Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ninfa's spicy pickled carrots recipe

spicy pickled carrots

Spring in New York City can be tough. One day it will be bright and shiny weather, no jacket required. But just when you’re packing away your heavy coat, the next day will bring freezing rain and snow. The farmers' markets reflect this instability by refusing to offer anything but the same old turnips, potatoes and carrots that have been there for the past few months.

But you know what? That’s okay, as I’ve got a big batch of Ninfa’s spicy pickled carrots to snack on right now.

Ninfa’s pickled carrots are not on the menu, but they’ve been offering them for as long as I can remember. When you go to Ninfa’s, you have to ask for these carrots as they’re served by request only. But when you say, “I’d like the carrots, please,” the server will nod and smile, as if the two of you are privy to a delicious secret.

spicy pickled carrots

What makes these carrots so special? Well, they’re tender yet crisp rounds that have been marinated in a tangy, earthy blend of vinegar, oregano, cumin, onions, and chiles de arbol. A few slices of jalapeño are added for extra heat, but unlike other escabeches, carrots play the leading role.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Jalapeño and cheese breakfast casserole recipe

breakfast casserole

“Will you be here for breakfast?” asked my mom. I replied that I would. “Great!” she said. “I’ll make Sue’s eggs.”

Sue is a friend of my mom’s, and she is famous for her breakfast casserole. She gave my mom the recipe, and our family has since made it a staple for special occasions. Now, while I tend to associate this breakfast casserole with Christmas morning, Mom’s making it in March signaled to me that maybe my visit was a cause for celebration, too.

What she didn’t know, however, was that I almost didn’t make it to her house. Between my running amuck in South Texas, and being so utterly charmed by the town of Victoria, I was tempted to linger in that part of the state and completely omit Houston from my itinerary.


Fortunately, I made the right decision.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Ancho-chile shrimp quesadillas

For me, driving through Texas is therapeutic. Seeing the big sky, the wide-open spaces, the cattle, the trees, and the cacti out my window is always a pleasure—coming from New York, it’s always a memory come to life.

Last week, however, another memory returned—that dreadful feeling when you look into your rearview mirror, and see flashing lights from the car behind you. I thought I was being careful, but when I looked at the odometer I saw that I was indeed going a bit too fast. Yep, for the first time in 20 years, I was going to get a speeding ticket.

Pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe my pleading with the officer. I explained to him that it was an honest mistake, and that I hadn’t meant to go fast. I said that I had a clean record and that surely there were more criminal types out there who deserved a confrontation with the law. As a last, desperate attempt at getting out of the ticket, I told the policeman that I was scared to be driving by myself in such a remote area, and I was in a hurry to return to civilization. Well, he didn’t buy any of it (and in hindsight, I’m lucky he didn’t haul me to jail). So when he handed me my ticket, I simply said, “Thank you,” and bid him goodnight.

It was getting late, and as I was in the middle of nowhere, by the time I returned to a place where I could grab some dinner, all of the restaurants were closed. My remaining choices were gas-station food, Whataburger or a 24-hour taco joint. I’d already enjoyed a couple of Whataburgers on the trip, so I opted for the taco joint, seduced by its offer of shrimp quesadillas. Well, that was a mistake, as it was a handful of rubbery shrimp that had been sealed with bland cheese into a cardboard tortilla. I was disappointed.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ribs with Sam Houston's barbecue sauce

“Grand Barbecue!” read the headline announcing a large gathering for Senator Sam Houston in the Texas Banner. This was back in 1847, so it’s apparent that Texans have been eating and enjoying barbecue for a long time. And as this is the time of year when we celebrate Texas Independence, I can’t think of a finer way to honor our brave forefathers than by eating barbecue.

This year marks the 175th anniversary of Texas’ fight for freedom from Mexico. Now, if you can recall back 25 years to the 150th anniversary, we all learned a new word—sesquicentennial. Well, apparently there’s also a word for 175th—terquasquicentennial—which is quite a mouthful. As it took me almost a year to figure out how to say sesquicentennial when I was young, I reckon I’ll figure out how to pronounce terquasquicentennial in time for the bicentennial in 2036.

But enough about words, let’s get back to that barbecue. Sam Houston State University has a recipe on its web site for Sam Houston’s favorite barbecue sauce. When I first saw it, I scoffed and figured it was a fake document trying to capitalize on this Texan hero's good name. But the thought of this barbecue sauce from the 1800s intrigued me, so I did some research.

First, I was curious if people ate barbecue sauce back in the 1800s; I learned that sauces were indeed used to baste the meat as it cooked over the fire. Then I wondered if all the ingredients listed in the recipe were around during Sam Houston’s lifetime. Save for chili powder, which wasn’t sold until the 1890s, the other ingredients—such as Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce and ketchup—were available while Houston was alive.

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