Monday, January 20, 2014

Flour Tortillas with Beef and Peppers

After eating my son-in-law's favorite cuisine, Japanese, for several meals in a row, he asked
me what my favorite cuisine is.  Without hesitation, my reply...."Mexican".  I wasn't the only
one at the table to say so, but he seemed surprised and proclaimed it monotonous, using the
same ingredients in every recipe construction.  (At least in the Tex-Mex variety so readily
available here). "Yes" I replied, "that's why I like it."  I love salsas, avocados, tomatoes, corn,
beans, rice again and again!  A burrito by any other name would taste as great.  And then to
place those ingredients on home-made flour tortillas.....(actually, butter, cheese or anything on
warm home-made tortillas, would seal the deal.) Have you ever had the pleasure?  If not, you
must try these. Very simply made, similar to a biscuit dough with less fat and baking powder,
the art is in the rolling.  But even should you fail to execute the perfectly round, 1/4 inch thick
tortilla, don't despair.  Taste will forgive that which offends the eye!  A friend whose parents
hailed from south of the border, proclaimed my tortillas superior to her mother's, an opinion
she was reluctant to admit as she was tutored at my side. I thank Chevy's, a fresh-mex
restaurant - the first one I encountered that prepared fresh tortillas in house, within site of the
hungry patrons outside the window. The beef with peppers (Maria's Beef and Peppers) is
thanks to another friend who shared her authentic family recipe.  Isn't that the basis of lasting friendship - sharing recipes that help us remember - recipes that wink at us from the recipe
box, like the old friends themselves: Sue's Fudge, Chris's Rolls, Jane's Quiche!

Flour Tortillas:

            6 cups flour
            1 tsp. baking powder
            1 tab. salt
            ½ cup vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
            2 ½ cups warm water

            -Place the flour in a medium bowl and add the baking powder and
                 salt, stirring to mix well.  Add the shortening.  Turn the mixer
                 on low and slowly pour in the water.  Mix on low, for 90
                 seconds or until well mixed.

            -Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface.  Divide
               the dough into 2 equal portions.  Cover with plastic wrap and set
               aside to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Divide each
   half into 8 equal portions.  You will now have 16 dough balls. 
   Lightly flour your work surface.  With a floured rolling pin, roll
   each ball into an 8 – inch round about 1/4 inch thick.  Stack the
   rounds on a baking sheet with plastic wrap between each. 
   Let rest for 10 minutes.

            -Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, and
               lightly coat with vegetable cooking spray. Cook the tortillas on
               the griddle or in the skillet for 1 minute on each side, or until
               light brown spots form on the surface. Press with the back of a
               metal spatula to pop the bubbles as they form.  Stack on plate
               and cover with foil to keep them warm until ready to serve. 
               (They may be stored in the fridge or freezer in a sealed
                plastic bag and reheated in the microwave.)

         Maria's Beef with Peppers
        1 1/2 pounds round steak or chuck, cut into small, 1/2 inch cubes
        1 large onion, chopped
        1 large green bell pepper, chopped
        1 large red bell pepper, chopped
         finely minced hot pepper, jalapeno, to taste (optional)
        1 4 ounce can chopped green chiles
         3 cloves garlic, minced
         2 medium tomatoes, diced
         1 ounce can tomato sauce
         2 tsp. Better Than Bouillon beef paste
         1 tab. ground cumin
         salt and pepper to taste
         chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, according to taste
         -Heat 3 tab. vegetable oil in large frying pan.  Brown beef cubes in
           oil tossing, until browned but no overcrowding.  Remove from pan
           when browned.
          -Add chopped onions and peppers to pot and fry until vegetables are
           softened, about 5-8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute. 
           Stir in green chiles, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, browned
           beef and salt and pepper, bouillon and 4 cups water.  Bring to a boil
             over medium-high heat.  Cover with a lid, and simmer over low heat
           1 1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is very tender.  (Add more water during
           cooking if necessary). 
          -Uncover and cook until sauce is thickened and reduced.  Remove
             from heat and stir in cilantro of parsley.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve
            with shredded jack or cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole
            on warm flour tortillas.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Festive Antipasto

The appetizer should always do as billed, peak the appetite of the consumer! The first bite is always the best and is tastier for the intense debut of flavor on the indolent tongue!  The Italian Antipasto is a close cousin to various appetizer courses of piquant nibbles, from various cultures, including the Arab mezza, the Spanish Tapas, and the Chinese Dim- Sum. (to be featured in upcoming posts).  “Anti” is interpreted as meaning "before" and “pasto” well, you can imagine….  I’ve featured my version of Antipasto on many a holiday table, the natural reds and greens of the marinated peppers, artichoke hearts and black jewels of olives, attract your attention before the taste.  Since we eat first with our eyes, it provides the enticing hook to the rest of the meal. The tomato rose and spring onion sprays add a touch of “look what I can do” and “to show I really care” as all the gifts of the season should.

Holiday Antipasto

Marinated Peppers
2 green peppers
2 red peppers
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp. marjoram
2 tab. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 cloves garlic, sliced
Pinch of sugar
1 tab. capers 

-Wash and quarter peppers.  Place on a cookie sheet, skin side up and broil as close to heat source as possible until the skins are charred and bubbled. 

-Place hot peppers in a plastic bag, closed, until cool – about 10 minutes

P-eel skin from cooled peppers and cut into strips or squares for serving. 

-Mix all remaining ingredients and pour over pepper pieces in a bowl.  Chill well before serving.  Adjust seasoning. 

Marinated Mushrooms
2/3 cup olive oil
½ cup water
Juice of one lemon
1 tab. red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
6 whole peppercorns
½ tsp. salt
1 lb. of fresh mushrooms 

-Combine all ingredients, except mushrooms and 1 clove of the garlic, in a stainless-steel pot and bring to a boil over moderate heat.  Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the mushrooms to the marinade and simmer covered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

-Let the mushrooms cool in the marinade.  When cool, add the third clove of chopped garlic raw and check for salt.  Store in marinade in the fridge until ready to serve. 

To Assemble Antipasto:

          On large platter arrange the following:
                   (1/2 - 3/4 pound each of meats and cheeses, thinly sliced.)
                   Ham slices 
                   Provolone Cheese Slices
                   Mozzarella Cheese Slices
                   Marinated Mushrooms
                   Marinated Peppers
                   Marinated Artichoke Hearts
                   Nicoise or Kalamata Olives (or red and green olives)
          Garnish with tomato roses and green onion sprigs.  Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and freshly cracked black pepper, if desired. Serve with a crusty Italian bread.  Serves 10 - 12.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Almond Lace Cookies

My mother never used a belt on us when we misbehaved, nor a wooden spoon, nor a switch as she was no witch, but something of an angelic mother.  But she did use the broomstick alright – to delight us!  This unusual un-dough looking batter, when cooked and still warm was draped over a broom stick and allowed to harden into a lacey cup.
The almond studded crisp that resulted was a subject of wonderment – “how did she make them do that?”  In my own kitchen, they don’t always do that.  Sometimes they lay flat, at times are crumbled as a praline-type topping or pressed gently while warm into a muffin cup, or when a chocolate mousse filling is available, hung on a broomstick to create the obliging cup.  My son’s favorite, I mailed them to him as a treat when he was away – the received product was a lacy crumble.  From mother to son, this jeweled cookie I call Almond Lace, in any form would taste as divine!

                         Drop batter by teaspoonsful on buttered and floured cookie sheet-

                  Remove cookies from oven when they have spread and are golden around edges-

                                  Allow cookies to cool flat or draped over 1-2 inch dowel-

                                             Delicious served as cups for chocolate mousse.

Almond Lace Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tab. cream
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup coarsely chopped almonds

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a small saucepan, mash and stir the butter with the sugar and cream over moderate heat until butter has melted.  Remove from heat and beat in the flour, then the almonds.  Drop by full teaspoons, spaced 4 inches apart, on lightly buttered and floured baking sheets, 4 - 6 to a sheet.  Bake one sheet at a time in middle level of preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until cookies have spread and begin to brown lightly around the edges.  (Watch them closely as they burn quickly.)

-Remove from oven and cool just a minute, until they are just firm enough to be removed with a flexible metal spatula, but are soft enough to droop.  Then rapidly lift off, one by one and lay over a broom handle or wooden spoon handle, 1 - 2 inches in diameter (balanced between 2 chairs) to crisp into a curved shape - takes a few minutes.

-Alternately, place warm cookies on a cooling rack and allow to cool.  Serve as flat round discs or dip half the cooled cookies in melted chocolate and allow the chocolate to harden on a cookie rack before serving.  Makes about 16 cookies.

**If using just one cookie sheet, be sure to wash it off between each batch and re-butter and re-flour sheet.
**When you try to remove the cookies from the sheet, gently try with a thin, metal spatula....there is a specific time when the cookies are ready to leave the pan....if they jumble into a mess, wait another minute and try again.  However, if you wait too long, they don't want to leave the pan at all and will be difficult to remove.  Waiting 5 minutes from the time you remove them from the oven is usually just right!

Boeuf En Daube

My husband is a champion of anything French, having lived there for two years immersed in French verb conjugations, mo-ped acrobatics and patisseries, especially those that baked chaussons de pommes and palmiers.  As a young wife, eager to please, after having mastered crepes, I learned to make this rich beef stew, a younger sibling to the more mature and developed Beef Bourguignon.  But this entree is more colorful – thank you red peppers – and nestled on a bed of rice, nothing short of sophisticated, soul-soothing elegance.  Worthy of being the centerpiece, the piece de resistance of any buffet!


Bouef En Daube
3 pounds round of beef or chuck roast, trimmed of fat
¼ cup flour
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
6 strips bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 mushrooms, sliced
1 can beef consomme
2 cups red wine
12 pearl onions, sliced
12 small carrots, sliced
red bell pepper, skinned and sliced
6 peppercorns, slightly bruised
4 whole cloves
2 tab. fresh parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. dried marjoram
¼ tsp. dried thyme
-Cut beef into 1 ½ inch cubes.  Mix flour, pepper and 1 tsp. salt in plastic bag.  Add beef cubes and shake to coat the meat.
-Fry bacon until brown in dutch oven.  Remove bacon from pot leaving fat.  Crumble into 1 inch pieces.  Set aside. 
-Add beef to pot and brown well on all sides keeping beef pieces from touching one another.  Add oil to pot as needed to facilitate browning.  Remove beef cubes from skillet as they are browned and add others. 
-Pour 1 cup wine into skillet and cook to remove bits from pan bottom (deglaze).  Place meat on top of bacon in the dutch oven.
-Brown mushrooms in skillet and layer over meat.  Pour consomme over ingredients in the pot.  Add onions, garlic, carrots, pepper, cloves, red pepper, parsley, bay leaf, 1 tsp. salt, marjoram and thyme.  Pour in remaining cup of wine.  Cover and bake at 300 degrees for 3 – 4 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve over rice, garnished with additional chopped parsley.  Serves 8