Mezcalita

This is a delicious cocktail – a combination of sangrita (the spicy chaser served with shots of Tequila) and Mezcal (Tequila’s earthier cousin). The base is Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s sangrita recipe, so make some of that first:

Sangrita

Mix together:

4 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
2 oz homemade pomegranite grenadine (see note)
12 dashes Louisiana Hot Sauce

Fill a 10 oz. highball glass with ice. Add 3 oz. Sangrita, a jigger of Mezcal. Stir. Garnish with a lime wedge and serve.

Note: Make your own Grenadine by simmering 16 oz of pure Pomegranite juice until reduced by half. Add 1 cup sugar and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Keeps in the refrigerator, in a tightly capped jar, indefinitely.

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Pa Fouk – Lao Catfish “Quenelles”

These are not really quennelles, although if you don’t have a bamboo steamer you could make them that way (see note at bottom). They’re sort of a Lao gefilte fish. The use of dill (phak si) seems very Lao to me, as several of the recipes I was taught contain it. This is yet another way that Lao cooking is different from Thai. According to “Traditional Recipes of Laos,” which is a collection of the recipes of the late Pia Sing, cook to the former royal household, dill is used widely in fish dishes.

1 whole large catfish, head off, skinned, about 18″ long from gills to tip of tail

1 stalk fresh lemon grass
3/4 cup raw glutinous rice (kao neow), soaked for 4 hours
1 1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1T. (scant) seeded, chopped, fresh red chilies
2 small onions, sliced
2 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 T. fish sauce
4 extra large eggs
1 cup coconut milk (combined thick and thin parts)

Topping:

1/2 c. equal parts scallions, coriander leaves, and dill, all minced and mixed together
4 red chilies, seeded and cut into strips

8 to 10 strips aluminum foil, 6″ wide.

Side condiments:
More scallions, coriander and dill, chopped together and put in a bowl.
Fish sauceStrip the hard outer leaves from the lemon grass and thinly slice about 1″ or so. Minced the slices to get 1 1/2 T. lemon grass and set aside until needed. Save the rest for the fish stock.

Cut the meat from the catfish and coarsely chop. You should have 2 1/2 cups of fish meat. Chop up the carcass and put to simmer for 30 minutes with the left-over lemon grass stalk and enough water to cover.

Thoroughly drain the 3/4 c. kao neow. Pulverize it in a food processor, scraping often to get the wet stuff out of the bottom and off of the sides. Add the minced lemon grass, the ground white pepper, and chopped red chilies, and process until the chilies are reduced to specks. Add the onions, garlic, salt and fish sauce and process until thoroughly mixed. Add the fish meat and process until you have a pasty mass. You may at this point have to take half out and do the next step in two batches. Add the eggs and process until well mixed. Remove all the fish mixture to a large bowl and add the coconut milk. Stir to mix thoroughly. It should have the consistancy of a thick batter.

At this point you can test the seasoning of the mix by dropping a tablespoon of it into the simmering fish stock. It will rise to the top when it’s cooked. Taste, and correct the seasoning of the batter, if necessary.

Take a strip of aluminum foil and fold it in half to make a square. Fold up and crimp the sides to form a container that’s about 3″ wide and 1 1/2″ tall. Continue to make the rest of the containers, enough of them so that they fit comfortably in the top of your steamer without being too tightly crowded. Leaving space around them lets the steam through more efficiently. My 10 1/2″ steamer fits 8 containers nicely.

Fill each foil container to the top with batter. Strew a little of the topping mix over each, then decorate each with red chili strips. To save any left over batter, drop it in spoonfulls into the simmering fish stock to make quenelles (good for lunch the next day).

Set the steamer over a pot filled with a few inches of water, and steam for about 30 minutes, or until set.

Serve two containers of Pa Fok per person, along with steamed kao neow, the bowl of chopped scallions, coriander, and dill, a bottle of fish sauce, and a dipping sauce (nam jeow) if you have one (you could use the one from my Laab Kai recipe). Diners can add more of the herb mix and fish sauce to taste.

Note: If you don’t have a steamer, you could do them all in the French manner, though this isn’t a traditional method. Strain the fish stock and return to the stove. Once it’s simmering, use a large serving spoon and drop in rounded spoonfulls of batter. They are done when they float to the top (about 5 minutes, depending on size). Serve in individual bowls with the toppings strewn over the top.

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The Muffaletta – New Orleans’ Overlooked “Other Sandwich”

This is our favorite sandwich – obviously an ancestor of that sandwich shop regular, the “Italian Sub,” but so much better. There used to be a place in Lincoln Park where we could get these to take out – many years ago. The place is long gone, so we have to make our own. Here’s how:

Olive condiment:
6 oz Sicilian green olives, or regular  green olives, pitted and chopped finely
1/4 cup hot giardiniera
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
olive oil

Sandwich:
Loaf of crusty Italian bread
1/4 lb imported Prosciutto, sliced very thin (or substitute Westphalian ham)
1/4 lb Genoa salami, sliced
1/4 lb Mortadella, sliced
1/4 lb Provelone, sliced
1/4 lb smoked Cacciocavala, or other smoked semi-hard cheese, such as smoked gouda, sliced

Mix the olives, the giardinara and the garlic (if using). Add enough olive oil to moisten all the ingredients well. Set aside until needed.

Cut the bread into individual sandwich portions, and then cut each lengthwise into two pieces. If the loaf is really thick you may want to scoop out some of the insides (save it to make breadcrumbs). Lay out the bottom slice of bread. Alternate the sliced meats with the cheeses – how many slices of each is up to you! Slather the second piece of bread with a liberal layer of the olive condiment, getting lots of olive oil on the bread (add even more, if you wish), and place it olive side down on top of the stack. Slice each sandwich in two if desired.

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Creamed Bok Choy with Ham

I believe I’ve mentioned this dish before – it is one of our favorites – simple, yet deeply tasty. To really appreciate it fully, use homemade chicken stock and real chicken fat. If you don’t have a jar of schmaltz in the fridge, use the skin of two chicken breasts, fry them in the wok to render their fat, and use that. Of course, you can use peanut oil, and canned chicken stock – but make it this way first – you won’t regret it.

CREAMED CHINESE CABBAGE

1 lb. bok choy (celery cabbage), trimmed, washed and cut into 1″ strips

1 1/2 T cornstarch

1/4 cup whole milk

2 T rendered chicken fat

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp sugar

3/4 cup home-made chicken stock

1 cup diced Smithfield ham (or other country-style ham)

Set the washed, drained bok choy near the stove. Combine the milk and cornstarch in a small bowl and set that nearby, too. Heat a wok for 30 seconds over high heat, then add the chicken fat and heat for another 30 seconds. Add the bok choy and toss to coat all the pieces with the fat. Stir-fry for about one minute (adjust heat to medium if the fat begins to smoke). Add the salt, sugar and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover the wok, turn the heat to low, and simmer until the bok choy is tender (about 10 minutes). Heat a serving dish briefly in the microwave, then, using a slotted spoon, scoop the bok choy out of the wok and into the dish, being careful to retain all the liquid in the wok. Stir the milk-cornstarch mixture to recombine it, and add it to the wok. Simmer the liquid a minute or two until it thickens, then pour it over the bok choy. Strew the ham over the top and serve at once.

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Chicken with Chilies and Szechuan Peppers

This is an easy, relatively dietetic dish, as Chinese chicken dishes go. The cornstarch and egg white marinade prevents much oil from being absorbed during frying.

1 whole chicken breast (ie: 2 halves)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp toasted, crushed Szechuan peppercorns (see note below)

1 T cornstarch

1 egg white, beaten just enough to “break” it (don’t let it get “frothy”).

I T rice vinegar 

1 T sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 T Chinese soy sauce

2 T Chinese rice wine (Hsiao Sing) or dry sherry

4 – 6 dried red chilies, seeds removed

1 T minced fresh ginger

2 large scallions, chopped

1 cup peanut oil

2 tsp sesame oil

Skin and de-bone the chicken breasts. Slice them horizontally, and then into strips about 1/4″ x 1″ in size. Put them in a bowl with the Szechuan pepper, and toss to mix well. Sprinkle the cornstarch on while turning and mixing, then add the egg white and mix again to thoroughly coat all the pieces. Set the chicken aside until needed. This step can be done up to two hours beforehand. You don’t have to refrigerate it, but if you do, return it to room temperature before proceeding.

Combine the wine, vinegar, sugar and soy sauce in a bowl and place near the stove. Have the chilies, ginger and scallions in small bowls also near the stove.

Heat the peanut oil in a wok on high heat, until a piece of bread sizzles and browns instantly upon being tossed in (about 375 degrees). Slip the chicken all at once into the oil and turn quickly to separate all the pieces. Continue to turn until all the pieces are white. Remove the chicken using a slotted spoon or long-handled flat strainer, and pour off all but 2 T of the oil. Reduce heat to medium and add the dried chilies. Press them against the bottom of the wok, turning them until they darken, then turn the heat up to high and add the ginger and scallions. Stir-fry a minute or two, then add the chicken and stir-fry to mix thoroughly. Add the sauce, stir together for a minute, then pour it all into a heated serving bowl. Find the chilies and put them on top for decorative effect. Serve with white rice.

Note: Toast the peppercorns before crushing by stirring them in a dry, heavy  iron skillet for two or three minutes – until the spicy pepper aroma is apparent. Pour immediately into a bowl, then crush in the bowl or in a mortar,

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Rick Bayless’ Tuna Tacos en Escabeche

On a recent episode of his show “Mexico – One Plate at a Time,” Rick Bayless made a tuna taco filling that was “en escabeche.”  I decided to try out his method, as tacos are my food of choice, and I’m always looking for new ideas. The filling is so simple – julienne some pickled (en escabeche) jalapenas and some pickled carrots, saute sliced onion in olive oil, add the chilies and carrot and some of the escabeche juice, and dump in a can of oil-packed tuna. Presto – taco ready!

Rick used some chilies from a standard can of jalapenas en escabeche that you can buy at any Mexican grocery, and also used (or pretended to use) the carrots that are aways included in the can, but my expereince is that there are at best only two or three slices of carrot, and Rick called for an equal volume of carrots to chilies, so I realized that I would have to make my own. Here’s my recipe, which yields enough pickled carrots to use in several taco meals:

Carrots en Escabeche

4 medium carrots, peeled

1 cup water

1 cup white vinegar

2 T olive oil

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

Slice the carrots in 1/4″ thick slices (I like to slice them on a diagonal, so that I wind up with long ovals that I can then julienne). Put them in a saucepan with all the other ingredients. There should be enough liquid to just cover the carrots. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the carrots are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let them cool, then store them in the liquid, in a covered container in the refrigerator, until ready to use.

After you have made the carrots, complete the taco filling:

Tuna Tacos

3 pickled jalapenas

An equal volume of pickled carrots (use the ones from the can, augmented with the ones you just made)

1/2 medium white onion

2 T olive oil

one small can oil-packed tuna

Reserved escabeche liquid, or use the stuff in the can.

4 – 6 fresh corn tortillas

Julienne the chilies and the carrots, then thinly slice the half onion. Heat the olive oil in a small, heavy skillet, then add the onion and saute, turning frequently, until the onion is limp and slightly yellowed. Add the sliced chilies and carrots and stir to mix well. Open and drain the can of tuna, then add to the skillet, along with a splash of escabeche lquid – enough to moisten the tuna mixture. Saute it all together until the tuna is heated though. Serve immediately as a filling for fresh, warm corn tortillas. I like to add shredded lettuce, fresh coriander leaves, and some crumbled queso fresca – no salsa is needed!

The tuna mixture – enough for 4 packed or 6 more conservatively stuffed tacos
Ready to fold and eat!

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A New Year’s Day Bread Salad!

Every New Year’s Eve we have a nice meal of cheese, fruit, pate and smoked salmon. I buy baguettes – two, to make sure we have enough. There is often at least a half of a baguette left over. Since French bread goes stale after a day, the ideal thing to do with it is to make a bread salad. Today I used several things I had laying around, and it made a very nice salad indeed.

1 large tomato

1/2 medium onion

1 tin of rolled anchovies with capers

3 T chopped rajas*, or chopped green bell pepper1/2 stale baguette, cut into 1″ chunks

1/3 cup vinegrette salad dressing

* rajas are made from roasted, skinned, seeded and julienned poblano chilies. I used them because I had them in the refrigerator, and raw green peppers make me burp. But that’s me. 

Cut the tomato in half and squeeze each half onto a paper towel, to remove all the seeds and excess juice. Cut the tomato halves into chunks. Peel and thinly slice the half onion. Remove the rolled anchovies from their tin, and pat them dry with paper towels (or use 10 flat anchovies and 10 capers). Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Serve at once, before the bread gets too soggy.

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A Celebratory Dinner, with Roasted Spare Ribs.

It was our anniversary, so I wanted to make something special, yet easy. We love ribs, but I didn’t want to grill – instead, I made Elena’s ribs, and for sides I made a Rick Bayless rice, corn and chillies dish (for me), and mashed potatoes (for Harvey). It had been years since we had made a Julia Child drink that she called “A la Recherche du l’Orange Perdue,” so I ordered all the ingredients for that. To round out the meal, I also served a salad.

The orange cocktail involves combining dark rum, white vermouth, triple sec, fresh lime juice, Rose’s lime juice, orange marmalade, Angostura bitters and whole oranges and ice cubes in a blender, and whizzing it all to a pulp. You then strain it into a pitcher and pour into chilled glasses. It was delicious – like a very orange-y mai tai.

The ribs are sooo eay, and so delicious. Simply cut 2 slabs of spareribs into separate ribs, douse them with salt and freshly ground pepper, and cook them uncovered in two roasting pans at 325 degrees for about 2 hours, turning once or twice during that time, and removing rendered fat. This is one time you don’t want to use the more expensive baby back ribs – they are actually too meaty for this treatment, and won’t get crisp enough.

There’s no such thing as to too much salt and pepper
Some of the finished ribs


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Another Chilaquiles Recipe – You Can’t Have Too Many!

!I love anything with tortillas – so here’s what we had for breakfast this morning: my adaptation of a chilaquiles recipe from “Elena’s Secrets of Mexican Cooking.” This one uses eggs, and fresh tortillas.

6 fresh corn tortillas

2 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup salsa, or to taste

2 to 3 T. freshly grated parmesan

4 large eggs, combined in a bowl and lightly beaten

salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tortillas into strips about 3/8″ wide. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet, then toss in the tortillas strips and turn them to coat them all with the butter. Add the salsa, parmesan and eggs and stir on low heat until the eggs are cooked and the tortillas are like rags. Season with salt and pepper and serve while hot. Serves two.

The tortillas semi-dissolve, and the finished dish looks like an omlette that went bad, but it tastes great!

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Chicago’s Chinese Restaurant Problem

I was cleaning out some files the other day, and came across a menu from the old Dragon Inn, in Glenwood, Illinois – the first Mandarin, or Northern, Chinese restaurant in the mid-west. It nearly brought tears to my eyes, because that level of Chinese cooking simply doesn’t exist in this town any more.

The Dragon Inn was a revelation back in the early ’70’s – the first potstickers (called on the menu by their Mandarin name, “kwoh te”), the first Hot and Sour Soup, the first Peking Duck. My husband and I have often wondered if the food was really that good, or was it simply that it was excitingly different? Looking at this menu makes me realize that it must have been both. Today there simply is no place like it: a “white tablecloth” restaurant with cooking that was authentic, refined, and consistantly excellent. Chicago ‘foodies’ have their favorites, like Lao Sze Chuan, Little Three Happiness, and Ed’s Potsticker House, but for me, they all fall short. Lao Sze Chuan has some very good dishes on it’s huge menu, but there are plenty of duds, as well. The atmosphere is frenetic and the service is hit or miss. Ed’s was a disappointment – the vaunted cigar-shaped potstickers greasy and bland. As for Little Three Happiness, I ate there yesterday witha friend, and would not go back. The dim sum appetizers we ordered were overcooked (the chicken curry puffs looked – and tasted – as if they’d been fried in oil that was too cold to start. They were a dark brown, sodden with oil – totally unappetising), and the “Szecuan Diced Chicken” contained more celery than chicken – and what chicken there was had a strange “doggy” under-taste. It was billed on the menu as “spicy,” but it was not. It was slathered in an inedible brown sauce – we couldn’t eat it. Our other entree was beef in Black Pepper, and it was edible, but nothing great. Of course, Little Three Happiness is basically a Cantonese restaurant, and you might say we got what we deserved for trying to order “spicy” or “Szechuan” dishes there. But this seems to be what has happened in Chicago – the Cantonese places have pre-empted the “Mandarin” dishes, and ruined them. My search for a place that does an authentic Kung Pao chicken is a case in point. The dish is on every Chinese menu, but always in the same bastardized version – a jumble of chicken and every vegetable they had in the kitchen (including a few charred chilies as an afterthought), in a oleaginous brown sauce, with a few peanuts thrown on top. I have not had an authentic version in this city in decades.

 The Dragon inn menu – look at those 70’s prices!

So that’s my gripe: no authentic Northern cooking, no nicely upscale “white-tablecloth” Chinese place (Szechuan Hose on Michigan Avenue comes closest, but the food is indifferent), and a complete lack of innovative menu planning (everywhere the same tired dishes in their bowlderized forms – kung pao this and that, mu shu this and that, “Szechuan” this and that). Some of the most disappointing places are P. F. Chang’s and Ben Pao, which seemed at first to be what I was looking for, until everything I ordered turned out to be sweet. Then there are the “contemprary” places, like Red Light, which is not really a Chinese restaurant – good in it’s way, but not the real thing.

I know it could be better – I have the cookbooks to prove it. I’ve eaten in Hong Kong! And I have that old Dragon Inn menu, with all its forgotten dishes.

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