Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Day of Much Stuffing.

Turkish perfection - stuffed with mushroom delectability.

For two years running now Matt and I have held an early-autumnal feast here in the land of the Pilgrims a weekend or two before THE holy Thursday. It is a chance for us ex-pats to come together with a lot of other ex-pat friends and be thankful and gluttonous. But besides that, it is also a rare opportunity to introduce friends of different nationalities to one of the few, truly identifiably, and uniquely (how many adverbs can I throw in here?) American traditions: Thanksgiving.

It's funny, but this year it seems like almost everyone I spoke to about Thanksgiving in the weeks
running up to it seemed to say how much they love stuffing - even to the exclusion of the otherwise obvious main attraction and slang-namesake of "Turkey Day" - that unfortunate and delicious wattle-d animal, the Turkey. Weirdly, I found myself in many an unorthodox Thanksgiving conversation over the past couple of weeks that went something like this:

"Hey, if I don't see you have a great Thanksgiving - and enjoy the Turkey!"

"Oh yeah, the turkey - I will. But actually for me it's all about the stuffing."


"So, have you picked up your bird yet?"

"Yeah, we got a big one this year. But what I look forward to every year is the stuffing."

or even

"MAN! That is a big turkey you've got there. You better make sure to leave some room for dessert!"

"Oh don't worry - I never eat much turkey. I am a stuffing kinda girl."

Fine, I made a couple of those up - but really!? Who knew that people were so stu
ck on the quieter, shyer, uglier cousin of the Thanksgiving star-of-the-show?

I mean, stuffing (or dressing, or whatever you call it!) is not that pretty to look at most of the time, especially if you cook it inside the cavity of the bird. It's brown and crumbly, or even gooey and steamed - so much so that you can slice it! But the secret that most people never talk about is that it has all the stuff in it that delicious Thanksgivings are made of. An understated, unflashy conglomeration of the bits-and-bobs of true Thanksgivingness that is the perfect accompaniment to
what should be, in my mind, a simple roast bird.

Yes, yes, yes, Thanksgiving IS all about the sides. I do agree. But no side, in my mind, can come close - if done right (and you can bet your bottom dollar it was done right this year!) - to matching the appeal of stuffing. Onto the list.

* * *

Top Four Reasons To Stuff Yourself This Thanksgiving
with stuffing or whatever else is cooked and within your grasp.
Screw the diet - it's the holidays (again).

4. Corn Pudding
Is it wrong to say that maybe in some bastardized crazy way this time-tested Thanksgiving staple is a shout-out to the Native Americans that so kindly showed the pilgrims how to farm and therefore also metaphorically kindled the embers that one day became the roaring fire of America? Is that so wrong?

Well even if it is, I think you and I know that whatever and whenever and whoever the hell this dish came from, there's a reason it shows up every year and gets eaten to the last Americana-encrusted-crumb every year. We all have our secret recipe - sugar or not, jiffy or not, kernels or not - and we all horde it (for absolutely no good reason) and all these things make corn pudding more than worthy to be on this list of reasons to stuff and be stuffed by the ones you love this Thanksgiving.

3. Cranberry Sauciness - Annual Permission to be Irreverent.
When else can you, in all seriousness, buy cranberries in a can, pop said can open and pour it - IN CAN FORM - onto a small platter and serve straight to guests with applause and glee all around?!
My little sister gets upset if I ever try to mash down the can shape and insists it's part of the Thanksgiving aesthetic. I cannot say I disagree.

And for the record, I like both with cranberry chunks and smooth. Availability of both is ideal for prime-stuffing situations.

2. Turkish (but not really) Perfection
In the painfully adulterated words of Michael Jackson...

"If you'll be my [Turkey] it don't matter if you're [dark] or white."

*awkward drum / cymbal slap*

For those of you who would otherwise avoid dark meat during the year because of its rich, fatty nature, now's the time to indulge. I like chicken legs as much as the next, but there is something perfectly thrilling (and positively medieval) about the size and deliciousness of Turkey legs that deserves a little respect and indulgence, and Turkey day is the night, day, and morning after for said indulgence.

Go on, have a second, or even third helping. Yes, the requisite delicate slices of breast meat should not be neglected (but let's be honest, you drench those in gravy anyway), but neither should the moist, fatty chunks of wing and thigh that we all know we're eyeing anyway. :)

1. Stuffing: The Ultimate Farce

Farce: a comedy which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verba humor of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include sexual innuendo and word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene.

Sounds like Thanksgiving at my house pretty much every year around the time that I am trying to take the Turkey out of the oven.

But seriously, I bet you didn't know how sophisticated stuffing really is. According to this article, stuffing was actually called "farce" in the middle ages, which came from the Latin farcire or "to stuff." It is apparently also still called "forcemeat" by some people and only started to be referred to as "dressing" because of the (predictable) snootish propriety of the Victorian upper crust who found it offensive to use the term "stuffing" with reference to their nourishment.

Well now, I think the fact that we can use the word stuffing without fearing that our sensibilities and/or honor have somehow been slighted is as good a reason as any to get on into the kitchen and stuff stuff stuff!

* * *

Truly Delectable Mushroom Stuffing

Serves 10

Roman's First Thanksgiving

This year at our Thanksgiving party I got more compliments on my stuffing than I ever have in my life. Granted, I haven't made stuffing THAT many times, but I've tried as many recipes as I have times I've made it and this was a clear winner. It involves lots and lots of mushrooms, giblets galore (go on, be adventurous!), and a couple of predictable Brenda twists (red pepper flakes, for one) to give it my secret touch.

You've got to cook it in the bird or it just doesn't get that extra buttery, Turkey moistness oh-so-necessary for it to have a truly addictive quality. But if that's not how you roll (and I take great
issue with you if it isn't) then go ahead and bake it in a casserole dish, but add a whole lot more liquid in the form of Turkey drippings, stock, shiitake broth, wine or a generous mixture of all. Either way it's guaranteed to have you and your guests "wattling" poetic by the end of the meal.


3/4 loaf stale white bread, chopped into small squares
4 tbsps butter
4 cups chopped chestnut mushrooms
2 cups soaked and sliced shiitakes, broth reserved
2 medium onions, chopped into small pieces (not fine, not coarse)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 tbsps chopped fresh tarragon
2-3 tbsps chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsps red chili pepper flakes
1 set turkey giblets (heart, liver, kidney, gizzard, neck meat) chopped / shredded finely
1/4 cup shiitake broth
1/4 cup chicken or turkey broth
salt, pepper to taste

our buffet table, waiting to be stuffed

1. Leave your loaf of bread (and I mean normal, sliced bread - not a baguette or the like) out and open for one night so it is nice and stale. Chop into thin slices and then small squares (pretty small actually). Put into a large metal bowl and set aside.

2. Soak the shiitakes in extremely hot water to rehydrate for 20-30 minutes. Slice once cool and reserve liquid.

3. Melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat, then sautee the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes until translucent. Add mushrooms and thyme; sautee until well-cooked.

4. Increase heat to high and add white wine and leave to reduce until almost all liquid is gone. Season with salt and pepper generously. Remove pan from heat and pour onion-mushroom mixture over bread squares.

5. Add chopped giblets and shredded neck meat to bread mixture as well as tarragon and parsley. Mix well and then season again generously with salt and pepper.

6. At this point the mixture should look like fluffly stuffing. Pour shiitake and turkey broth over it and mix well. The mixture should not be soggy or wet looking.
MAKE AHEAD: Make stuffing night before Thanksgiving; put into ziplock bags and refrigerate until needed the next day.

7. When you're ready to make the turkey, stuff both the main and the neck cavities with the stuffing, and be sure to baste it generously with turkey drippings as the turkey bakes.

PLEASE NOTE: It is safe to bake stuffing in a turkey as long as the turkey and stuffing are both at room temperature before they go into the oven - do not bake stuffing in a bird that is partially or wholly frozen or the heat will not penetrate the stuffing fast enough!
Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Summer in a Pot: Guajillo Shrimp Chowder

PS: Don't eat the peppers.

When you're already as sick as I am of the cold and rainy London weather and it's only early November, you need something to flood you with warm, memories of summertime, both literally and figuratively, and I mean pronto.

I set upon making this autumnal deed happen for Matt and me a couple of weeks ago when I embarked upon a tireless search for a recipe to make something that sounded intuitively delicious but I'd never seen on a menu or actually even heard of: shrimp chowder.

Matt being a Northeastern man, and me being a total raw-bar pig / obsessed with shrimp, any excuse to eat shellfish or crustaceans in any shape or form is worth seizing on. But, it's too cold and un-summery to make my beloved Shrimp Boils - and yet, I wondered what I could do to bring that aestival favorite to my Autumnal table in an acceptably cozy form. Luckily, I am a bonafidelover of all chowders - New England, Manhattan, Rhode Island -- you name it, I'll eat it. A few hours, lots of researching, chopping, stewing and brewing later, this recipe was born. And yes, of course, it has a Mexican kick. (Really? Would you honestly expect anything less?)

Enjoy on a cold wish-it-was-still-summer-but-it-ain't-and-that-kinda-sucks kinda day. :)

* * *

Ode to the Guajillo Pepper
*with classical double-flute accompaniment*

My Chilitos, my Guajillos, loved and lauded in my heart,
loved and lauded by my taste buds, by my mind - ah, where to start?
a dried and smokey toasted chile, you're a meaty little heat-y,
I keep you stocked in my bodega for you taste good and you're pretty

Cooking you may seem too foreign to some gringos and their folk,
but I just remove your seeds and stem and leave your pretty self to soak.
When you're soft, hydrated, ready, I can take you to the knife.
Listo? Smell and taste but keep it steady! There's some heat, but nothing rife.
I can use you in a salsa for guizitos (that's a stew),
I can toast you for my chili, as good Texan folks would do.
I can chop you up and fry you with garlic, prawns and olive oil,
you work great for dinner, tapas, when I bake, fry, dip or boil.

Oh Guajillo, Oh chilito - you're a deep, rich red, I love.
How I crave your subtle flavors, I hold you in esteem above--
all other chiles (kinda). :D

* * *

Guajillo Shrimp Chowder
or Autumn's Shrimp Boil

Serves 6

how scrumdidliumptious is this picture? :)

This chowder can be as spicy or tame as you want it to be. Guajillo chiles give it flavor more than heat - that's where the chiles de arbol come in, so adjust those to your preference. Remove the peppers and bay leaves at serving time.

I find that putting the shrimp in at the very last minute and letting them cook with the heat of the soup is the best way to ensure succulent texture and avoid that nasty overcooked, dried out shrimp we have all had and lamented. Enjoy - I think this is a recipe I'll be making for years to come. :)

1 lb shrimp, raw, peeled (shells reserved) and deveined
1/4 lb bacon-chop or pancetta, chopped into squares
olive oil
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 small fennel bulb, sliced (fronds & tough exterior reserved)
1 medium onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
3 guajillo chiles, seeds & stem removed
2 chiles arbol (or 1 or none if you're a wuss)
3 large potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
2 cups corn kernels (from frozen or canned)
3 cups fish stock OR 3 cups shrimp stock (see below**)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp corn starch or flour
salt & freshly ground pepper
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

1. Chop all your vegetables and heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large soup pot.

2. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat until browned and crispy (5 minutes or so), then remove from the pan and reserve on a plate.

3. Keep the same pot with bacon fat and bits on the stove. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and allow to heat. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, fennel and chiles and sautee until the onions and fennel are cooked but not browned.

4. Add the potatoes, corn, tomato paste, wine, cream and stock. The liquid should just cover the potatoes; if it doesn't, add a little bit more water. Cook on high heat for 8-10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

5. Meanwhile, mix the corn starch or flour in a ramekin with some water until completely dissolved. Once potatoes are done cooking, pour a small amount of the hot chowder broth into the ramekin so that the flour dissolves completely, then empty the ramenkin's contents into the chowder. Mix well and allow to simmer for a further 2-3 minutes or until soup has thickened.

6. If you are serving the chowder immediately, turn the heat off, add the shrimp and mix well. Cover and allow the shrimp to cook with the residual heat of the chowder for a good 10 minutes.

Serve garnished with chopped cilantro and some crusty bread.

**Quick Shrimp Stock:
Sautee 2 cloves of crushed garlic, the shrimp shells, and the fronds and exterior layer of the fennel in two tablespoons of olive oil until the shells are pink and aromatic. Add the wine and water (4 cups in this case) from the recipe above and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until reduced. Strain until only the broth is left and use for the chowder.
Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Holy Umami: Crazy Mushrooms & Unauthentic Beef Stroganoff

oh to forage in the fall!

Mushrooms make you do crazy things.

And I'm not talking about the low-grade hallucinogenics you buy when you're desperately trying to be cool in high school (and for the record, I was never that desperate to be cool). I'm talking about the enchanting children of the autumn - real mushrooms - button-white-chanterelley-morelish-portabellos that leave you with a natural high thanks to their deliciously unique flavors and texture making you more likely to exclaim crazy things like "I love these freaking mushrooms!" in mixed company, or run around the dinner table stealing peoples' share of the mushroom loot, or steal one or two raw mushrooms to eat while you walk around the supermarket. Crazy, I tell ya. (Not that I've ever done any of those things.) But I digress.

Also for the record, I'm not the only one who thinks mushrooms drive you to insanity. There are a whole bunch of Russians out there who would wholeheartedly agree with me. And while I firmly believe they are not even close to being the only mushroom-obsessed nationality (I'd bet good truffles the Italians and French would give them a run for their porcini), I do have proof in the form of semi-reputable-writing (read: NY Times) that they are pretty nutty when it comes to that age-old autumnal pastime: mushroom foraging season.

But you don't have to take my word for it: Crazy Russians.

* * *

Top 4 Mushrooms that Drive Me Crazy
In a good way.

holy shiitake.

4. The Canned Mushroom
I admit it - I am a blasphemer in the eyes of many a foodie. I do, on occasion, indulge (is that the right word?) in eating those soggy, rubbery little canned mushrooms. I find them particularly satisfying in pasta sauce, actually, though I get really angry if someone dares to put them on a pizza, so don't go there. I probably like them because my mom used to buy them a lot when we were kids to make her bolognese. Hey, we're Mexican, not Italian, ok? :)

The texture of cooked mushrooms is one of my favorites aspects of eating them and canned mushrooms are nothing if not texture-filled (let's be honest, the flavor isn't exactly there). Apparently when I was a little kid (4 or 5) my mom found me in the kitchen chewing and chewing on one side of my mouth. When she asked me what I was eating I told her I was eating "my mushroom." When she tried to search my mouth for it she realized there was nothing in there, and that's when I explained that when I got hungry I chewed on my "imaginary mushroom."

Some kids had imaginary friends, I had an imaginary mushroom. Crazy or not crazy? You do the math.

3. The Chiodini Mushroom
Here's the deal: I do not like vegetarian pizza. Vegetarian pizza in most places amounts to some nasty bell peppers with some nasty mushrooms with some nasty onions and nasty cheese. Give me ham, bacon or sausage or give me death! That's just how I roll. But one day, long ago and in Rome, I did the unthinkable and ordered a vegetarian pizza because it had nothing but these mushrooms on it:

"Chiodini" means "little nails" in Italian, which makes sense given what they look like when the stems are cut short. The ones on my Sicilian-style pizza by the meter were the size of more proportionate thumb-tacks. They were perfectly cooked and offered in copious amounts.

Crazy. Of the "delicious" persuasion.

2. The Oyster Mushroom
I think I've mentioned these and how I love them made "a la Gramma", but they really cannot be praised enough. Oyster mushrooms are particularly aesthetically appealing. They come in all sorts of sizes and shapes and to me don't look so much like oysters as they do lobster tail fans or deformed ears. Or something. :) I once saw some purple oyster mushrooms selling for GBP89.99 per kilo at Harrods (crazy eff-ers). In a twisted way, I almost thought it would be worth paying that much if the mushrooms were as good as they looked.

And on that note, they are just beautiful. And they have the best texture of all (save number 1, maybe). Plus, they are generally so substantial in size that they can be eaten as a dish unto themselves. I think they are best prepared simply sauteed in butter and olive oil with some garlic and pepperoncino thrown in, but it was these little fungi that inspired me to dream the unthinkable dream and cook my crazy green lasagna.

How do you like THEM apples mushrooms? *dramatic raise of the eyebrow*

1. The Shii Mushroom (or Shiitake, in Japanese)
I save these Asian delicacies for last because they are for me the gold standard of mushrooms. They are eye-pleasing, meaty, substantial, and hold up very well in whatever dish you choose to use them for. They can be dried and rehydrated without losing umph, and are so strong in flavor that you can actually make a delicious vegetarian stock just from their woody little stems.

Another cool thing about them (apart from being able to use their name as a euphemism for the word that shizzle is also a euphemism for) is that they are known for having a heavy concentration of that elusive UMAMI flavor all we meat-and-savory-lovers want to get our taste buds on. Apparently the umami is even more concentrated in the dried variety of the shiitake, which is why I keep a package of dried ones in my bodega at all times. If you want to get your hands on this crazy dry and portable party-of-the-mouth, go to your nearest Asian food store. :)

* * *

Damn Good But Relatively Unauthentic
Beef Stroganoff

Serves 2

shiitakes: so meaty. so umami.

When it comes to mushrooms I eat them all. I love the ones I've listed above, but I also adore:
- chanterelles (oh, Julia!)
- morels (oh, Ina!)
- white mushrooms (my grandmother's caldo de champinones comes to mind)
- crimini (or baby bellas)
- portobellos (who doesn't love sinking their teeth into these?)
- porcini (in the words of Joel McHale, "so meaty!")
- enoki (great in Asian soups!)
- or even the common white or chestnut variety (really great for chicken Marsala)!

As should be apparent from the list above, Shiitakes have a special place in the culinary chamber of my heart, which is why I decided to use them for my version of Beef Stroganoff. Thought I'd go ahead and keep with the Russian - Mushroom theme for the day, as this dish is actually originally Russian (who knew?).

There is much debate about whether you use good steak or cheap meat, dill or no dill, rice, pasta, kasha or mashed potatoes?!, cognac, white wine or no alcohol at all. Finding an "authentic" beef stroganoff recipe is like foraging for rare white truffles: you're more likely to get lost in the woods or stuck in a tree for five days fending off jackals in this lifetime.

I even consulted with my Russian friends only to get mixed opinions within a married couple ("It goes with mashed potatoes!" "No, it goes with rice!")! So I just kind of took what I liked from several recipes and ran with it. Call me crazy.

* * *

1 lb stewing beef, sliced into thin strips
4 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
4 shallots (or onion), chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp dried dillweed
4 tbsps butter
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups beef stock
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 tbsp flour
2 tbsps freshly and coarsely cracked pepper
Salt to taste

- 1/2 lb cooked and buttered egg noodles or fusilloni (giant fusilli pasta), as in my case.

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan (I used my cast iron pan) and brown the pieces of meat in 2 or 3 batches over medium-high heat. Remove meat to a plate.

2. Add the butter to the pan and allow to melt. Then add the shallots and garlic and cook until translucent. Then add the mushrooms, dill, and pepper and sautee until the liquid is almost entirely evaporated.

3. Add the wine and beef stock and turn heat up to high. Re-add the meat and simmer on low covered for 30 minutes or until the meat is falling-apart-tender.

4. Take off the lid, add the cream, dijon mustard and correct the seasoning with salt. Stir in the flour until completely combined and simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens and reduces by 1/3 or so. The dish should NOT be watery!

5. Serve over noodles (or rice, or kasha, or mashed potatoes). :)

Follow Me on Pinterest

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wild Thing.

Max, like Roman and me, is always up for a good bit of 'rumpus-ing."

We are far overdue for a cuteness interlude. Halloween this year also conveniently coincides with Roman turning 6 months old and is therefore the perfect opportunity for his proud and puffy mama-beast to fluff up her feathers and show him off a little more. :)

* * *

One of our all-time favorite children's books (and no, not just because the totally awesome movie is coming out soon!) is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It's one of the only books that I made absolutely sure to buy a hardback in, and since Roman was born we've probably read it more times than any other.

This books is near and dear to our hearts not only because it's been
around since we were kids, but because Matt has jokingly called me one of Max's "Wild Things" since the first time he visited my house while we were dating and my mom showed him some of my baby pictures (see below). He even sent my mom a "Where the Wild Things Are" thank you note after that. :)

In the words of Max: "I'll Eat You Up!"

Where the Wild Things Are is a celebration of fiendishly childish imagination, wildly innocent caprice, and simple, unconditional love. It always makes me laugh and by the end it always makes
me want to cry. It involves dressing up, wild jungles and voyages, wild rumpus-ing, much gnashing of teeth and mischief galore. All that in what amounts to about four sentences of text and simple, yet ingeniously evocative illustrations.

It is a great book because it does what all great literature should
do: it makes you imagine. Right now Roman just tries to eat the pages when I read it to him, but I can't wait for the day that he starts to wonder about Max, tells me which Wild Thing is his favorite of all, and maybe even runs around the house in his very own wolf suit making mischief of one kind...or another. :)

* * *

Naturally, my first impulse was to dress Roman as something of a Wild Thing for his first Halloween. The closest thing I could find was a little red devil outfit complete with black cape and pointy tail. I then took it upon myself to further humiliate my child by hand-drawing a curly mustache and goatee on him. (I figure I have to get the harassment in now while he still can't talk.
) To virtually commemorate this occasion, here are some pictures of Roman's first Halloween as well as other favorites from my Wild Thing's first six months of life.

"And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!"

* * *

Mi Diablito

First Halloween - 6 Months

Sitting up so well - 5 months

The Roman Doll hits Texas Stores - 4 months

Going to a part-ay! - 3 months

Really smiling (and charming us to bits)! - 2 months

Already an enfant terrible at less than 1 month.

Follow Me on Pinterest