We had some weather excitement here in Houston last week. It got cold. Real cold, as in hard freeze cold. We had snow (for the third time this winter!) and ice, and it stuck for 2 days. The snow was really just a dusting–exciting for us, nevertheless–but the ice that formed on our highway overpasses forced our city to essentially shut down.
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a “snow day.” Growing up in New York, we could expect a few snow days every winter, and they usually involved cooking and baking, which not only made the house smell great, but kept the kitchen warm and inviting. I loved hanging out in the kitchen on those days.
It was a given, then, that I would spend my snow day cooking. I made chili, Italian wedding soup, and short ribs. This recipe for Tangy Glazed Short Ribs is one of our special occasion dishes — in fact, we had it for Christmas Eve dinner. The recipe, which we make in the slow cooker, is adapted from a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe that my husband ran across in the Wine Spectator several years ago. He handed me the recipe, saying “this looks good.” And it is. It’s a little involved, but not difficult, and worth every minute spent making it. I like to make it at least a day in advance because like most soups and stews, it improves with age, and it also allows me to skim off the considerable amount of fat when it’s cool. It’s best served over mashed potatoes, although no one will complain if you serve it over polenta or buttered noodles.
1 ancho chile, seeded, lightly toasted, and finely chopped
1 chipotle pepper from canned chile in adobo
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 quart water
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Place the ribs in a single layer on a platter. Sprinkle the ribs with star anise and 1 teaspoon salt, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
In a blender, combine the ketchup, pomegranate molasses, vinegar, fish sauce, molasses, garlic powder, onion, ancho chile, chipotle, sesame oil, and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend on high speed until smooth. Add the water, and blend again until smooth.
Preheat grill to high. Brush the ribs with grapeseed oil and place on the grill. Sear on all sides except the bony rib.
Transfer ribs to slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Cook for approximately 6 hours on high, or until completely tender (they will fall off the bone). Transfer ribs to a baking dish. Strain the sauce and set aside.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. To finish the ribs, add 1 to 1-1/2 cups of the strained sauce to the ribs and place them in the oven. Cook, basting frequently, until the sauce is thick, and the ribs are glazed, approximately 15 minutes. (Note: If you're pressed for time, you can omit this step and they will still be delicious, but do strain the sauce before serving.) Serve hot over mashed potatoes, polenta, or buttered noodles.
Season the ribs with star anise and salt and let them sit for an hour
My husband likes to sear them in a cast iron skillet on the grill
It’s kinda ugly in an interesting sort of way. I believe it was made in France in the 1950s by Vallauris.
Have you ever heard the saying “some days you’re the pigeon and other days you’re the statue?” How about “some days you’re the dog and other days you’re the hydrant?” Well, I’ve got another one for you — some days you’re the seagull and other days you’re the mussel. Seagulls have a taste for mussels and other shellfish. To get at the meat inside the shell, they carry the mussel high in the air, and then drop it on rocks below. They do this over and over until the shell finally cracks open, and then they feast. (A nice video of this, with some sea lions as an added bonus, can be seen here.)
After certain unpleasant and entirely fascinating recent events in American politics, I think we all might feel a little mussel-like, as if we’d been repeatedly dropped on sharp rocks until a seagull can come and pick our innards out. This feeling, together with the mussel dish, is the inspiration for this recipe for Spicy Mussels in White Wine.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the Costco near me has a sort of pop-up seafood shop, and they almost always have 3-pound bags of beautiful Prince Edward Island (“PEI”) mussels — rarely a broken shell in the whole bunch. In researching mussels, I learned that the size of the mussel varies with the season — they are largest in October and smallest in March. If a batch of mussels appears to be different colors, don’t worry — pale white meat indicates a male mussel, and a warmer, more orangey colour, a female. (Yep, another step closer to being Cliff Clavin.)
This recipe is quick and easy, and is a delicious light meal any time of year. Crusty bread is, of course, mandatory for sopping up the broth. For times when you are perhaps feeling mussel-like, a soothing, steaming, savory bowl of mussels in white wine will help you feel like you are soaring with the seagulls in no time, at least momentarily.
2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded (discard any broken shells or that won't close)
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup chopped seeded tomatoes
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt, and saute until onion is golden, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add wine and lemon and bring to a boil over high heat. Add mussels and cook, covered, until mussels open, stirring once to rearrange mussels, approximately 6 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mussels to individual serving bowls. Boil liquid remaining in pot until reduced to 1 cup, approximately 3 minutes. Season broth to taste with salt and pepper. Pour broth over mussels. Sprinkle with parsley and tomatoes, and serve hot.
(Note: Have lots of crusty bread on hand to sop up the broth.)
Tamales are a holiday tradition in Texas and elsewhere. Traditional tamales begin with a dough called masa, made from nixtamalized corn (soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and then hulled) or a masa mix, such as Maseca, and lard (gasp!) or vegetable shortening, or even butter. The masa is spread on corn husks or plantain leaves, with a few tablespoons of sweet or savory filling, folded up into a neat little packet, and then steamed until the masa is firm.
Tamales are eaten year-round, but during the holidays, they are extremely popular. Perhaps this is because making tamales is usually done in large batches — tens, if not hundreds, at a time — and is a nice way to bring generations together to assemble them.
There are several ways to get your tamale holiday fix. Most Mexican restaurants sell them this time of year — some even set up tamale stands:
If you’re lucky, someone in your office has a grandmother or aunt that sells homemade tamales this time of year (if so, do yourself a favor and get a dozen or two). You can also order them online — Texas Tamale Company has some nice sets that make welcome gifts, especially for out-of-state friends. Or . . . you can make your own.
A while back I signed up for a Tamales 101 class with Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia’s Enchiladas and Houston’s unofficial Enchilada Queen. The first part of the class was instructional, where we watched Sylvia prepare the several ingredients necessary to make the tamales. Sylvia chatted while preparing chile sauce, pork filling, and masa, sharing bits about her life, Mexican food, and the antiques that decorate her attractive restaurant.
Once all the components were ready, Sylvia showed us how to spread the masa on the pre-soaked corn husk, and how much filling to add:
At this point, the class moved to the dining room, where each person had their own tamale-making station:
And away we rolled! One of the staff admired my tamales and declared them perfect (not that I’m competitive or anything):
We packed up our tamales for steaming at home (which, I must say, were quite tasty, with a perfect masa-to-filling ratio).
Will I ever make tamales at home? I’d like to think so, although on a smaller scale, and probably without lard. I am also intrigued by the idea of sweet tamales, which Sylvia described to us, and which take significantly less preparation. Perhaps this will become a new holiday tradition for my family.
In the event you might like to try your hand at tamales, or are interested in seeing what’s involved, I’m including the recipes from the class (there’s a separate recipe for each component). These recipes will make approximately 5 dozen tamales. If making tamales seems involved, it’s because it is — that’s why it’s fun to do it with several people. The fillings below (Pork Guisado and/or Pollo Guisado) can be prepared a day or two in advance. Note that Sylvia’s masa is different than that used in most tamales (and also tastier), because it’s flavored with a chile sauce — most consist of only masa and lard or vegetable shortening.
1 whole chicken, approximately 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
4 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
½ cup tomato sauce
Place the chicken, water, and salt in a large stockpot and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot and shred the chicken into small pieces. Reserve the broth.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, peppercorns, and cumin seeds.
Combine the shredded chicken with the ground garlic and spices and add to the reserved broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Add onion, bay leaf, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool
When cool, drain most of the liquid and discard bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate chicken until ready to use.
7-1/2 pounds pork butt (approximate yield after trimming fat is 4-1/2 pounds)
5 cups water
½ large onion, quartered
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
1/-12 teaspoons ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
Trim excess fat from pork. Dice pork into ½-inch pieces.
Place pork, water, onion, garlic, and salt in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until very tender, approximately 1-1/2 hours.
Remove pork from pot and set aside in a large saute pan. Reserve pork stock for use in preparing masa.
Add vegetable oil to pan and saute pork over medium heat until edges begin to brown.
Cover and set aside to cool.
To prepare Pork Guisado:
Add Sauce for Pork Guisado to browned pork pieces. Add cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt to the mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
Optional: When cool enough to handle, shred pork by hand, which will make it easier to use for tamale filling.
2-1/2 pounds lard (or vegetable shortening or softened butter)
1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups Chili Sauce for Masa
3-1/2 cups water
3-1/4 cups reserved pork stock
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Combine lard (or vegetable shortening or butter), pork stock, Chile Sauce for Masa, and water in a large sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat to melt the lard, using a whisk to combine all ingredients.
Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches.
Mix all ingredients and knead (with your hands or using an electric mixer) until dough is well-blended and light. This will take 15-20 minutes of kneading.
1 bag corn husks that have been soaked for at least one hour (soak in 1 gallon warm water, and weight them down so that they are submerged)
Pork Guisado or Pollo Guisado (or other desired filling)
Using a spackle tool or small spatula, place a lump of masa in the center of a corn husk (a little larger than a walnut, smaller than a golf ball).
With the spackle tool, spread the masa evenly almost to the edges of the husk. The husk is triangular (i.e., wide on one end, narrow on the other) -- the masa should be spread on the wide end, approximately 4 inches toward the narrow end.
Place a few tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa.
Fold the sides of the husk, one at a time, toward the center. They will overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up over the filled part. Place tamale in a container with the tail side down (to help keep it from opening up).
Repeat with remaining husks.
To cook the tamales, place them in a pot with a steamer rack. Add enough water to cover the rack. Tamales need to be steamed standing up, with the open end facing up. (You can place a small bowl in the center of the rack and arrange the tamales around it.)
Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and leave pot on burner for another 30 minutes.
When tamales are cooked completely, the husk will peel easily from the masa.
I found this colorful hand-embroidered runner at an estate sale. The handiwork was quite neatly done:I used to love to do needlepoint and crewel, but this is a perfect example of why I don’t do it anymore. I see TONS of needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet, and crewel items at estate sales. They seem to have very little sentimental or other value. It’s one thing to do it to while away the hours, but I can assure you that anyone that thinks their handiwork will become a treasured heirloom is deluding themselves.
Runners like these, and their cousins doilies, are a thing from days gone by. I picture this runner gracing a table or dresser in an elderly woman’s home. Maybe there’s a few small glasses for sherry sitting on it. There would probably be a little bell nearby, for summoning staff or family (like Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad). Can’t you hear it — that faint little “ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling?”
With “ting-a-ling” on my brain, I was inspired to make Beef Tinga Tacos. Well, that and the fact that Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner. As the haters are quick to point out, it is a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the day Mexico won its independence from Spain (that day is celebrated on September 16 — mark your calendars). Cinco de Mayo commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a relatively small battle that resulted in Mexico’s victory over France in 1862. In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated outside of Puebla.
So if Mexico doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, why do we? According to several sources, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1967, when some students from California State University decided to commemorate the battle as a way to celebrate Mexican culture. Yet another step closer to being Cliff Clavin
So Cinco de Mayo is kind of a made up holiday. To which I say SO WHAT? I live in Texas — we don’t need much of an excuse to eat tacos. These Beef Tinga Tacos are effortless, which leaves that much more time for drinking margaritas and busting piñatas. And I promise, you will not have to ring a bell to get your family to come running for these.
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon honey
Flour or corn tortillas
Chopped fresh cilantro
Cut brisket into 3 pieces and place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic. In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, oregano, coriander, broth, tomato sauce, adobo sauce, and honey, and pour over brisket. Cook on high until meat is tender and shreds easily with a fork, 7-8 hours. When cool enough to handle, shred meat using two forks. Transfer shredded meat and cooking liquid to a large stockpot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until liquid is reduced and meat is still moist but not soupy, approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
To serve, spoon filling into flour or corn tortillas, and top with minced onion and chopped fresh cilantro.
Cut the brisket into three pieces
Add onions and garlic
Pour the liquids and spices over the brisket
Set on high and go do something else for 7-8 hoursTinga-ling!
Back when I first started this blog, I did a post for Divine Lemon Bars that was inspired by a poster made in 1911 by James Lee in Chicago, Illinois, which had the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments on it. At the same estate sale at which I bought the Lord’s Prayer poster, I also bought this James Lee poster with “The Lord Is My Shepherd” printed on it, from Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Though preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
When I was young, I thought I might want to be a shepherd. It’s easy, I herd. Turns out I couldn’t get the staff (cue collective groan). But I did meet a man once dressed as a shepherd, who told me he was a spy. I asked him why he was dressed as a shepherd, and he told it me it was because . . . wait for it . . . he was a shepherd spy.
I know what you’re thinking right about now, something like “get the flock out of here.” So without further punnery, I bring you this recipe, inspired by the Lord Is My Shepherd poster, for Shepherd’s Pie, a dish the whole family will enjoy. I think that because it’s made with ground beef it is technically, according to some sources, a cottage pie — the conventional wisdom being that shepherds are concerned with sheep, and therefore, shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. Other sources say that cottage pie and shepherd’s pie are synonymous terms. Don’t lose sleep over it. To prepare the mashed potatoes, I usually add a few garlic cloves to the boiling water, and mash them up right along with the potatoes (a ricer works best for me), and add just enough butter and half and half to make them smooth and creamy (not gummy), then season with salt and pepper. You, of course, can make them any way you want — even instant mashed potatoes will work fine.
1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups seasoned mashed potatoes (from approximately 3 large potatoes)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
*Note: Can substitute 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables for corn and peas and carrots
**Note: Can substitute ½ cup beef broth for bouillon and water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add beef and saute until lightly browned, breaking up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Dissolve bouillon cube in water, add to corn starch mixture, then stir into beef along with Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken.
Spoon beef mixture into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish (alternatively, can use 4 individual casserole dishes). Spread potatoes evenly over top. Brush lightly with melted butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes. If desired, broil for 2-3 minutes until potatoes are very lightly browned.
I found these figural linen cocktail napkins on ebay.
This one has a wonky eye
I think they were made in the 1950s. I had these birds of a feather framed together, and they brighten up my laundry room. (It’s not like I was going to buy original art to hang next to the washer.)
My family has always had a thing for hens and roosters, because our last name or some variation of it means “chicken” or “hen” in German. I collected roosters for a while, starting in college, but there’s no real challenge to finding them — they’re everywhere — and I kept just a few when I got married.
When I was around 8 years old, I came across a book of riddles in one of my parents’ friend’s bathrooms. They had those kinds of friends. Anyway, one of the riddles involved a rooster, and I had no idea what was so funny about it, but when I told it to my parents (because they liked roosters) they about bust a gut laughing. From that point on, they would encourage me to tell it to their friends (“oh, go on, tell them your joke!”), who would also cackle with laughter. Like I said, they had those kinds of friends. Here’s the riddle, in case you’d like to teach your young ones to tell it for cheap laughs:
Q: What’s the difference between a rooster, Uncle Sam, and an old maid?
A: The rooster says “cock-a-doodle-do,” Uncle Sam says “Yankee doodle do,” and the old maid says “any cockle do.”
Again, they had those kinds of friends. [Note: “cockle” is intentionally misspelled :)]
Well, just as some times you want cheap and easy wall art, or a cheap and easy laugh, some times you want a cheap and easy chicken dinner, and that’s what has inspired this Easy Chicken Pot Pie. It’s tasty and satisfying factory-to-table fare that you can put together in about five minutes. I was introduced to it when my friend Laura, herself a new mom, brought it over for my family after my daughter was born, and it was as appreciated then as it is now on busy school and work nights. Cock-a-doodle-do!
2 9-inch pie crusts (I use Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts)
2-3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (I usually use rotisserie chicken)
8 ounces frozen peas and carrots*
8-ounces frozen corn
1 can Campbell's Cream of Potato Soup
1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup
⅓ cup water
½ teaspoon dried dill
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
Salt and pepper, to taste
*Note: can substitute 1 pound of frozen mixed vegetables for corn and peas and carrots
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place one pie crust in a deep dish pie plate. In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Transfer filling to pie plate, and cover with remaining crust. Press edges of top and bottom crusts together, crimping decoratively. Cut 3 or 4 vents in top of crust. Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until crust is golden. Let stand 20 minutes before serving.
Spoon the filling into the crust
Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape
My son’s school is having a carnival this weekend, and all of the funds raised go towards the scholarship fund, which helps out about 100 students annually. One of the booths is a frozen casserole booth — frozen meals are donated and sold for $25. What’s that? An opportunity to cook? Well sign me up!
With Fat Tuesday just a few days away, I thought something Cajun might be popular. (It’s really embarassing to have your item not sell, and wind up buying it yourself to spare yourself the shame.) (UPDATE: My dish went quickly, and I didn’t have to buy it myself.) The recipe is slightly adapted from this one from Town Hall restaurant in San Francisco (yes, I know, it’s not in Louisiana). I’ve never made jambalaya before, and I have to say, it was a lot of work. Not hard, but definitely time-consuming. And definitely tasty. This version has a lot of spice, but the heat was not overwhelming. I hope whoever buys it (and I’m hoping it’s not me) will think it was as delicious as I did.
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, medium dice
1 pound andouille sausage, medium dice
4 ounces smoked ham, medium dice
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and medium dice
3 celery stalks, medium dice
1 jalapeno, cored, seed, and minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
14.5-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 scallions, thinly sliced, for optional garnish
To prepare spice mix, place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine; set aside. Preheat oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven (need to have enough room for a large stockpot).
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof, 7-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 5-6 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl and brown the remaining chicken. Remove to bowl and set aside.
Add the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions just begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the sausage, ham, and half of the reserved spice mix. Stir to coat everything with the spice mix and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the meat is browned and the onions are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers, celery, jalapeño, garlic, salt, and remaining spice mix. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pot occasionally, until the bell peppers have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir to combine and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice, broth, and bay leaves, and stir to combine. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, transfer to oven, and bake until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. Remove the pot to a wire rack and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Stir to evenly combine the jambalaya. Taste, and season with salt as needed. Just before serving, sprinkle with scallions, if using, and serve.
Ready for the oven (do you like the bay leaf sharks?)