From Both Sides of the Rio Grande

rioThere are certain differences between the two cookbooks featured in this week’s post. Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking by Pati Jinich is about Mexican food; The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain is about the food of Texas. Pati’s Mexican Table is based on a television show (but Pati also has a blog); The Homesick Texan Cookbook is blog based. Other differences are insignificant. I found myself buying lots of poblano chiles, tomatillos, and cilantro to make the recipes from both books. Both books have consistently good recipes, and both books are surprisingly vegetarian friendly.

homesickI had seen The Homesick Texan Cookbook  on the shelves of Barnes and Noble for several weeks before I idly picked it up and leafed through it. I was not expecting much: just another glossy book full of recipes I had no interest in cooking, with lots of bacon and other meat, and with no regard for health. I was surprised! I saw tempting recipe after tempting recipe. The meat chapter was only 34 pages long (although there were certainly other meat recipes in other chapters). Very few processed ingredients were in evidence. I bought the cookbook, and was even more pleased with the book once I started cooking from it. I myself could probably do with less arty food photographs and fewer non-food photographs of Texas, but others may love the illustrations. Lisa apparently has some degree of success in the world of photography. According to the back flap of the book jacket, “her photographs have been exhibited worldwide, with two in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.” This quibble aside,  The Homesick Texan Cookbook is a great cookbook, and I am looking forward to Lisa’s new cookbook, The Homesick Texan’s Family Table, expected in April, 2014.

eggsMy favorite stuffed egg recipe is for Parsi stuffed eggs from Nilaoufer Ichaporia King in My Bombay Kitchen. These eggs contain, among other ingredients, lime juice and cilantro, as do the “Smoky Deviled Eggs” (page 98) in The Homesick Texan Cookbook. The Texan eggs then part company from the Parsi stuffed eggs, with their paprika, chipotle powder (I just used some chopped up chipotle in adobe sauce), mustard, cumin, and garlic. I would have preferred these eggs with less mayonnaise in the filling, but they were still very good, almost as good as the Parsi eggs.

poblanoIn the course of recipe testing for this post, I have come to really appreciate roasted poblanos. They have a wonderful taste, which is showcased in “Green Chile Chowder” (page 132. There is not much to this puréed soup except the roasted poblanos and some jalapeño: a little cilantro and lime juice, onion and garlic with cumin for accent, yet the other ingredients are quite bland: potatoes, vegetable (or chicken) broth, and milk. It all goes together to make a flavorful and subtly hot but not too hot soup.

sqashcasAs a child, I was a picky eater, however I was not born into today’s era of total indulgence of child picky eaters. Thus I would eat my vegetables, although (with certain exceptions) no more than was strictly required in order to be eligible for dessert. Exceptions included corn, as prepared by my grandmother with the corn from her garden, which I loved, and yellow squash, which I loathed. My gardening grandmother did not, to my memory, grow yellow squash, so it was with my other grandmother (shall we call her the drinking grandmother?) that I once had a huge showdown over the overcooked yellow squash she served. To this day, I refuse to prepare yellow squash solo, although I have finally grown to appreciate it as an ingredient, usually accompanied by green squash (zucchini). When I came across Lisa’s “Tex-Mex Squash Casserole” (page 267), I did not turn the page with a shudder, but decided to make this recipe. Crushed tortilla chips are covered with zucchini and yellow squash cooked in a tomato sauce, and all is topped with cheese. The tortilla chips provided just the right amount of thickening, and the dish was expertly seasoned. I really liked this casserole, especially with the green rice from Pati’s Mexican Table. However, I am still not ready to eat yellow squash solo. [Go to the recipe.]

ketchupxx“Chipotle Ketchup” (page 29) is a thickened, sweetened tomato sauce, which may well be a good definition of tomato ketchup. It is made with canned tomatoes, which are cooked until thick with sugar, vinegar, and spices, including chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Lisa then has us canning the ketchup in sterile jars, which does not make sense to me, as we are already starting with canned tomatoes. I just stored my ketchup in the refrigerator. If I used ketchup on everything, I would have liked this recipe a lot more; as it is, I am not sure that we have enough stuff on which to put ketchup to use all of this.

texgritsI only began to appreciate grits in my adult life; now I really like grits, especially the Anson Mills grits sold at Zingerman’s. Lisa’s version of cheese grits, “Tomatillo Cheese Grits” (page 270) has tomatillos, cilantro, and jalapeño added. This made a very good side dish, but was a little redundant to eat with the squash casserole, as both had lots of cheese.

pinesorbetPerhaps the least successful recipe I tried was the “Pineapple Sherbet” (page 345). The sherbet base consists of canned crushed pineapple, drained and blended with milk, buttermilk, a small amount of sugar, and flavored with mint and lemon juice. When just made, this was cold, refreshing, and with the right amount of sweetness to keep from being overwhelmed by sugar. However, after a certain amount of time in the freezer, the sherbet froze rock hard, in part because of the low sugar, and despite the tablespoon of rum I added that was not in the original recipe. So this is not a recipe to make in winter, store in the freezer, then try to eat for dessert. It is for eating on a hot summer day, right after churning, and is not so sweet that it is suitable only for dessert.

patiI only became interested in Pati’s Mexican Table after The Homesick Texan Cookbook turned out to be so much better than expected, and much as I liked Lisa’s Homesick Texan Cookbook, I liked Pati’s Mexican Table even more. Pati has a slightly lighter touch, with more salads and less cheese (or, strictly speaking, more salads that happened to appeal to me; more dishes without cheese that happened to appeal to me). Her food, in addition to tasting good, was very visually appealing, and this without undue effort. Pati describes herself as Jewish-Mexican, although I did not find much in the way of Jewish food in this cookbook; there are plenty of pork recipes, and a wonderful salad: “Jicama, Beet, Orange, and Caramelized Peanut Christmas Salad” (page 54). Perhaps, though, someone familiar with Jewish-Mexican cuisine would recognize many of Pati’s dishes.

christmasI did not quite follow Pati’s instructions for the aforementioned “Jicama, Beet, Orange, and Caramelized Peanut Christmas Salad” (page 54). To begin with, I used golden beets, not Pati’s red beets. Instead of slicing the oranges, I sectioned them, removing the membranes. I did not carefully slice the jicama into long matchsticks, but chopped it in the food processor. Finally, I did not artfully arrange the vegetables on a platter, but just mixed everything up. I think that my salad was nevertheless quite beautiful, and its golden color was more appropriate for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Danny thought, on first tasting this salad, that it had apples in it; the crunch of the jicama, the sweetness from the caramelized peanuts, and the fruit flavor from the orange do give the illusion of apple.

peanutsPati gives a very simple recipe for the “Caramelized Pecans or Peanuts” (page 49) used in the jicama-beet salad. Instead of making a hot sugar syrup, using a candy thermometer and lots of stirring, Pati just stirs her nuts (or peanuts) into maple syrup (half as much maple syrup as peanuts by volume), spreads the nuts on a baking sheet, distributes a small amount of diced butter over the nuts, and pops them into a 375º oven. She bakes them for 10 minutes, stirs them around, then bakes for another 10 minutes. BY that time the bubbling all around the nuts. She transfers everything to another surface to cool and dry, separating the nuts so that they do not dry in clumps.  This  is dangerous food to have around: too good, too easy to snack on, yet too caloric.

avocadoheartAvocados and hearts of palm are a classic pairing; googling will turn up many recipes for avocado and heart of palm salad. Pati’s version (page 46) also has corn and tomatoes. The problem with avocado salads is that avocados turn brown if not eaten right away. My solution with this salad was to mix up the salad without the avocado; I would then mix up part of the salad with the appropriate amount of avocado, as needed. As I write this, I have half an avocado, and about a sixth of the rest of the salad left over; this will be combined tonight, and Danny and I will finish off this very good variation on avocado and heart of palm salad.

radish“Crunchy Radish Pico” (page 31) looked like a good variation on chopped salad. It’s just radishes, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro, and scallions, with a dressing of lime juice and oil. This made up into a pretty, colorful salad, but alas, this salad did not have good staying power. After a day, it was wilted and dull, and after several days completely unappetizing. But when fresh, this was a crunchy and zingy salad.

cornsoupPati has an inspired idea for “Creamy Corn Soup” (page 68): she makes this with a vanilla bean (and for affordable vanilla beans, click on the link). Restricting the use of vanilla to desserts means missing out on all sorts of good uses for this magical bean. That said, I did use the super sweet corn to make this soup. The soup is fortified at the end with a cup of milk; I thought about leaving out the milk, but Shay wisely advised to include it. The other ingredient of note is a chipotle chile in adobo sauce, just to spice the soup up and to avoid any cloying tendencies.

tomzucI have not yet eaten “Tomato-Zucchini Soup with Melty Cheese” (page 78) with the melty cheese, as I have been getting enough cheese calories from the other dishes in this post. But what one is supposed to do is to take this hot soup, a fairly standard preparation with zucchini, corn, tomatoes, and roasted poblanos, and pour is over diced cheese in your soup bowl. Without the cheese, this soup was good but not remarkable. I think I might have liked it better without the corn: the corn kernels seemed intrusive, with little to add in the way of taste.

frittata“Mexican Frittata with Poblanos, Potatoes, and Feta” (page 100) made a good weekday meal, being quick to prepoare, at least with prep work done ahead of time. The title pretty much says it all. My mistake with this frittata was in using one, not two, roasted poblanos, but I had run out of poblanos, and did not want to go out in the sub-zero (Farenheit) temperature to replenish my supply.

salmonmex“Sweet and Salty Salmon” (page 132) was a strange recipe to find in these pages; it is really just a teriyaki type salmon; the only thing Mexican is the Mexican brown sugar used in the marinade. Lisa explains the presence of this recipe by referring to Spanish trade routes and the exchange between continents of soy sauce and ginger on the one hand, and cacao, vanilla, chiles, and avocados on the other. This strikes me as a little bit of a stretch. On the other hand, I am sure that soy sauce and ginger are used in Mexico today, and if Lisa wants to include this recipe, that’s fine with me. My family will always eat salmon with soy sauce. The instructions in this recipe are unclear on one point: after soaking the salmon in a marinade of soy sauce and a very large amount of Mexican sugar, we are instructed to bake the salmon. What, I wondered, do we do with the marinade? Drain it off? Not drain it off? I drained most, but not all, of it off. The salmon, whatever its provenance, turned out quite good and was appreciated by all.

greenrice“My favorite Green Rice” (page 221) has become my favorite green rice also: to be so prepared is, I believe, is why rice was created. This is primarily long grain rice cooked with poblano chiles (which you do not have to go to the trouble to roast) and cilantro; there is also some onion, garlic, and lime juice. It might not sound like much, but this is definitely a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts dish. This rice was the perfect accompaniment to Lisa’s squash casserole. [Go to the recipe.]

scribble“Scribble Cookies” (page 239) were simple and sophisticated. The cookies themselves are a simple rolled sugar cookie; two such cookies sandwich a ganache filling. Pati advises storing the cookies in the refrigerator. I was resistant to this idea, as refrigerating cookies does not usually help their texture, but in this case Patti was right. Before refrigeration, these were uninspired sugar cookies with a slippery filling. After refrigeration, the cookies softened, the filling firmed up, so that the textures of cookie and filling were compatible; after refrigeration, the flavors  of cookie and filling began working with, not against, each other.


Squash Casserole

Adapted from Lisa Fain, The Homesick Texan Cookbook

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound yellow squash, sliced
1 pound zucchini, sliced
1 onion, diced
2 jalapeño peppers, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or other hot red pepper)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup vegetables broth
1 14.5-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
½ cup cream or half and half
½ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped cilantro
2 cups crushed tortilla chips
4 ounces grated or sliced Monterey Jack cheese with chiles
4 ounces grated or sliced cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly oil a baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the squash, onion, chiles, garlic, and cumin, and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the squash softens up. Stir in the chile powder, the hot red pepper, salt (start with ½ teaspoon), and lots of freshly ground pepper. Stir in the flour, then add the broth and tomatoes. When the mixture thickens slightly, stir in the cream, sour cream, and cilantro, and turn off the heat.

Put the crushed the tortilla chips in the bottom of a baking dish, and cover with the squash mixture. Top with the cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cheese is melted, and the casserole is bubbling.


Green Rice

Adapted from Pati Jinich, Pati’s Mexican Table

2 cups long grain rice
2 poblano chiles, seeded
½ cup water
1 bunch cilantro, washed and trimmed
2 cloves garlic
1½ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ white or yellow onion, diced
3 cups vegetable broth
Juice from 1 lime

Soak the rice in water for 10 minutes; rinse and drain.

In a blender, blend the poblano chiles, water, cilantro, garlic, and salt.

Heat the oil in a large pan that has can be covered later. Add the rice, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue to cook and stir until the onion becomes limp. Add the poblano purée and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes or so. Add the water, stir, cover, reduce the heat, and cook until the rice is done, which might take 20 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and taste for salt.

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