Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Day queso compuesto

new-year-queso_compuesto

A year or so ago, I was visiting Texas in August and stopped by my grandma’s farm to say howdy. She asked if I was hungry, as she’d just cooked up a pot of black-eyed peas. How could I refuse? We sat down at the table and ate big bowls of the freshly picked peas along with Swiss chard cooked with bacon and warm cornbread slathered in butter. It was a fine late-summer feast using up the bounty of her garden.

Now, this time of year people start thinking more about black-eyed peas, greens and pork as they’re required eating for good fortune in the New Year. A meal such as the one I shared with my grandma would not be out of place on New Year’s Day. But these foods for us are an essential part of life and we eat them all year long, not just on January 1.

This isn’t to say, however, that I won’t be having black-eyed peas, greens and pork on Sunday. But I like to take a little license with these ingredients and take them on a journey to a new place.

new-year-queso_compuesto black-eyed peas, jalapeno

And that’s how I arrived at my New Year’s Day queso compuesto.

The last time I was dipping into a queso compuesto, I asked myself, “What would this taste like with Mexican chorizo, black-eyed peas and collard greens?” Was it kind of crazy or kind of good? I decided to find out.

Keep reading...
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Complexion candy, a date, fig and pecan confection

complexion candy, date and fig candy

The other day I found myself in a cookie coma. After eating nothing but cookies and homemade candy for several hours straight, my belly hurt and I could barely keep my eyes open. It was a sugar, butter and white flour overload.

Now, I’m not one to pass up a sweet treat, especially this time of year. But sometimes it might be wise for me to cut back just a little so I won’t find myself shopping for a whole new wardrobe in the new year.

Enter complexion candy. “What kind of candy?” you may be asking. I said the same thing when I came across this old Texan recipe. Though upon closer inspection I realized that complexion candy is simply an old-fashioned dried fruit and nut confection under a more colorful name.

dates and figs

I love dates. They’re sticky, crunchy and sweet with such a rich caramelized flavor that it’s hard to believe that they’re a fruit. Yep, dates are nature’s candy. And that’s what’s at the heart of complexion candy, along with figs, raisins, orange zest and pecans.

Keep reading...
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bacon-jalapeƱo cheese ball

bacon jalapeno cheese ball

While I was home for Thanksgiving, I found in my grandma’s cabinet a North Texas community cookbook from the 1970s. It was a fairly typical cookbook, with chapters on appetizers, soups, main courses and desserts in the traditional order that you’d eat them. But attached to the end was a final chapter that focused on only one thing: cheese.

The placement struck me as strange. Why was it the last chapter of the book? Sure, Europeans are known for having a cheese course at the end of a meal, but Texans not so much. Then I turned the page. It wasn’t just any old cheese chapter—it was a chapter on nothing but cheese balls.

Now, I’ve written before about my love of this decadent and delicious appetizer fashioned from cheese, nuts and herbs. When I was growing up, it was the mark of a very grown-up party if there was a pecan-covered cheese ball on the table. While the kids would get their cheese fix by dipping chips into the pot of chile con queso, the adults would nibble on wheat crackers topped with the nutty, creamy spread.



Then, cheese balls went out of style. Whenever you’d mention them there would inevitably be giggling and eye rolling. Heck, even the term “cheese ball” began to connote an over-the-top, slightly out-of-touch buffoon. For example, take that friend who serenaded all the girls with Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” when he first met them. “Oh, he’s such a cheese ball,” people would say. It wasn’t exactly an insult, but you could all agree that your friend was more goofy than cool.

Keep reading...
Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Chilaquiles with ancho tomatillo salsa

chilaquiles rojos and verde ancho tomatillo salsa

When I first moved to New York, one of the dishes that was lacking was migas. That Texan breakfast staple of eggs scrambled with fried tortillas, along with a host of other good things such as cheese and chiles, was nowhere to be found.

Then one day a friend called and said, “I’ve found migas! This Mexican restaurant is calling them chilaquiles, but if you close your eyes you won’t tell the difference.”

Desperate for a migas fix, the next morning I hopped on the train and met him for breakfast at his local Mexican joint. We ordered the chilaquiles and were presented with scrambled eggs tossed with fried tortillas coated in a bright salsa verde. My friend was correct—they were very similar to our beloved migas and we ate them with gusto and joy.

fried tortilla wedges

Chilaquiles (pronounced chee-la-kee-lays), to those who’ve never had them, are fried tortilla strips or wedges that have been simmered in salsa. As the fried tortillas cook, they absorb the salsa and impart it with its toasted corn flavor until the two become meshed into one. You know when you get to the bottom of the cereal bowl and the cereal has absorbed some of the milk and the milk tastes like cereal? Yep, chilaquiles are kind of wonderful like that—though hopefully not as soggy.

Now, sometimes other things can join the party, such as sliced chicken, shredded beef or even scrambled eggs, the latter of which causes people to think that migas and chilaquiles are the same.

But they’re not.

Keep reading...