3/31/11

Got Horchata?

Horchata is one of the many delicious and refreshing non-alcoholic coolers popular in the Latin countries. Wikipedia has the definitive on the subject of agua frescas. 

In any authentic Mexican restuarant you will see several colorful varieties presented in large glass jars: rice/cinnamon, hybiscus/sorrel (agua de Jamaica), tamarind, and seasonal fruits such as pineapple, strawberries and melons.

Featured here is agua de horchata. It is a delicious, refreshing, creamy flavored sweet drink based on rice, flavored with cinnamon. Nourishing for sure. It goes especially well with spicy Mexican foods. This is the Mexican recipe for agua de horchata.

Aqua de Horchata

Ingredients

1 cup raw rice, cracked/pulverized in a blender 
1 ½ cup boiling water
1 whole piece of Mexican cinnamon
about 4 inches long, crushed (optional, can be toasted)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Additional water 1 cup

¼ to ½ cup sugar (or to taste)

Optionals:
50/50 rice and blanched almonds 
Milk---some portion instead of 100% water, but not more than 50% total liquid
Sweetened condensed milk to augment sugar
Try different types of sugars
Almond extract

Preparation

Place the cracked/pulverized rice and cinnamon in a bowl and add boiling water to cover.  Let stand overnight. Pour rice, soaking liquid, and cinnamon, in a blender and blend well until smooth.  Using a fine-meshed sieve and/or a few layers of cheesecloth, strain mixture into a pitcher and discard the solid residue.  Add vanilla and sweeten to taste (stay to the medium sweet side). Add water or water/milk to produce a medium-light flavor balance. Serve cold or over ice.
Fresh Tomato Sauce Quick!
For Tomato Sauce there is no shortage of good recipes. The one thing that can't be stressed enough though, is the quality of the tomato itself. If you can grow them yourself, or have a farm source, that's the best. Picked ripe, the top.

You can't go wrong with anything the great Lidia Bastianich gives you. And her recipe for a quick fresh tomato sauce is nonpareil. (A little tip she gives in that recipe is about the tomato seeds. The seeds impart bitterness in a slow cooked sauce. Act with that in mind when you are preparing a slow cooked tomato based sauce. (And now we know why Mrs. Palazzolo*** added sugar to her sauces.)

There is also José Andrés who taught me a nice little trick with the tomatoes. It's a preference thing about the texture of your sauce. Lidia crushes the tomatoes by hand. José showed how to crush the tomatoes on the coarse side of a box grater. You get a very nice uniform textured "puree" with a good presence of solids that dance on whatever the sauce is paired with.

The beauty of that technique is you don't have to blanch the tomatoes to remove the skins. Done right the box grater will give you fast results, leaving only the skin.

On box graters: Get the best you can afford. It will last forever so might as well get one that performs well. Stainless won't rust.

Manga!

***FLASHBACK: Joe Palazollo was a high school buddy of mine. We aren't in touch that often, but he's the kind of friend that you can call after a long time apart and just pick up with as if it was yesterday. His parents were from Sicily and Mrs. Palazollo was the greatest cook. She came from the old country to the United States at a young age to be Joe's father's bride in a marriage arranged by their families.

She had old fashioned ways in the kitchen too. Everything from scratch. Even made her own sausage. Pizza, just give her a few minutes. Her sister, Aunt Jennie, once took me in hand and we shopped for the ingredients, and then made sausage in her kitchen. They kept in storage in the closet a shoe box filled with sugar frosted pastry crescents filled with figs, raisins, dates, oranges and nuts. They called them cuchidata cookies. I called them "cuchi-cuchi" cookies, which never failed to get a smile (I was so cute). There was something called sfingi, small fried doughnut balls piled high on a plate and drizzled with honey and sprinkles. Those two sweet items usually came out during the Christmas season.

It was at the Palazollo's at a holiday party when I took what I thought was a piece of celery from the antipasto platter. Not what I expected. What a taste shock. The kind you have when you have an expectation and get totally surprised because it's something else altogether. Like thinking you are taking a sip of a martini and discover it's only water. Or like stepping onto a staircase after riding on escalators. [I could talk about my ex-wife's experience with me, but that has nothing to do with cooking. Also, it's none of your business.] Anyway, on that occasion it wasn't celery, but a fresh bulb fennel. I didn't take to it right away; but, Mrs. Palazzolo, wherever you are, it is now a favorite of mine.

I was also introduced to the artichoke by that kind woman. [In Arizona I had a huge garden and artichokes grow there like weeds. We had several dozen plants going and we would pick tons of them, then toss them wholesale into a huge pot to steam, then ruthlessly trim down to the hearts which we preserved in good olive oil. After a while with so much artichoke bounty... Basta! And, if you like artichokes, try cardoon... and soon!]

A very vivid recollection was spending many an evening at Joe's sitting around with our little clique of guys and gals listening to the Kingston Trio on the hi-fi. Mrs. Palazollo would serve homemade pizza pie which made those evenings totally delicious for me. You can play the recording below of the Kingston Trio singing Where Have All the Flowers Gone...  


Lastly, Joe lived across the street from a real Italian bakery. They made their own lemon ice and on some hot Detroit summer evenings we would go across to get some to dip into with potato chips. Sounds odd; but, try it. It could be the next new thing. (You heard it here first.)

3/22/11

Matzo Brei That Fits


Matzo Brie is a Passover dish that you shouldn’t pass over for anytime of the year. Literally, Matzo Brie means fried Matzo.

I learned to make this excellent dish from the source. On Rivington Street, in lower Manhattan, from the ladies at Streit’s. Since 1925, so they should know from Matzo, Brei and otherwise. Not the ladies from 1925; the operation, Streit’s. But, come to think about it, I got my lesson from those old birds sometime around 1975, so maybe they were in fact originals from the beginning of the company itself.
If you ever want to see something that you will never see under any other circumstances, get a bunch of old Jewish women and ask them how to make a signature Jewish food. 

As with any group of culturally proud people, the ladies at Streit’s waged a subtle but obvious competition for who would be the one whose recipe would emerge as the one I would take away. Mind you, I had no entre there other than coming in to buy a box of Matzos (or, is it “Motzoi”?). 

Meantime, my then wife, the former Mrs. Wronski and my two little lovely daughters waited patiently outside in the trusty Land Rover 88. I think all they ever knew was that hubby/daddy was going into some store to buy some crackers. (The former Mrs. Wronski was from down South — DAR qualified, in fact — and I think of her every time I come within a five foot radius of a Saltine. That’s one salty Cracker.) So now the full story will be known and, hopefully, passed on down to the grand kiddies.
I lived for a short time in South Miami Beach at the old Chesterfield Hotel. It’s still there on Collins Avenue, but not so old. In my time the hotel catered to Brazilian tourists, a crack whore and her pimped boyfriend, and Snow Birds from Canada. The latter were mostly Jewish folks, and the ladies (I don’t know if it’s a Jewish thing?), they also got into a competition over winning my heart with little Bubulas (sweeties) of all sorts. 

But it was the dear Rose Edelman next door to my apartment in recalling whom as I write this brings heart shaped tears to my eyes. She once invited me over to share her Passover Seder. No competition, just friends. She told me she had once lived in a Catholic convent in Brooklyn and made those hand crocheted borders surrounding holy pictures. I had her make me one for a small picture of my Guru. She also knitted me a meditation asana. I used it for some time then sent it back to her with the wish that it would be a comfort to her in her last days. 

God bless my dear Jewish Rose.
I also learned a fair amount of Yiddish apropos. Even a little bit of the Jewish soul may have rubbed off. Mostly, when someone says “how’r ya doin’?” the standard social grease is to say “fine.” But my Jewish soul cries out for something more human of an encounter, not just ships in the night. So now, when I hear “How are you doing?” you’ll hear me say “Ehh?” Or, if I’m in a particularly feisty mood, the truly soulful, “How should I be doing?” So call me pisher? I do try to be a Mensch.
Matzo Brie, oh yes. I won’t go into the whole spiel. Ms. Martha Stewart has done the definitive coverage and it is appended to this recipe. (You call this a recipe, you are probably saying impatiently banging your spoon on the mixing bowl?)
Matzo Brei That Fits

I got that from the idea of kosher itself; i.e., fit to eat. Yes, a wanna-be Jewish punster, I am.
Matzo Brei is made with Matzo, water to moisten said Matzoi, whole Chicken Eggs (we are so foodish these days that you have to specify the kind of egg you be talkin’ ‘bout.), and a pinch of salt. That’s it.
Just be advised that there are as many variations on Matzo Brei as there are cooks, and the topic is as heated as a bowl of Chile at Terlingua. But definitely not so spicy. (Note to self, write the recipe for Polecat Chile I got from my Houston buddy John Geddie which we then served it at a block party in Park Slope, Brooklyn.)
So let me deconstruct Matzo Brei a bit. There’s the basic recipe that I’ve outlined above. From that you have to choose direction, sweet or savory. If sweet, then the key step would be — duh? (Winning!) some sweetener. A small dose of sugar for starters. If you want to go savory, then we add some ground pepper if you like (How many different kinds of pepper do you have in your pantry?) at least, and maybe some caramelized (formerly known as “browned”) thin sliced onion.
Those are the platforms for either the sweet or the savory kinds of Matzo Brei. I will defer to Ms. Stewart or that boychick Mr. Mark Bittman for the full elaboration of the many evolutions after that. (See appended videos below.)
But really keep it Jewish, keep it simple. We are all crossing the desert in a very real sense, but not maybe literally as in the Old Testament. Travel light.
Matzo Brei That (Finally!) Fits

Ingredients

Matzo… 2 whole square pieces per serving
Crush matzo into bowl by hand (Irregular size pieces are expected, to your liking. But not so small as a schtickle.)

Add ... ½ - 1 C hot water to moisten the matzo. Very important, not too mushy, not too dry. Think Goldilocks; just right. Practice makes perfect.

Eggs beaten… 1 jumbo egg per serving, 2 large.

Pinch of salt*

Preparation

Combine well
Use a shallow wide sided sauté pan

Frying

Use a pan sized appropriately for the serving size. The resulting “pancake” should be ½ to ¾ inch thick. (Single serving: 8”diameter pan, 2-4 servings: 10”.)

Melt butter to active bubbling stage (About 6-7 mischigauss points on the butter bubblogaussometer, metric; ok, Bubula? If you need a bubblogaussometer I sell them for $495 plus S&H in white, and off white, and off off white. $795 full tilt stainless. You won’t be disappointed.)

Pour the mixture into said fry pan (It should go in as a loose heap that needs a little nudge to spread into a circular pancake/Frittata kind of thing.)

Let it cook for a few minutes until the bottom is set and there’s a nice browning developed. Then, toyne** it over and finish the other side. Toyne it over: Here’s the trick. Be sure you have a hot pad and long sleeves in case there is some hot oil spill. Place a kitchen plate face down into the pan. Then invert so the half cooked Matzo Brei is now uncooked side down on the plate. Slide it back into the pan to finish the other side. It’s very easy, just do cover your arm when flipping half way through the cooking process.

Slide out the Matzo Brei onto a plate and serve immediately, if not sooner. Serve side B or side A; depends which looks better for serving. (Hey, let’s keep those kitchen secrets.***)

Enjoy! Eat! So you won’t be hungry.

Disclaimer: There seems to be also a divide about what your Matzo Brei should look like on the plate. We prefer the whole pancake treatment. Some do a scramble. The pancake is in our opinion the more elegant version. So, do as you will; but, Boychick, you could make the effort.

*Just what the heck is a pinch of Salt? I had a very prudish Aunty who would never conscience a “pinch” of anything, not even Salt. Her husband was a seafaring man, an old salt, and he stayed out to sea for long periods of time. Always a smile to leave, very sober to return. No pinches at home, probably. But, for you sinners, a “pinch of” in kitchen parlance is what fits between your two fingers. About the same equivalent amount of sand that accumulates between your toes at the beach.

**There’s the story of Mr. Willigstein who at 85 wants to go to visit his long lost sweetheart in Miami. So he should have the peace of mind, he makes an appointment with the Jewish Dr. Berger for a complete, state of the art check up. “Vell, Mr. Willigstein, we have completed all your tests and I am happy to tell you that you, you are a poyfect specimen. Go to your haneybunch in Miami. Mozel tov. No sooner does the ecstatic man leave when the nurse frantically barges into the doctor’s office, “Dr. Berger, Dr. Berger. That Mr. Willigstien who just had his check up. He, he, dropped dead right outside your office door. What should we do?” “Oy vey! It's 'Stein, Stein', not 'Stien!'” Then a little pause and some chin rubbing… The good doctor solemnly pronounces his prescription, “Vell, foyst we toyne him a-r-r-round, so he looks like he’s comin’ in!”

***A fine lady who I once knew, Geraldine by name, told the story of one Thanksgiving dinner when the maid, to much excited anticipation, brought the beautiful big turkey out of the kitchen into the dining room. As soon as she cleared the door she slipped and the golden fowl fell right on the floor. Flags were down for that foul. Without skipping a beat, Gerry said “It’s ok, just pick it up and take it back to the kitchen. And, then bring out the other bird.” (Kitchen secrets.)



Best Indian Chile Pickle (HOT!)


The mysterious subcontent is no place to find yourself with a proper mahout to guide you in your culinary travels. Otherwise you could get into quite a pickle.

Speaking of which, no connoisseur of the intrigues of the Indian table should be bereft of always having on hand a good chile pickle.

We have sampled around and find ourselves time and again coming back to Bedekar Brand. Ingredients: chopped green chilli, ginger, salt, mustard oil, sesame oil, ground mustard, fenugreek, turmeric and compounded asafoetida. Mother's is another credible brand, but a different recipe from Bedekar's. Try both. To each his own.
Texas Chili Con Carne
In order to perform our due diligence in researching the recipe for the definitive Texas Chili Con Carne I unequivocally turned to my Guru O’ Chili, died in the wool Texan, Mr. John Geddie, of Houston, somewhere in the great expanse of the Lone Star State.

I asked him for his recipe for “Polecat Chile” so that is what he sent. Italics are his words verbatim. That’s right, Polecat Chile. Don’t be deterred. It’s nice, for sure. You like. Yes? Yes!

As you may know the subject of Chili is vast. Mostly due to the inability of anybody ever to come to even a scintilla of agreement about what is good chili and what’s supposed to be in it in the first place. Then add in all the ego that needs to be cooked in with it and you have nothing but myriad experts each laying claim to chili greatness. For the truly too-far-gone there is the annual trek to Terlingua in early November for the fabled Chili Cook-off. Here we must pause for a moment of silence to express our everlasting gratitude to the legendary Mr. Wick Fowler and his award winning 2-Alarm Chile.

If Mr. Fowler’s concoction is a 2-alarm, John’s is a 4-alarm. In his words, I wouldn’t recommend drinking whiskey with this chili as something might catch fire. Cold beer is much better!!

For this recipe we are making the distinction between “chili” and “chile.” The latter being the fruit of the plants from the genus Capsicum, and a whole vast another subject in itself. When we say “chili” we mean a Bowl of Red, mister. Texas Red. Mother’s milk to the true native son.

[Purely aside, in our travels throughout the beautiful state of New Mexico, chili there is either a bowl of medium red chilies stewed with beef or mild green chilies prepared with chicken or pork. The green chile pepper that the town of Hatch New Mexico specializes in is a truly great little known item and we all await Ms. Martha Stewart to introduce it to the world at large. A bowl of New Mexico style chili and a plate of rice; you have a meal. If you like some red and some green, you order “Christmas.”]

But we’re talking Texas Red and I don’t want to have the Rangers on my tail for talking up anything else.

Factoids directly for the knee of the Chile Guru Hisself: Texas chili does not contain tomatoes! Purists say that it should not contain beans.  However, I think a can of pinto beans (drained) put into the mixture makes it thicker and tastier. [I have to interject that time seasons us all, and my Chili Guru is no exception. In his wizened years he is giving some ground to the much debated “bean.” The subject of beans / no beans is so charged that even to get this close to the argument causes me to want to call for the plane and jet to neutral turf at my villa high on a hill in Switzerland overlooking Lake Como. It’s so lovely and serene there, so any excuse to pick up and go, I’m there. You can see George Clooney’s place from the south porch. We don’t mix with that sort, though.]

But first, a few items of historical reference on my Chili Guru, Mr. Geddie. John and I were contemporaries in my early days as a bachelor in NYC. We were part of a gang of extremely handsome, intelligent, and very hip young men who prowled the streets of the Upper East Side looking for love in all the usual places. I married a Pan Am stewardess and she introduced John to a lovely little Frenchy, Sylvie; a for-sure direct descendent of Joan of Arc, no less. Well Saint Joan’s spirit lived in that young lady and she eventually conquered good ol’ John too. We hosted their wedding reception at our place with a bathtub full of bottles of French (directly from France via Pan Am) Champagne. The story goes about the tradition in Silvie's family to test for the intended young man’s likelihood to be a good husband. Our John was presented at the end of one meal with a pear and a knife, with the challenge to peal the fruit in one continuous cutting; no breaks. Nice idea. But, give a guy a break. Yet, he passed the test. I was given a similar task by my Southern in laws. It had something to do with cracking a pecan with a… private part. My eyesight wasn’t that good at the time, so they had me do it with a coconut. That in-law family of mine (I was the “outlaw”) from down in Dixie was obsessed with nuts and nutcrackers. They are part of a whole sub-culture of people down there who spend inordinate amounts of time looking for the best nutcracker. Christmas was sure to see a new, better device under the tree.

Last, John Geddie is an attorney, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have to reveal that he was not born in Texas. His credibility on the point of Chili, however, is uncontestable. Listen: Due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, on that blessed day (cursed if you talk to his ex-wife) even though John could not be delivered into this world in the Great State of Texas itself, his father saw to it that there was a box of bone fide Texas dirt under the delivery table. Well, that’s what John told me and just because the folks from that neck of the woods are known for telling the tall tale, I have no proof (yet!) that was other than the way he said it was. We’ll see, Lawyer John. The jury is still out on that one.

CHILI:

The following recipe is modified for the average home. The original, as prepared by me under Mr. Geddie’s supervision was served at a block party in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn in the early 1970’s. The version we made that fateful day was for Polecat Chili. If you are a purist you can use the quintessential polecat, or even a possum. Squirrel will do; just. But I would stop there, and not suggest alligator, fish, or shell fish of any kind. And, please, this is not some gay affair (though there is nothing wrong with that) that you stack on a plate over toast points and grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms, with a garniture of sherry infused figs over mescaline in a curry fume under a spun sugar dome. JUST TOSS IT IN A BOWL, OK? And, most definitely we are not recommending any illegal game, such as some of the wonderfully delicious wild birds. The story goes about the new game warden in the territory who stops an old timer who’s toodling along with a dead whooping crane strapped to the front fender of his jalopy. “You know, mister, it’s a federal offense to kill one of those birds. It’s an endangered species. I’m new in these parts, and so I’ll let you go with only a warning. But, by the way, how does whooping crane taste, anyway?” “Not bad. But I prefer Spotted Owl and the missus is partial to Bald Eagle.”

Before the big reveal, a word from his nibs: I don’t have a specific recipe for Polecat Chili, if you will remember, it is a work in progress. However, here is how I usually make it:

1 ½ pounds of good meat, usually sirloin, ground “chili grind” size which is larger than hamburger size.  If the place doesn’t know what chili grind is then have it ground only once.
A big onion (or two if you like lots of onion)(chopped not so fine)
A couple of cloves of garlic (pressed)
A big bottle of chili powder (6 oz. or so)
Some cominos (ground cumin)
Some good oil, like canola or grape seed oil
A little salt
Some cayenne pepper

Using a large pot, heat some oil (not a lot – just enough to keep the meat from sticking) and cook the meat, onions and garlic together until the meet is browned. Then stir in chili powder until the meat has a dark color (anywhere from 3 to 5 oz. probably). Add a dose of cominos as well (probably a tablespoon or two). Mix it all up with the meat continuing to cook over a medium flame for a minute or so. Then add water until the mixture has a thick soupy texture (don’t use too much water or it will have a thin soupy texture). Start tasting it right away.  If you have not put in enough chili powder then put in some more, remembering that it is easier to add to this mixture than to take away from it. Plain chili powder isn’t usually all that spicy hot. It generally has a little cayenne pepper in it but not a lot. You can spice it up to taste by adding a little cayenne. As you can see, the quantities are dictated a lot by the strength of flavor you want to have. For example, I like a lot of onions and cominos, but others might prefer less of either or both.

Cook the mixture over a low (low!) flame for 4 – 6 hours.  Freezing it for a few days is supposed to enhance the flavor.

I inquired about the use of masa harina (corn flour used for tamales). It does have a distinctive flavor: Masa harina works like cornstarch.  If you need to get it thicker (that is, if you accidentally added too much water) then use it.  Or, if you decide not to use beans, then use it. Wick Fowler used to put in some masa harina with his five alarm chili mix for that purpose.

Serving Suggestions: Over Fritos with chopped onions and grated cheddar. Or, my favorite, over steamed white rice with chopped onions and grated cheddar. [I interject again to suggest the addition of chopped egg. The idea for that accompaniment I got from the old Caucus Club Restaurant in Downtown Detroit. Right across the street from the erstwhile London Chop House, where I was introduced to the ritual pleasures of the whole steamed artichoke with vinaigrette dressing. Which is also a great dressing for Tête de Veau Vinaigrette as served covered in a pure white napkin at the once Café Des Sport in New York City.]

Please excuse my digressiveness. Ever since I adopted a more wholistic world view, everything seems to be related to everything and I can, well, digress.


3/14/11

Hot Oil
 (Oriental Style, That Is)

Very Good Try Now Yes Very Much You Like. Lucky Too!

Chinese style hot oil is the sleeping giant of all spicy condiments. The go to additive to perk up anything from eggs to eggplant, from chicken to chick peas, from legumes to leg of lamb. Don't wait for the Saveur Top 100 issue or to hear it from Ms. Stewart or Giada or Mario or even that upstart Rachel Ray.

You heard it "hear" first.

It goes with everything. EVERYTHING!

So if you are the sort of person that thinks stir fry is Oriental cooking, broaden your definition. Stir fry is just another name for sauté. Of course, with the added idea of fast and high. [As opposed to the Smokey Joe's low and slow, which is a whole another thing and also very good; but, later.]

But be alerted... Not all hot oils are created equal. The ony kind of hot oil you should look to buy is the one based on 100% toasted sesame oil. It is the Extra Virgin Olive Oil of the Oriental kitchen. We recommend the Kadoya Hot Sesame Oil.

You can also make your own. But first to give the Kadoya a try. You'll never make it better; so buy some now and give it a try.

Suggested uses...