Saturday, February 16, 2008

Authentic Mexican with Rick Bayless's Help

For another project, I recently had to go visit a few muy mexicano supermarkets. I wandered the aisles and was enticed..and frankly, aren't we all just a little bit tired of fajitas? We get it already: sizzle plate, greasy meat, veggies to fill you up and enough sour cream and cheese to hide any ..."sub-par" ingredients.

Rick Bayless, who owns Frontera Grill in Chicago (among others), has really become an authority on authentic Mexican tastes. I have long owned one of his original books, Authentic Mexican--Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, but I picked up Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen the other day, a Julia Child Book of the Year Award winner-which I bought when I couldn't find his most recent book, Mexican Everyday. (you can find all of his books here.) Bayless still goes straight for the heart of Mexican flavors, but he also clues people in to making adjustments for their own American kitchen, little subsections he titles "Simple Ideas from My American Home." These are little twists on the authentic, original recipe.

I couldn't wait to try somthing, so I opted for a simple-sounding Tacos of Tomatillo Chicken with wilted greens and fresh cheese. Here in South Florida, these ingredients are readily available in my local, non-specialty supermarket (it's Publix for me). Roast the tomatillos, blend them (using my favorite immersion blender from Kitchenaid), then add sauteed onions and garlic, blend a bit more. Cook this down with some broth--add greens (I cheated--I was tired, cooking this up around 8 p.m., and hungry, so I used 1/2 package of frozen spinach) to the sauce and stir in 1 1/3 cups shredded, cooked chicken (my single complaint so far: I'd rather see him use weight measurements there...)...Steam a few small corn tortillas (the soft, pliable kind that are only about 4 inches across)...fill each with a heaping tablespoon of the chicken and greens mixture, top with crumbled queso fresco. The result was a fresh, tasty and satifsying dish--three tacos almost filled me up, so I had a fourth. He suggests a party meal of a bunch of these tacos paired with black bean soup, a casual, delicious, fun way to go, I would agree.

I only wish I'd read his suggestion in the notes preceeding the recipe: "I encourage you to make a double or triple batch of sauce, so you can freeze the extra for another meal." I need to pay more attention, because I would SO like to have this in my freezer as a quick meal. You cook it until the step where you add the greens and the chicken, although I think the greens would probably freeze well, too. A great way to use up the second day of a roast chicken, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Begin the Beignets

We are still talking about the beignets dessert we had at The Modern, the lovely restaurant run by Union Square Hospitality Group at MOMA in NYC. They were light, not greasy at all and delicious dipped into the caramel sauce or the fruit salsa (mango salsa, if I recall correctly) or the maple ice cream (I think that was it; I didn't take notes) me on that, I made sure they were delicious with ANY of the sides...

At any rate, Bryn has been talking about them ever since, so what else to do but make beignets and blog about it?

It isn't that difficult--it's a yeast dough. I gave it one rise in the bowl, turned it out, rolled it, then let it go for another rise. I used a pizza cutter to cut them into diamond shapes, then fried them, dusted them with sugar and enjoyed...I had some dulce de leche in the fridge, so I dipped them in that, but does it sound strange if I say the dulce de leche was too sweet? I don't think real caramel sauce is so sweet. At any rate, I didn't like it so much like that. Guess I am a purist when it comes to this--straight up with the dusting of sugar.

I didn't have the needed evaporated milk called for in the recipe, so instead, I used a 4 oz. carton of vanilla yogurt. I thought it gave the beignets the subtlest hint of tang...Very nice.

We will not discuss here the near disaster we had the following day when Bryn wanted to surprise me by frying up the leftover dough--this recipe makes enough for a crowd, so I'd popped it into the fridge. Be we are not discussing that here. Suffice it to say....

Bryn learned the following:
  • Hot grease splatters.
  • Hot grease smokes.
  • Hot grease burns.
  • Water does not cool off grease but makes it splatter some more.

I believe the following:
  • Bryn is lucky only her fingers got some splatter burns.
  • We are lucky the house didn't burn down.

I KNOW this:
  • Bryn is not allowed to turn on anything but the microwave and the kettle when no adults are around. Can you believe she decided to whip up beignets for kicks? Sheesh. The next Julia, right?

Barb and Bryn's Beignets:
(Makes about 40 2-inch beignets)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeats
3/4 warm water
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 ounces vanilla yogurt
3 3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
Vegetable Oil for Frying
Powdered Sugar

1. Mix the yeast, water and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Let sit until creamy 9about 10 minutes). Add salt, egg, yogurt and mix with dough hook. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, mix, then add butter and mix until combined. Add remaining flour and mix until dough is just pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Drizzle with a tiny bit of oil, smooth oil over dough, cover with plastic wrap and leave in warm spot for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Pat into rectangle, dust top with flour then roll out to 1/2-inch thick rectangle. Measures about 15 inches long by about 10 inches wide. Cut into diamond shapes (cut straight across one side, then on the diagnonal the other way). Cover in place with a clean dish cloth. Let rise another 40 to 60 minutes.

3. Heat about 2 inches oil to 350 degrees. Gently drop beignets into oil, one at a time. Don't crowd oil or heat will lower. Turn after about 30 seconds. Fry until both sides are golden brown. Drain on paper towel. Cool slightly then dust with powdered sugar: Eat NOW.