).

Sorry for the long post, but hope it was helpful.  I’ll try to post some other things throughout the day that are Mexican themed.  Depends on how many margaritas I have 🙂

May Foodie Holidays and postings preview

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Well, it’s May and you know what that means.  Lots of things apparently.  First of all, all those April showers have brought in the May flowers.  But since it still feels a little chilly up here, maybe those flowers will come in June.

So what’s in store for this month?  There’s Cinco de Mayo, which is not the Mexican Day of Independence (that’s in September).  Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, too.  Culinarily speaking, it is also National Hamburger Month, National Barbeque Month, National Salad Month, and National Chocolate Custard Month, just to name a few.  There are a whole jumble of National ____ Days which I could do stuff on, but that’s really no different from any other month.  So this will be the some of the various themes that I’m going to try to focus on this month.  Stay tuned!

Carrot Cake

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Just in time for Easter!  I always thought that having carrot cake around Easter was a little weird.  I guess it’s cuz of the whole Easter Bunny thing and bunnies liking carrots (I read somewhere that they actually prefer lettuces and stuff like that, but can you imagine “lettuce cake”?). 

So here’s your cultural nugget for today.  There have been some carrot recipes traced back to around the 1oth century from the Middle East.  Those dishes eventually made their way to Europe from trade and wars and stuff like that.  Now what we think of carrot cake today probably stems from medieval Europe.  Back then, sweetners were expensive and not readily available so they used carrots in desserts and cakes and puddings.

The recipe that I use is a little different in that I use both butter and vegetable oil.  That way you can get the moisture that the oil provides plus, the flavor from the butter.  I frost it with an orange cream cheese frosting and some cardamom scented butterfly carrots.  This recipe makes 3 8-inch cakes or 2 9-inch cakes.  The pic above is using the 9-inch cakes.  Here we go…

For the cake:

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 c. cornstarch
  • 2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. cinnamon (I like Vietnamese cinnamon, but use what you have available)
  • 1 t. galangal (use ground ginger if you don’t have any)
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 c. honey
  • 1 stick room temperature butter
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 T. vanilla
  • 3 c. grated carrots
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped pecans (plus more for the outside of the cake)

Note — You can replace the honey with regular granulated sugar.  If you do, just omit the cornstarch.  When possible, I try to limit overly processed ingredients in my recipes, hence the whole wheat flour and the honey.  It’s a small step, but it’s healthier for you.

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degress.  Butter your pans and line with a parchement round.

2.  Sift together the flours, cornstarch, baking soda, and spices.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a mixer, mix together the honey and the brown sugar until the mixture is uniform and well blended.  Add the butter and combine.  Then add the oil and mix through.

4.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition.  Add your vanilla to the butter mixture and combine.

5.  Add your dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture all at once and mix until just smooth.  Stir in the carrots and the nuts.  Divide the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake for 25-35 minutes until the center is set and springy.  Cool completely on racks before unmolding.  While the cake is baking and cooling, you can make the frosting.

For the frosting:

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 2 lbs. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • zest of one orange

Mix together the butter and cream cheese until well blended.  Gradually add the sugar. Then add the vanilla and mix.  Finally add the orange zest.  You can prepare this ahead of time and refrigerate up to 2 days in advance.  Just let it come to room temperature before you use it.  I recommend that you taste frosting before you add the zest and then after (maybe just let it sit for a few minutes to incorporate the flavors).  That way you can really see how one ingredient can really change the flavor of something.  You will have extra frosting so be careful how you store the remainder — I almost thought the frosting was leftover mashed potatoes.  That would have been an interesting dinner!

Ham Day!

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Just wanted to say a “Happy National Glazed Ham Day“!  Not exactly sure how that came to be, but who doesn’t like a nice glazed ham?  Well, vegetarians, I guess. . . And vegans. . . And those with certain religious obligations. . .

Passover Chocolate Torte

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Since it’s Passover / Easter time, I thought that it would be a good idea to post a recipe that could be served at the seder or other family get-together during the holiday.  Now this is specifically for Passover, but of course can be used at Easter brunch.  I just specifically decided to list this because of the dietary requirements for the Passover holiday.

My understanding of Passover isn’t as in-depth as it probably should be.  Being a non-Jew, memories of this holiday for me usually involve huge baskets filled with candy with some weird gigantic pastel rabbit hopping about.  But at Passover, any kind of leavening or chametz is forbidden.  This Jewish tradition commemorates when Pharoah released the Jews from slavery back in the day.  They knew they had to hurry and get out of Dodge, so they could not even wait for the bread to rise — hence the whole unleavened tradition.  Pharoah did eventually have a change of heart and went after the Jews, but that didn’t really go well for him.  If you would like a visual accounting of what happened, just watch The Ten Commandments.  I’m sure it will be on TV sometime in the coming weeks.

Now this isn’t limited to cakes or breads, but applies to alcoholic beverages for the most part (I wonder about potato vodka).  I think that this is all about fermentation and yeast.  So I don’t know how chemical leavening (baking soda, baking powder) factors into this.

Anyhoo, let’s get to the recipe.  This is a flourless Chocolate Torte, so it should be fine for Passover.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 lb. chopped chocolate (dark or bittersweet)
  • 3/4 c. butter, diced
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 7 whole eggs
  • 9 in. round pan

1.   Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and coat your pan with cooking spray.

2.  Place the chocolate and butter in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl.

3.  Combine the water and the sugar and bring to a boil, making sure the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate & butter mixture.  Stir with a spoon until melted and smooth (you could use a whisk to combine, but I think that would incorporate too much air into the cake).

4.  Whisk the eggs to combine.  Add a small portion of the chocolate to the whisked eggs to help temper them.  Then gradually mix in the eggs to the remaining chocolate.

5.  Transfer to the prepared pan and bake in water bath halfway up the side of the pan for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the center is set.  Cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator.  Cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours or overnight.

To plate, you’ll have to warm the cake up to get it to release.  You could do this by placing it in a water bath (kinda like you did when you baked it) for a few minutes.  It should release when inverted onto a serving plate after tapping it out.