Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chipotle ketchup changes everything

Chipotle ketchup | Homesick Texan

I was talking to a friend on the phone last night and he asked what I’d eaten for dinner. “Ketchup,” I replied. “And what else?” he said. “And nothing. Just ketchup,” I said, “though I suppose onion rings would have been nice.”

I am in love with ketchup for the first time. And yes, I could be biased because I made it but no matter—I think it’s the best ketchup I’ve ever had in my life.

Have you ever made ketchup? If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. You get to control the sweetness, the spice and you can even make it fiery if you desire, as I did with mine by adding chipotles.

Chipotle ketchup | Homesick Texan

I make salsa at least once a week and I’ve even been known to whip up mayonnaise or Hollandaise when I had a craving for the good stuff. But for some reason homemade ketchup never crossed my mind. Like most people, I ate Heinz my whole life, until I decided that I didn’t want to eat a condiment made with high-fructose corn syrup. I then switched to Whole Foods' version, which is made with cane sugar instead. And it’s good. But not as good as mine.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Ratios and cherry almond cookies

I’m an improvisational cook. This means that I’ll take stock of what I have in the kitchen and then create dishes from what’s available. This method usually works if I’m making savory dishes, but when it comes to baking I’ve had less success. (We won’t discuss the time I spontaneously threw in steel oats, cayenne and sea salt into a chocolate cookie recipe.)

Baking calls for precision, which I lack. For a long time I’ve wondered if there were basic formulas for making pastries, something I could use to make up my own recipes, if say, I wanted a steel oat and sea salt cookie to actually be edible. So when I heard about Michael Ruhlman’s latest book, Ratio, I knew this was the information I’d been looking for.

A professor of Ruhlman’s at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) presented him with the initial ratio concept, which takes certain foods and reduces them to their basic essence. For instance, let's look at pie crust. Its ratio is 3 parts flour: 2 parts fat: 1 part water. So no matter if you’re mixing butter and lard with wheat flour and ground pecans, or shortening with oat flour and buckwheat, by using these exact proportions of fat to flour to water you should have a crust that works.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's in your English pea salad?

I was sitting with a group of food writers from the Northeast the other day (I would playfully call them Yankees, but as it was gently pointed out to me, they wouldn’t call me a Confederate so I should be careful with my adjectives). They asked me if there was something that we Texans eat that I was reluctant to write about and I didn’t blink before I said, “Pea salad.” (If you’re a fan, please do not take offense. Instead, bear with me. )

We didn’t often eat pea salad often in my family and for me it was always the strange-looking dish holding court next to the lime congeal at the church potluck or in the cafeteria line.

I can guarantee that you would never see it here in New York City, and, well, because it’s been out of sight, it’s also been out mind. (I know, I know—how could I forget about pea salad? I hear it all the time: I’ve lived away from Texas too long!) But when a reader requested that I post a recipe, saying, “We always eat it around Easter,” I figured it was time.

Pea salad is a Texan classic and yet it changes as much as the weather on a spring day.

Take my grandmother’s recipe: she makes hers with peas, cheddar, mayonnaise and pickles. But I also know people who make their pea salad with boiled eggs and bacon, not to mention those that make theirs with pickled onions and pimento cheese. And let’s not forget those other weighty questions: Do you go with canned Le Sueur peas, frozen or fresh? Do you shred or cube your cheese? Do you add other vegetables such as carrots or celery? And how do you feel about the inclusion of macaroni or almonds?

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Honey-soaked hot cross buns

The first time I heard of hot cross buns was during a piano lesson. It was early in my (very short) musical career, so I could only play songs that had a few notes all hovering close to middle C. One day, my teacher opened my book to a song called “Hot Cross Buns,” and said, “This is easy. I’m sure you can handle this.” And I could.

Along with the song being easy to play, the lyrics were also simple:

“Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
One a penny,
Two a penny,
Hot cross buns.”

But like most simple yet catchy songs, it stayed in my head and I wasn’t satisfied until a few years later when I finally convinced my mom to make them for our family.

Hot cross buns are a sweet roll served at Easter time. Traditionally, they’re sold and served on Good Friday (hence the song’s lyrics, which chronicle a hot-cross bun transaction in a more-kind economy). My family, however, also ate them also on Easter morning, which is where a bite of one always transports me.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Lamb barbacoa: a special spring treat

Is there a reason why we Texans don’t eat much lamb? It’s tender, it’s flavorful, it’s not too expensive and yet you seldom see it. Heck, I even heard a statistic that said we eat less than a half a pound of lamb a year.

So imagine my surprise when I was in El Paso and saw listed on a menu lamb barbacoa with the added note, “For a special treat.”

I was tempted, but I went with the regular barbacoa—the kind made from a cow’s head. You can’t get that in New York City as the barbacoa found here is made with goat instead.

But I’ve been thinking about that lamb barbacoa ever since. And because Easter is coming up and lamb is one of the traditional dishes to serve, I decided to try making some on my own.

True to form, however, I’d never cooked lamb, let alone eaten all that much of it.

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