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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Mélange: Indigenous America—Yucatán Peninsula Cuisine

5. Yucatecan Cuisine
When I was a child, maybe 5 or 6, I fell in love one of Mom’s purses. She loved it too, and had it for decades. It was a luscious dark red—the color of blood, if you please. The leather was rich and soft all at once. And etched in the leather were Mayan hieroglyphs that spoke to me. I remember spending as much time as I could, when near that purse, tracing each symbol with my little fingers, mesmerized by their elegant beauty. It was my obsession with her purse that resulted in Mom getting me a silver Maya calendar medallion. I still have it.

This summer, as Ancestry performed an update on their ethnicity maps, Mom’s was expanded to include—to our surprise—a trace of Indigenous Americans from the Yucatán Peninsula.

Of course, the trace of Taíno made perfect sense because it is a part of almost every living Puerto Rican . . . but Mayas?

But as I thought about it, it occurred to me that I’d read a piece a few years ago from some archeological journal that there was evidence that the Taíno originated from the Orinoco Valley (in present-day Venezuela). Expert sea farers, they are said to have traveled in their handmade canoes from the continent into the Caribbean islands.

The importance of that article was that there was a theory making the rounds in academia that the Taíno and Mayas had contact. And it tickled me to think that even in pre-Columbian times, my family was already engaging in interracial and intercultural marriage. It’s really a family tradition!

The Maya grew most of their food (and their staples survive in many Latin American cuisines and exported the world over). They planted beans (black, pinto and red), maize (corn), cassava (yucca), squash, and chili peppers. They also cultivated other crops, such as avocado, chayote, guava, papaya, pineapple, pumpkin, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. The Maya also grew herbs that still dominate many cuisines to this day: achiote (annatto), cinnamon, epazote, garlic, oregano, naranja agria (sour oranges), and vanilla.

And this deserves a separate paragraph: the Maya are responsible for the cultivation of cocoa and bringing chocolate to the world. Chocolate was sacred. The food of the gods... These are definitely our people!

Foods that persist in our cultural zeitgeist include guacamole, corn tortillas, and tamales. Yucatan-style ceviche is probably one of the most delicious things that you’ll taste—with its depth of flavor and variety of textures and colors with fish, avocado, onions, jalapeños, tomatoes and lime juice.

The Yucatecans’ most famous dish, though, is cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted suckling pig that marinates in sour orange, is seasoned with annatto, and roasts wrapped in banana leaves. Traditionally, this dish is cooked buried in a pit, but that’s not really practical for most home cooks… Substitutions include pork shoulder (butt roast) or pork loin; if sour oranges are not available, you may use sweet oranges combined with lemons, lime, or vinegar for the marinade; and you may cook in the oven, slow-cooker, or grill.

The meat is shredded (pulled pork) or cubed bite size and served with pickled red onions, roasted habanero salsa, guacamole, and tortillas.

¡Mi raza!

Rick Bayless has a great recipe here:

There is an InstaPot/CrockPot recipe here:

And for a simple (more accessible) oven version, there is a fabulous recipe here:

Monday, December 30, 2019

Happy New Year: Eat Well!

This is the time of year many start making resolutions (plenty of which end up in the cutting room of life before the end of January). I have to make changes, but not resolutions--actionable things that cannot be negotiated. But I do resolve to do better with the blog because I know I have neglected it terribly this past year.

Here's hoping that your celebrations include friends and family and great food. And here's hoping that next year brings you health, merriment, and many forms of success, and good food--lots of good food!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Turkey Drumsticks in About 30 Minutes

When we make turkey wings or legs, we sometimes end up adding cooking time to make sure we reach the safe standards for internal temperature. I don’t mind longer cooking times, but with the Air Fryer, because it is a smaller appliance, this may affect browning (and tenting isn’t always a deterrent to slightly scorched meats). I like crunchy, but golden brown always beats slightly burnt.

And while I love slow cooking for many things (stews, sauces, soups), sometimes you want a quickie that only tastes like you spent hours working on a delicate balance of tastes and textures. This is a good weeknight quick meal.

Turkey Drumsticks in About 30 Minutes
1 tablespoon each (see note):
Penzey’s Poultry Seasoning
Penzey’s Justice Seasoning
Penzey’s Forward Seasoning
2 tablespoons garlic powder
½ tablespoon Goya powdered chicken bouillon
Extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, mix the seasoning and then add olive oil (about ¼ cup) a little at a time and stir until it forms a loose paste.

Loosen the skin on the drumsticks and place about a teaspoon or two under the skin, and then rub the rest on the legs to season every inch of the surface.

I did something different this time because a few other times I made turkey legs on the Air Fryer, I’ve have to cook longer than I intended because the inside is not fully cooked and we won’t eat pink turkey. So to prep the legs, I cooked in the microwave for about 10 minutes at 80% power – and covered in a dome of plastic wrap so that it steams in its own juices.

At this point, you can transfer directly to the Air Fryer, or refrigerate for later cooking (think of it as electronic blanching). Make sure to add the cooking juices collected from the microwave dish over the drumsticks and into the Air Fryer.

To finish cooking, I left it in the Air Fryer for 20 minutes on one side at 375°F on one side, flipped them and cooked for another 10 minutes at 400°F. The juices collect on the bottom of the basket, brown and savory. The skin is golden and crispy and the meat is tender and juicy.

I served with sliced sweet potatoes, which I find cook perfectly on our microwave—in under 10 minutes while I let the drumsticks sit and collect its juices.

I made a simple Ranch dressing to dip the turkey in (mayo, dill, crushed garlic, lemon juice, and vinegar).

Note: The Penzey’s seasonings are all salt-free mixes with a variety of herbs and spices.

1. Poultry Seasoning—sage, white pepper, bell peppers, lemon peel, savory, rosemary, dill weed, allspice, thyme, marjoram and ginger.

2. Justice Seasoning—shallots, garlic, onion, green peppercorns, chives, and green onion.

3. Forward Seasoning—extra bold black pepper, onion, paprika, garlic, turmeric, spice extractives (including oleoresin of celery, rosemary, black pepper, thyme, basil and paprika).

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Chicken Gizzards in Garlic Sauce

Some of my friends cringe at the thought of eating “innards” – any internal organs—which I find peculiar if they are willing to eat meats of any kind. Having lived with grandparents and a great grandmother who lived through the Great Depression, I can tell you that it was deeply ingrained in my psyche that you wasted not a single shred of resources (be it food or anything else).

But I also guess that it is a peasant tradition to make use of every bit of a sacrificed beast—it gave its life and every bit of it should have purpose, whether to feed, clothe, or create other tools or materials. It is only the privileged that allow for the idea that foods may be considered inferior and therefore waste, because only people who live with abundance see no problem discarding food they wouldn’t eat because it’s not a choice cut.

That bothers me, but I cannot control people’s prejudice when it comes to food. All I can do is try to share my enthusiasm and hope that I am not just preaching to the choir.

I remember a friend telling me once that she thought the stuff that came in the little packet inside the chicken was garbage. She always threw it out because she had no idea what to do with it. She wasn’t even sure what that stuff was. She could identify the neck, though I think she was just guessing; but the rest left her confused and cold. “A heart, gizzard, and liver,” I pointed out the parts to her. She turned three shades whiter, making her almost translucent, and she pushed the tiny plate away. “Gross!”

“Bullshit,” I said. This was a woman who would not skimp on buying the most expensive pâté she could buy at Balducci’s just to impress some of her more affected friends. “What do you think pâté is made out of?” Apparently the cooking of the innards is chic only if the French do it, but they certainly did not invent the concept.

Gizzards are the victims of such prejudice and it’s a shame that most Americans ignore them—although in the last decade or so, people like Anthony Bourdain and other celebrity chefs have elevated the status of innards as edibles.

Poultry produces delicious gizzards and they are available in a variety of world cuisines: the Portuguese stew them, Koreans stir-fry them, Indians curry it, Ghanaians boil them, the Japanese grill and fry them… And according to Wikipedia, it is eaten in some parts of the Midwestern US and parts of the South (mostly fried, or boiled and added to gumbo).

Both my maternal grandmother as well as my great grandmother, prepared mollejitas (little gizzards) in three different dishes: pickled with onions and green bananas (escabeche is made for Christmas), stewed, or boiled in soup.

They’re cheap, they freeze well, are rich in vitamins and they are flexible enough you can have them as snacks or part of a complete meal.

The secret is to “clean” them, by removing the layer of thick skin on them (it makes them bitter and once cooked it turns into a chewy, inedible mess), and boil them at least half an hour to make them tender. Gizzards are flexible and very tasty once you perform these two actions.

Preparing Chicken Gizzards

1. Run gizzards through a cold water bath or some vinegar and scrub to make sure there are no extraneous materials (this may include sediment).

2. You may cut in half or quarters (some people prefer to cut after cooked as they are tender and easier to handle). If there is a yellowish, thick membrane attached, you can use a paring knife to pull it back and discard. Remove any grease and discard.

3. Fill a pot with water and lightly salt (don’t overdo it because you will season the gizzards later for cooking). Add gizzards and bring water to a boil. Boil gizzards for a minimum of 30 minutes or until gizzards become tender.

For safety, you want to cook them to 165F (74C). There are various ways to get there, I tend to bring water to a boil and let it cook for 15 minutes, and then I let it simmer at a medium low flame for an additional 30 minutes.

Some cooks boil gizzards for up to two hours, but that’s really overkill. You may add a bay leaf, if you have any.

Once cooked, remove from the liquid and allow them to cool. If you did not cut them and need to, chop to taste. Trim and discard any leftover grease or membrane not disposed of before boiling.

When cool, you may freeze for later use. I drop them in chicken stock for soup, and it adds a wonderful dimension to the dish.  

Mollejas al Ajillo (Gizzards in Garlic Sauce)

16-20 oz prepared chicken gizzards
4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 oz white wine*
Saffron strands, to taste
White pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

1. Gently heat olive oil at medium heat and sauté gizzards for 10-15 minutes.

2. Season gizzards with salt and pepper, and add a few strands to saffron to the oil.

3. Add garlic and sauté for another 5 minutes, and add wine (you may substitute with Vermouth, vinegar, lemon juice, or apple or orange juice—each will render a slightly different flavor and give you a nuanced dish).

4. Stir ingredients together and cook until wine is almost completely reduced and garlic is golden and softened.

Serve immediately with rice, polenta, mashed potatoes, or fried green plantains. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Air Fryer Sandwich Bread

Mom found a book of healthy recipes for the Air Fryer. Coincidentally, it is by the author of the Air Fryer cookbook I bought after we got our little magical appliance. This prompted some research—because I’m a nerd and I research for fun. After some reading, it became clear that anything made in a conventional oven can be recreated in an Air Fryer. There are limitations, of course, because our Air Fryer is a small model—though perfect for us.

So far, one of the things I love the most about it is that I can have roasted chicken in the summer without having to turn the oven on—we have no AC and turning the oven on in summer is suicidal. A 2 ½ to 3 pound chicken fits the little basket and it generally means dinner, lunch, and a soup (so about three meals from one chicken).

Of course, the faster cooking times are a great plus too! 

So far, we’ve also made lemon chicken (breast), turkey breast, turkey legs and turkey wings, pork tenderloin, and a small pork shoulder. There are at least two dozen other things we want to try out—including cupcakes.

A turkey wing is almost a meal in itself.

A few weeks back I was toying with the idea of making a tiny pizza in the Air Fryer. My plan was to make a tomato sauce with lamb and topping it with Feta cheese. We ended up making lamb burgers instead, but the idea danced in my head for days.

Then we hit a couple of days when we were rained in and had run out of rolls. I’d just made a pernil in the Air Fryer and was looking forward to the leftover sandwiches. And I got it in my head that I should be able to make rolls in the Air Fryer. None of the books had bread recipes and trying to find one in the Internet turned into a comedy of errors. I found a video and a recipe for dinner rolls. Neither was quite right but they helped guide my choices.

I wanted a substantial roll, crusty but airy and soft inside. And the solution was fairly simple: ciabatta! I made a basic pizza dough but added powdered garlic and Greek seasoning. I let it rise for 45 minutes to an hour and it doubled in size. I cut the dough in half and divided again so that I ended up with four rolls.

More blonde than golden, but for emergency bread it was perfect!

I shaped two as baguettes and the second batch as rectangles. I scored them differently too—the baguettes got scored twice along the width and the rectangles got a vertical score across its length.

After preheating the Air Fryer, I placed two rolls in the basket and cooked at 360-degrees from 15 minutes on one side and 7 minutes on the other side (it could have stayed in for 9 or 10 minutes for a darker crust). The interior temperature should reach between 190-200 degrees.

Photos of my first attempt. I’ll do it again!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Mélange: Basque Cuisine

4. Basque Cuisine

Mom and I share some Basque heritage. The likelihood is that it comes from her maternal side. From there, it is a crap shoot whether it is from my great grandmother’s family or my great grandfather’s. And then again it could come from her paternal grandmother’s side. We don’t know. We may never know, and that’s okay. We like a good mystery!

To be sure, the Basque are a mystery themselves. Established scholarship says they descend from early farming settlers from the northwestern region of Spain to parts of southwestern Francefrom Bordeaux to Bilbaostraddling the Pyrenees and nestled in the Bay of Biscay. And both bordering and within Basque country there are several forests—all of this influences a vast and rich mythology which survived the arrival of Christianity and even the Franco years.

Although geography allowed them to remain relatively isolated they were not exactly hiding either. The Romans found met them in the northern Iberian peninsula as far back as 200 B.C. The Basque had been in the area long before. Theories as to their origin are interesting―from claims that they are the 13th tribe from Israel to refugees from Atlantis.

One thing has always been clear. The Basque are different. Their language is one that matches no other. And while they live in a so-called autonomous region, the politics of it is a little more complicated, but no matter how you define it, it is unlikely that the Spaniards will ever truly rule them. The Basque are not prone to submission as such. They do what they want.

Basque contributions to the world have included luminaries from Ignatius of Loyola to Pablo Picasso, from Balenciaga to Saint Francis Xavier to Miguel de Unamuno… But perhaps the biggest contribution that the Basque have gifted the world is their amazing cuisine.

Basque country is blessed with coastal waters leading to the north Atlantic and fertile lands on her valleys—so the seafood is plentiful and the produce are magnificent. From Basque tapas (pintxos) to my beloved salt cod a la Vizcaína, to bacalao al Pil-Pil to the heavenly torrijas (French toast elevated to an art form).

A traditional Basque dish, which is easy to make and is also very adaptable is merluza en salsa verde (hake in a green sauce). You can have a simple and elegant meal on the plate in 20 minutes!

Hake is a lean white fish, part of the cod family, and relatively easy to find (including certified sustainable). You can substitute with fresh cod if whiting is unavailable. The seafood is lovely, but for my money the sauce is the real beauty of this dish. Certainly, this green sauce can be found in several dishes from the region—it is easy to make, very hard to foul up, relatively cheap, and it feels fancier than its preparation suggests.

Merluza en Salsa Verde (Basque Hake in Green Sauce)

2 fresh hake steaks
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp flour (plus extra for dredging steaks)
½ - ¾ cup fish or vegetable stock (see note)
1-2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Sea salt to taste

Lightly dredge fish steaks and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high flame. Cook steaks 2 minutes per side (lightly browned to a golden hue). Remove fish and set aside.

Add remaining oil and chopped garlic, one garlic begins to crackle in the pan remove chili (if used), lower heat to medium low and add flour to pan, stirring constantly, and cook for about 1 minute.

Gradually add stock to pan and whisk until you get a smooth and velvety sauce. This may take a couple of minutes – make sure flour is completely incorporated and there are no lumps in the sauce. Adjust for seasoning and add salt to taste (a dash will do).

Add the fish steaks to the pan and cover to heat fish through for about a minute.

At this point, depending on your personal taste, you may add the parsley over the fish or you can add to the sauce as you serve (remove fish to plate, add parsley, mix into sauce over low heat. Pour sauce over fish and serve immediately.

1. Hake steaks can be substituted with haddock, grouper or mahi mahi. Each substitution offers a slightly nuanced change to the dish but they all work well.

2. Typically the dish can be made with clams, but shrimp are not an unusual addition. The dish may also contain kokotxas (pronounces co-co-chas and literally the fish throat—and I realize it may be a delicacy that some of you can live without).

3. This recipe does not include any heat element, but you may add white pepper to the garlic as it cooks—this will keep your sauce silky and smooth with just a little bit of heat. I’ve also seen recipes include thinly sliced dried chili (which may also be substituted with dried pepper flakes).

4. You can use ½ cup of stock (fish or vegetable) plus ¼ cup of white wine (use a good dry). Add the wine first to let the alcohol evaporate as it cooks.

5. If available, and if you wish, you may add about ½ pound of clams (buy cleaned, if possible, or soak at least 20 minutes to expel any sand). Add the clams as you have the sauce at about the right consistency and let them open over the sauce (remove from pan as soon as they open). Then add the hake and heat through before serving. The same principle applies if using shrimp (¼ to ½ pound of small/medium).

6. While this dish can accompany a nest of cappellini, rice, or couscous; it is also served with potatoes or with bread to soak up the delicious sauce.

¡Buen provecho!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Air Fryer Whole Chicken

Roasted chicken is an art form, truly. I mean, you do remember the hoopla caused by Meghan Markle mentioning Prince Harry proposed after she made him a roasted chicken and women of all ages (who cook and have at some point read Glamour Magazine or saw versions of it on Martha Steward, the Food Network or such) were quick to shout in glee, “Engagement Chicken works!” Because of course it does. 

Chicken is magic, y'all!

And I have to admit that there are few things I find more offensive, in a culinary sense, than someone ruining a simple roasted chicken. There’s just no excuse for bad chicken.

As I mentioned last year, we received a small Air Fryer as a gift and it is perfect for the two of us. I’ve been playing around and have come up with the perfect combination. It not only yields a great dinner, but there is enough left-over for healthy sandwiches the next day, and the carcass and innards become the base for a bitching chicken soup the day after that.

Air Fryer Whole Chicken
3 ½ lbs chicken fryer
1 Tbsp 21 Seasoning Salute
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp three onion rub
½ Tbsp freeze dried shallots
½ Tbsp poultry seasoning
½ Tbsp garlic and chili flake seasoning
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon

(see notes below for specific information about spices used and alternatives)

In a glass jar, mix all the dry seasonings and stir with a fork to mix well. Add olive oil and stir to mix. Close jar and let stand for a few hours (I let mine sit overnight). You want the garlic, shallots and onions to rehydrate and bloom in the oil.

Remove innards package from chicken cavity and reserve for later use (for stock). Using your finger or the back of a wooden spoon, loosen the breast skin to create a pocket and spoon a couple of teaspoons of seasoning mix under the skin on both breasts. Rub about two or three teaspoons of the seasoning inside the cavity. Using a fork, make punctures on the lemon and stuff inside the cavity**. Rub the remainder of the seasoning all over the chicken.

At this point, you may start cooking, if you wish. I placed the chicken in a container and refrigerated overnight. If you refrigerate, make sure you take the chicken out 15-30 minutes so that the meat is closer to room temperature when you are ready to cook.

Preheat Air Fryer. Place chicken in basket and Air Fry at 360-degrees for 30 minutes, breast down. Air Fry for another 30 minutes breast side up. Let it rest for 10 minutes and carve—the chicken should come right off the bone and the meat will be juice and tender. Remove lemon from cavity and press down with spoon to squeeze out juices, and combine with pan juices to drizzle over chicken. The skin will turn not only golden brown, but extra crispy!

Notes (*some Amazon affiliate links below, if you want to help a girl out with a click or two):

1. I used McCormick’s minced garlic, though if I’d been using fresh garlic, I’d suggest at least three cloves.*

2. Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute is a salt free blend of onion, black pepper, celery seed, cayenne pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, savory, rosemary, cumin, mustard, coriander, garlic, carrot, orange peel, tomato, lemon juice and lemon oil.*

3. I used Pampered Chef’s three onion rub, a gluten free blend of yellow, red and green onions (contains 40 ml sodium).

4. Penzeys offers freeze dried shallots and poultry seasoning (a salt free blend of sage, white pepper, bell peppers, lemon peel, savory, rosemary, dill weed, allspice, thyme, marjoram and ginger).*

5. Brandless has a great, organic garlic and chili flake seasoning blend.

6. The combination of spice blends used makes the addition of salt and pepper unnecessary.

** As the lemon is not exactly “stuffing”, there’s no need to secure it inside the cavity—but I still use two or three toothpicks to close the flap over the top and allow the lemon to steam and also to get an even crisp on the skin all around.