Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cola Syrup

(about 3 cups syrup)

At the moment I'm in Washington, house sitting for my mum who is spending the summer in Europe. The weather here is simply wonderful; sunny and much cooler than Dallas. I'm in Heaven!

This weekend is Lavender Festival in Sequim, Washington. Yesterday I headed out early to avoid the crowds and visited several lavender farms in the area. I tasted some lavender ice cream as well as a lavender infused gin with tonic water. The gin was quite interesting. The fellow who served me the drink added extra lavender syrup for a more pronounced flavor.

The following cola recipe is from The New York Times. It contains dried culinary lavender. I made a few adjustments. I added a 1/4 teaspoon of ground coriander because that was an ingredient listed in another cola recipe I found online. I replaced a good portion of the water with the fresh juice I squeezed from the the two oranges, limes and lemon after I stripped them of their zest. In place of caramel powder to darken the syrup, I caramelized a quarter cup of sugar and added that instead.

This syrup completely exceeded my expectations. It's delicious! So much better tasting than the bottled stuff at the store.

juice squeezed out from the oranges, limes and lemon (used for zest)
water if needed, to bring the liquid (juice) measurement up to 2 cups
zest from 2 medium oranges
zest from 2 medium limes
zest from 1 large lemon
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
2 sections of a star anise pod, crushed
1/2  tsp dried lavender flowers
2 tsp minced ginger
1 1/2-inch piece vanilla bean, split
1/4 tsp citric acid
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp water

1. In a heavy pot over medium heat, bring 2 cups juice/water to a simmer with the orange lime and lemon zests, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

2. In a food processor, whirl the 2 cups sugar for one minute (this will help it dissolve). Set aside.

3. Combine the 1/4 cup sugar and water in a medium sized pot. Heat the mixture until the sugar caramelizes. Remove from heat when the mixture is a nice medium-dark brown. Add the reserved sugar from the food processor.

4. Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the pot containing the caramelized and processed sugars. Pour the simmered mixture through the sieve. Carefully gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist the top to close. Use a spoon to press the bundle against the sieve, squeezing out all the flavorful liquid.

5. Stir the syrup and let cool, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves, about 15 minutes. Transfer to containers and keep refrigerated. To make a soda, pour 3-4 tablespoons of syrup over ice and add 1 cup seltzer. Stir.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Red Rooster Cafe's Blue Cheese Dressing

Blue Cheese Dressing recipe from the front page of The Red Rooster menu.
This week I'm staying at a ranch near Cottonwood, AZ which is about 20 minutes southwest of Sedona. There are a lot of good wineries and restaurants in this picturesque area.

The Red Rooster Cafe is located on the historic Main Street in Cottonwood. I enjoyed a memorable mini burger (3oz patty of grass fed, organic beef) served on a baguette with a layer of a delicious sun-dried tomato cream cheese spread, as well as a garden salad with a really tasty homemade Blue Cheese Dressing. I was pleased that they printed the recipe for the dressing on the front page of their menu.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Red Chili Pork Tamales in Banana Leaves

(about 16 tamales)

Top, Blue Corn Tamale with Vegetarian Filling.
Middle, Southern Mexican Chicken Tamale in Banana Leaf.
Bottom, Red Chili and Pork Tamale.

The pork tamales I made at the Santa Fe School of Cooking were even better than the one I sampled at the farmers market last Saturday. All three types of tamales we were taught to make were among the best I've ever tasted. The tamales in New Mexico strike me as much bolder in flavor than the ones I've tried in Texas. I'm not sure why that is because the ingredients appear to be similar. Perhaps it's those New Mexican chili pods.

We made Southern Mexican Style Chicken Tamales in Banana Leaves. These were made with rotisserie chicken smothered in a chili sauce. I loved the subtle taste the banana leaves imparted onto the masa. Blue Corn Tamales with Squash, Mushroom and Corn Filling. Blue cornmeal was added to the masa resulting in a very attractive color for these flavorful vegetarian tamales. And finally the Red Chile and Pork Tamales.

Nine of us were enrolled in the class. We formed three groups, each preparing one of the three types of tamales.

With Chef Alex Hadidi at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
I have made a few small changes to the pork recipe because this is how I plan to make them the next time I get the chance. I really liked the "cooked" masa dough which was used for the chicken tamales and I loved the banana leaves.

Red Chili Pork Tamales
adapted from the Santa Fe School of Cooking

4 lbs pork shoulder
2 tbsp chipotle seasoning
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 cups water

Combine the chipotle seasoning, salt and pepper and rub the mixture over the entire piece of pork. Sear the pork in a heavy skillet until it's browned all over.

Place the meat into a pressure cooker and add the bay leaf and water. Cook for 35 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.

Cool the meat and reserve the liquid. Remove any large pieces of fat and discard. Shred the meat using two forks or your fingers.

Red Chili Sauce
1 tsp whole cumin seed
about 7-9 dried New Mexican red chili pods or 1/2 cup ground if you can find it fresh.
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced fine
2-3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 1/2 cups reserved pork liquid
2 tbsp masa harina
salt, to taste

Lightly toast the cumin seed in a heavy skillet over a medium flame. They will be ready when they change color and you can smell them. Grind them fine in a coffee grinder. Set aside.

Remove the stems from the chili pods as well as the seeds. Tear the pods into small pieces and place them into the grinder. You may have to do this in batches. Grind up enough to fill half a cup. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pot over a medium flame. Add the onion and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook the mixture until the onions are translucent; about 3-5 minutes.

Stir in the reserved cumin, red chili powder and oregano. Add the pork liquid (add water to make up the difference if you don't have enough pork liquid). Give everything a good stir. Reduce the flame and simmer gently for about 20 minutes (no lid).

Slowly whisk in the masa harina and cook until the mixture has thickened. Taste and add salt if needed.

Keep the sauce warm.

Pork Filling
1 1/2 lbs shredded pork, see above
1 1/2 cups red chili sauce, see above
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Add the shredded pork to the red chili sauce. Leave the pot over a low flame for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Stir in the cilantro and set aside.

Cooked Masa
4 cups water
3 cups masa harina
1/4 lb lard
1/4 lb butter
1 tsp recado rojo or achiote paste
1/2 tsp salt

Pour the water into a heavy pot and whisk in the masa harina. Gently heat this mixture over a medium flame until it comes to a boil.

Add the lard, butter, recado rojo and salt.  Cook this mixture, stirring often for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked through and smooth. You might have to adjust the flame.

The masa will be ready when you press a small amount onto a banana leaf and it pulls away cleanly. The consistency should be that of soft play dough.

To Assemble
1 pkg banana/plantain leaves

Defrost the package of banana leaves. Toast the individual leaves over an open flame or on a griddle until they turn shiny and become pliable.

Tear off a piece of the leaf about 1/4 inch wide for to secure the tamale package after it's been filled.

Lay the remaining leaf out flat. Place about 2-3 heaping tbsp of the cooked masa harina onto the middle of the leaf and flatten the mixture out into roughly a four inch square.

Top with about 2-3 tbsp of the shredded pork mixture. Pull together two sides of the banana leaf until the masa harina surrounds the pork filling. Fold the ends together until you have a long rectangle. Tuck in the remaining ends until you have a rectangular package. Tie the package together with the reserved piece.

Repeat until you have used up all of the filling and masa.

Place the tamales sideways into a steamer, taking care not to crowd them too much. Steam them for about 1 1/4 hours. They should come off the leaf easily when they are done.