Thursday, May 28, 2009

Aunt Margaret's strawberry delight

A few weeks ago, before it was strawberry season, my grandma tempted me with a dessert my Aunt Margaret used to make: strawberry delight.

Aunt Margaret was one of the fancier members of the family. She was always impeccably dressed and when I was young, she would give me her perfume and make-up samples from Neiman Marcus.

Like Aunt Margaret, strawberry delight sounded swank. And when my grandma gave me the recipe, she admitted that strawberry delight was both elaborate and delicious. But she then added no dessert could compare to eating fresh, ripe berries either on their own or with cream on a flaky biscuit split in two.

Dazzled by the name, however, I insisted on making strawberry delight when I bought my first pints of the juicy red berries at the farmer’s market last week.

Strawberry delight is very similar to a fool, where the berries are mashed and then stirred into whipped cream. This dessert differs, however, by the addition of a buttery pecan crust and a meringue that’s folded into the strawberries and cream.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dr Pepper ribs: sticky, spicy and sweet

I’ve been on a rib kick lately. I usually like my ribs simple—seasoned with nothing but a salt, cayenne and black pepper rub, smoked low and slow over post-oak wood. But when I’m trying to make outdoor fare inside, I tend to change my tune. Take my Dr Pepper ribs. These are sticky, spicy and sweet, which is the exact opposite of how I like my barbecue. And yet, I love my Dr Pepper ribs so much that I could eat a whole rack by myself.

Now if you know me well, you are aware that I’m a staunch opponent of sauce on barbecue. And yes, these ribs are wet and messy, so much in fact that if you don’t have a stack of napkins nearby you should probably wear a bib. So what changed my mind and why did I decide to make saucy ribs?

We Texans love to cook with Dr Pepper. I love to use Dr Pepper in my peanut brittle and a Dr Pepper chocolate cake is wonderful as well as it always turns out so moist. But I’d never tried using Dr Pepper with meat and I was curious if it would make that much of a difference.

I’ve tried making meat with my stove-top smoker in the style that I like it, but save for fish and vegetables, the results haven’t been great. So when it comes to oven-baked ribs, I decided to eschew outside authenticity and instead shoot for lots of flavor. Enter the Dr Pepper.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to make a cemita

Have you ever had a cemita? It’s a sandwich found in the Mexican state of Puebla. At first glance, you may think it looks like a hamburger as it’s housed on a round, sesame-seed bun. But after you take a bite you’ll realize this isn’t a hamburger at all—instead it’s a festival of flavors and textures nestled between a pillow-soft bun.

The bun, which is also called a cemita, is where the sandwich gets its name. It’s an egg-rich bread topped with sesame seeds that is sort of a cross between challah and brioche. (And it’s not to be confused with the cemita or semita found in Northern Mexico, which is a Mexican sweet bread spiced with star anise).

The other distinguishing characteristic of a cemita is the liberal use of the minty herb papalo. When I had my first cemita, it was that bright note cutting through all the other flavors that made this sandwich sing.

Papalo isn’t always in season, however, so you may sometimes have a cemita made without it. But without the sesame-seed roll, you no longer have a cemita, you just have a sandwich.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dewberry cobbler is your reward

Picking dewberries is a wonderful warm-day pastime. When I was young, my friends and I would march out to the wilder parts of my suburban Houston neighborhood—such as the bayou, vacant lots or the rough patch next to the golf course—and brave water moccasins, thorns and poison ivy to score some of these black orbs, warm from the sun and ready to pop in your mouth.

Usually, we’d eat them straight from the bush, smearing our t-shirts and shorts with the dark, sticky juice. But sometimes we’d be more organized and bring a container so we could pick them and then take them home to our parents so they could make dewberry cobbler for dessert.

Spending plenty of time on a farm, I know that when you venture into a bramble you need to wear strong boots filled with sulfur to keep those chiggers at bay. But what was cool at the farm was not cool in Houston, and so we’d usually be wearing at best tennis shoes and at worst flip flops as we made our way through the berry patch. Needless to say, you can get scuffed up something ugly after a bout of picking dewberries if you’re not properly clothed. But no matter—the joy of finding food in the wild mitigated any cosmetic damage done to our legs.

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