March 2011 Archives

Tonight's dinner is a delicious family favorite, Fideo. I grew up with this flavorful coiled vermicelli stewed with tomatoes, onions and garlic.
2 roma tomatoes, diced (or 4 oz canned tomato sauce--Hunts!)
small white onion, sliced
1 clove garlic
8 black peppercorns
1/8 tspn or slightly less cumin
1/2 lb fideo( coiled vermicelli), broken a bit (ok, in my picture tonight I used homemade pasta I had leftover from the night before, but vermicelli, fideo, is the traditional dish)
5 cups water
2 Tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
4 eggs


in a large saute pan heat the oil and saute the onion until translucent.
In a separate skillet toast the vermicelli slightly in a bit of oil.
In a molcajete mash the black pepper, garlic and the cumin into a fine paste. Use any mortar and pestle or small food processor if you don't have a molcajete.
Add a few tablespoons of water to the paste and then pour it into the onions.
Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce and the rest of the water and bring to a boil.
Add the toasted vermicelli and cook uncovered until done and the broth is reduced.
Hard boil the eggs, slice them and place them atop the cooked fideo. I grew up with the eggs being optional, but some families include the eggs religiously.

¡Buen provecho y acuérdate de tu familia!

On Coke

By 2020 soda will cause more deaths than cigarettes. soda1.jpg
It's the sugar. An integral part of our growing fast food, high sugar consumption, Coke and other sodas give the illusion of ease and no need to cook. Yes, we've been trained to not cook and therefore we eat badly.
Instead of cooking we watch TV - we watch others cook. In this 21-minute video Mark Bittman gives a lucid, gimmick-free invitation to attend to our eating.

I plan to depart from tradition today as I toast to Bishop St. Patrick and Catholicism. I'm toasting with champagne. Ghastly? Well add a drop or 2 or 3 of Irish Mist liqueur to the bottom of the glass. Taste of clover, heather and herbs.
mark-twain-mustache.jpgI'm with Mark Twain who lambasted the Catholic church in his early years but later was more accepting and understanding yet cool. I like Mark Twain because he is said to have once proclaimed, "Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right."


Yesterday at a house party I made "Moqueca," a Northeastern Brazilian seafood dish served in a clay pot. Fish and some shellfish are quickly boiled in an aromatic broth of coconut milk, vegetables, cilantro and the highly flavorful Brazilian palm oil, dendé.
I learned from my Brazilian friends how varied the differences are for this dish. This picture is during an intense discussion about the use of garlic.brazilladysmlB.jpg I have found that the best way to learn is to cook and eat with friends who have enjoyed the food all their lives.
Since it was Sunday afternoon, mimosas were served during the preparation. Lovely!
Here's the recipe.
Fresh coconut milkcoconutsml.jpg
Crack open a brown mature coconut and reserve the liquid. Then using a butterknife or similar blunt but sturdy instrument, pry gently the white coconut from the shell. The white coconut will break into medium size pieces as you pry. Be careful you don't get flying shards in your eys. Cut the white coconut into small dice, place in a blender, add the reserved coconut water and purée until completely liquified. Add tap water if needed to blend properly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Garlic, minced, 2 cloves
Kosher salt, 1 Tbsp
2 Limes, juiced
Cilantro, half bunch, chopped coarsely
Roma tomatoes, diced, 4
Green bell chiles, 1
Yellow onion, 1 medium
dendé oil
mahi-mahi or halibut fillets, 1 lb
fresh shrimp, 1 lb
crab fingers or lump, 1 lb
Make a smooth paste with the salt, garlic and half the lime juice (2Tbsp) and rub the fish filets with all of it. Place the filets in a glass dish or ziplock bag to marinade, also adding half the cilantro, chopped. Marinade from 1 to 3 hours. (One of my native Bahía friends at the party said NOT to marinade. you decide)
In a 12" saute pan or in a dutch oven (I assume most of us don't have the Brazilian moqueca pot)
add about 1-2 Tblspn dendé oil and sweat the onions, bell chiles, then add the tomatoes.
moquecasml.jpgOnce the vegetables are soft, add the coconut milk. Simmer gently for 1 hour, a bit longer is ok, so the flavors develop fully and the broth is reduced.
Add the fish, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the shrimp and crab and cook for another 2 minutes.
Sprinkle with the remaining chopped cilantro
Drizzle with lime juice and a bit of dendé oil, taste and adjust the salt.
Serve tableside while it is bubbling. Yum!!!

Kudos to Houston writer/historian Robb Walsh!
I am elated that Houston's soon-to-be-opened Tex-Mex restaurant at the old Tower Theatre, El Real, has Walsh as a partner.TowerElRealwb.jpg He is a lover of Tex-Mex food and has done a big service to this regional cuisine by researching and documenting its evolution from ca.1700's. Kudos to him!! Especially since he's had the temerity to kindly and respectfully critique writers like Diana Kennedy who make Mexico the source and the frame of reference for Tex-Mex.

With a new group of historians like David La Vere (Texas Indians, 2004) it's time now to look at the older, deeper roots of Tex-Mex. Walsh alludes to this need in his introduction to his Tex-Mex Cookbook , "Culinary folklorists now trace Tex-Mex cooking all the way back to the state's Native American peoples...."

We've been looking at Tex-Mex through a young lens that starts with Mexico and Texas, it's a European lens. That gives us a good view, but it's a partial view. It's partial because what we now separate as Southern Texas and Northern Mexico used to be one cohesive, well-traveled and communicated region.

Some scholars have called it the Coahuiltecan region. Perhaps authors of the 1970's would have been better served to forgoe the easy word "Tex-Mex" and choose a more accurate and descriptive one, Coahuiltecan cuisine.*
It is the Coahuiltecan region that gives rise to the cuisine that we now call Tex-Mex. It's flavor profile is characterized by chiles, open fire cooking, stews, small game, corn, beans, fish, shellfish, nopales and eventually wheat flour, milk products and pork.

Its palette derives from the southern and coastal Texas Indians.These Texas Indians eventually became the Mexican peasant class, the Mission Indians and so forth, but they (we) retained and evolved our identity through our food (all cultural identity is evolved and hybridized). Over time, with the birth of these two (Tex,Mex) republics, Texas Indians found themselves separated from their kin. The border crossed them, separated them -- they did not cross the border.

These early Texas Indians are the roots of what we now call Tex-Mex cuisine.
So again, Kudos to Walsh and to the effort that he started to get to a fuller history of our delicious and authentic Tex-Mex, Coahuiltecan, food. I can't wait to taste the food at El Real.

* Note: Although problematic, I use the term "Coahuiltecan" for the purpose of breaking away from the border-fixated term, Tex-Mex. The natives did not call themselves Coahuiltecans, since they were so many different peoples. It is researchers who used the term. But the term does give the region a defined place, keeping the river as a source of water and travel, not just a border. My intention is to preserve the food history of the region which predates, certainly does not exclude, the current geopolitical jurisdictions of Mexico and Texas.

Vichyssoise Recipe

Stewart Hoover asked me about this when he and Karen treated me to dinner at Frasca. I thought I'd give a more paused response, so, Stewart, here's the recipe and method that I learned when I was at the CIA, San Antonio.
To make 1 quart Vichyssoise
1 1/2 fl oz canola oil
1 Lb. 8 oz finely chopped leeks, white parts only
6 oz finely chopped onions
3 lb potatoes, peeled, medium dice
96 fl oz chicken stock
1 Sachet d'Épices (1 bay leaf, 1 tspn cracked peppercorns, 3 or 5 parsley stems, 1 sprig of thyme all wrapped up in a bit of cheesecloth)
1 Tbsp salt or to your taste
ground white pepper to suit your taste.
24 fl oz half-and-half
2 oz snipped chives
1. Heat the oil in a medium stockpot or dutch oven, add the leeks and onions. Sweat them over low to medium heat so that they become translucent but don't acquire any brown or golden color. We want white color!
2. Turn up the heat and add the potatoes, the stock, Sachet, salt and white pepper. Bring it to a boil but then reduce the heat to low or medium, just to simmer slowly until the potatoes are soft. About 30 minutes. Then take out the Sachet, discard it.
3.In a blender, purée the soup in batches. Let the soup cool or chill it
4. Before serving, stir in the half-and-half and the chives. Taste it and add more salt or white pepper if needed.
Serve it in chilled bowls or cups.
...make sure it is white, white, white and cold. Enjoy! I think It's wonderful

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