Sunday, February 24, 2013

Soft Pretzels in 2 Hours at Home

While it may seem like a lot of steps, making soft pretzels is really very simple. It takes about 2 hours from start to finish, and once finished, the reason for these steps is apparent. A very short rising time makes quick work of the dough. A quick boil in a pot of water gives them the chewy exterior, and the egg wash gives them the shine, in a similar manner to making bagels. It is my belief that using a beer in the batter and boiling water enhances the yeasty flavor, but it is completely a matter of choice. I used a Weiss type beer both in the dough and the water bath; one bottle was just enough to cover both uses.
Soft Pretzels

Another factor to take into consideration is the size of the pretzel. The ones sold in most places are just huge. In this day and age, that size is far too large for what most people should have in one sitting. If that size is of interest, you may choose to make the recipe into only about 6 pretzels. I believe making them into 8 or 10 is the perfect size. The baking time may need adjusting, should you use the larger size.

Soft Pretzels at Home
Soft Pretzels

4 – 4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 packets of instant or quick rise yeast
1 cup water plus 1/2 cup beer, OR use 1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt

7 cups water plus 1 cup beer, OR use 8 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon agave syrup

Coarse salt for sprinkling

In a mixer bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour with the yeast. Heat to lukewarm the 1 cup water and 1/2 cup of beer, or all water as desired, along with the 3 tablespoons sugar and the salt. Ensure that the liquid is just warm to the pinkie and not too hot. Add the liquid to the mixing bowl and starting on low to combine the ingredients, increase speed and beat well for about 3 minutes. If your mixer is heavy duty and can knead a very stiff dough, switch to a dough hook and add in 2 1/2 to 3 cups more flour. If you do not have a heavy duty mixer, remove the beaters and use hands to incorporate the flour to make a stiff dough. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to rest for 20 minutes, while preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Soft Pretzels inside

In a large soup pot, place the 7 cups water and 1 cup beer or just use 8 cups water. Add 1/2 cup baking soda to the water. If beer is in the mixture, expect the liquid to foam up significantly. Bring this mixture to a simmer.

Mix together in a small bowl the egg yolk, tablespoon of water and the agave syrup. If agave syrup is not available, an unflavored corn syrup could be used. Combine well and set aside. Have a pastry brush handy. Prepare two large baking sheets by lining them with parchment. Spray the parchment with cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Turn the dough out onto a flat surface. You may not need any flour on the surface if the dough is quite stiff. Divide the dough into 8 to 10 pieces. Each piece should be rolled into a rope about 24 inches long. Make the rope into a U shape, then bring down and cross the ends to make the pretzel shape. Pinch together the points where the dough intersects. Place 1 or 2 of the pretzels into the pot of simmering liquid. Time for 1 minute, then flip over and time for 1 minute more. Drain well on paper toweling and place them onto the baking sheets. Repeat with all the shaped pretzels.

Brush the boiled pretzels with the egg wash and then sprinkle on the coarse salt. Bake the pretzels for 18 to 20 minutes, until a nice golden brown. Makes 8 to 10 medium sized soft pretzels. 

Read the instructions carefully and have everything prepared and handy and you will have wonderful, hot and chewy pretzels in about 2 hours.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Friday, February 22, 2013

No-Knead Bread: Almost too Good to be True

No-Knead Bread, fresh from oven
The original No Knead Bread was started by Jim Lahey. Jim learned bread baking in Italy in the 1990s but developed the no knead process much later. In 2006, Mark Bittman of the New York Times was invited to witness the ease of making this bread at Laheys Sullivan Street Bakery. The rest is history.

This history was all new to me in the summer of 2011. I went to the local farmers market and bought a loaf of what was called Mark Bittman's No Knead Bread. I love artisanal breads, with the crusty exteriors and plenty of chewiness on the inside. I did know of Mark Bittman, having watched "On the Road Again, in Spain" starring Mario Batali, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Bittman and Claudia Basols. I was curious. I bought the loaf and brought it home, tasted it and fell in love at first bite! I looked online to see if I could find this recipe and saw that it was available everywhere. I did not find out the recipe was from Jim Lahey until much later. 

Recipe Comparisons

Mark Bittman's recipe differs from Lahey's in some slight nuances. I have used the recipes both ways and can say that I prefer the Bittman version, at least in my home oven. Lahey adds less water and uses a 500 degree oven. Bittman uses a little more water and a 450 degree oven. The matter of water is a choice. With 2 tablespoons more water, the result is an interior with far larger holes. Using less water means the interior grain of the bread comes out more uniform.  The bread is still plenty chewy made either way and the oven temperature and time are easily adapted. Both recipes say that once the lid is removed, to bake for an additional 15 to 30 minutes. I do not like blackened crusts, so I stuck to the 450 degrees and only 8 - 10 minutes once the lid is removed.

My Experiences with No Knead Breads

Jim's Brown Bread
I made Mark Bittman's version of the bread for over a year, sometimes 3 times a week, when guests were around. I then got curious and went to the local library. I checked out the book "My Bread" by Jim Lahey and discovered another new world of bread flavors. To the same basic No-Knead recipe, Lahey added things for flavor. I made a few of these breads and all were marvelous. One had the addition of walnuts and raisins and was just delightful. One was called "Jim's Brown Bread" and was a take on Irish bread, using Guinness Stout and buttermilk in the dough. Another recipe had ½ pound of cubed cheese added in. Yet another had chunks of fried bacon added. Every recipe was just delicious. The bacon bread was nearly a sandwich all by itself.

Cheese No-Knead Bread, using Fontinella cheese
If you have not jumped onto this bandwagon yet, I urge everyone to try. The one requirement is a very heavy duty pot that will withstand oven temperatures of 450 to 500 degrees. This means an enameled cast iron pot, a clay baker with a lid, or a Pyrex glass baker with lid. The size must accommodate 6 to 8 quarts in order to contain the bread as it bakes. The handle on the lid of the enameled cast iron pots should be metal. The reason for this type of lidded pot is so that steam from the very wet dough is trapped inside. I did not own an enameled cast iron pot when I decided to try this bread, so I borrowed one from my sister-in-law. It had a resin knob on the lid. Twenty minutes into the baking process, I heard a very loud clang. It was the knob that had exploded! Those kind of knobs are oven safe to only 400 degrees. If you have a resin knob on your enameled cast iron, invest in a new metal knob as a replacement before starting.

Bacon Bread
The bane of any home baker when trying to create that artisanal crusty exterior is the inability to trap enough steam to accomplish that end. When the dough is inside a small, closed environment, and in high temperatures, the enclosed pot traps the steam needed for the perfect crust, right from the dough itself. When removed from the oven, the bread literally "sings". The bread snaps, pops, wheezes and makes many interesting sounds as it cools and is a delight to hear. Jim Lahey in his book mentions the  amazing sounds when at his bakery they have taken many multiples of loaves out of a very hot oven.

The recipe is found all over the internet, and my favorite method is the one by Mark Bittman. He has now come out with some more interesting nuances on making this bread, but I have the time at home to work with it, so I am not looking to make this a shorter process. In fact the entire process, which takes about 16 to 18 hours, requires a total of about 15 minutes of actual attention. Mix up the 4 ingredients the night before (takes about 3 minutes), cover and let it do its thing overnight while you sleep. Turn out onto a surface in the morning (takes about 10 seconds) cover and let stand for 15 minutes while you prepare breakfast. Form into a loaf and set to rise (takes about 1 minute). One and a half hours later, place the empty pot in the oven to heat for a half hour (takes about 10 seconds). Take out the pot, toss in the risen dough, put the lid back on and bake (takes less than 1 minute) for 30 minutes with lid, then another 10 to 30 minutes without the lid, depending on your preference. In between, you can accomplish a host of other household activities. Try out this recipe, because it does not disappoint.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pollo en Jocon; a Gutemalan Dish Using Green Sauce

Pollo en Jocon is basically a cooked chicken in green sauce. The dish can as easily be made with a beef roast (making it "Carne en Jocon") as with chicken, and I can tell you from experience that green sauce is truly excellent paired with pork also.

A few days back I wrote about making green sauce, or Salsa Verde. The recipe is absolutely delightful, and I really need to make more to keep around. I also promised a picture, which I have here, for this post. Though my husband is mostly unfamiliar with green sauce, being an upper Midwest guy (I am an Ohio gal myself, but got where I am via Guatemala for 12 years), he really liked the flavors of the chicken in the green sauce, so I took that as a big coup; winning his approval.
Pollo en Jocon
Pollo en Jocon

Guatemalan sauces very often contain sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, called "pepitoria". These are in most of the sauces, whether sweet or savory. Things like mole, whether a savory mole over chicken, or a sweet mole over plantains, contain these seeds, toasted and ground. Guatemalan tamales have these seeds in the sauce that is made to go over top of the tamal. Again, the tamales there have 2 versions, a sweet and a savory, and the sauce starts out the same for either one, with the same seeds involved in the recipe. These are a couple of examples, but the use is widespread. 

A word about the sesame seeds: they need to still have the hull intact, which means they are not the kind found in the little jars in the spice section of the grocery. Unhulled sesame seeds are a dull, flat tan color, and not the pretty, shiny, polished little things in the jars. The shiny ones in the jars will not brown properly in the dry skillet. Look for unhulled sesame seed a at your local health food store. 

With that in mind then, I was quite surprised to find that in the two recipes I had found
Carne en Jocon
Carne en Jocon
for Jocon, somewhere in Guatemala (one was a newspaper clipping), neither one had used sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds. Hmmm. One of the two recipes did not even mention using day old tortillas in the sauce, which is a very common thickening agent. Instead of thickening a sauce with flour or cornstarch, in Guatemala they will use cookie crumbs to thicken a sweet mole sauce, or bread, soaked and stirred into a sauce as for Hilachas (or Ropa Vieja), or tortillas, soaked and blended up into a sauce like Jocon. So, in one of the recipes they suggested thickening the sauce If it is too thin, with tortillas. Corn tortillas here in the U.S., made with a lot of additives and preservatives, pressed and sold in packages that seem to be able to last forever - these really will not easily soften and dissolve. To make this easier, keep a small package of Masa harina for corn tortillas in your freezer and pull it out for times like this. It thickens beautifully and gives the authentic flavor needed. 
Just moisten some corn masa flour with water and stir into the stew and cook until it thickens to your desired stew consistency.

Understand that this dish is supposed to be a stew of a sort. Once the green sauce is made, the rest of the recipe (as I made it) is just cooking the cut up chicken in the green sauce, and then put to cook for a while in this sauce to infuse flavors. 

Pollo en Jocon or Carne en Jocon

Serves about 6
Pollo en Jocon
Pollo en Jocon

1 whole chicken, cut up,  (for Pollo en Jocon)

2 lbs beef stew meat (for Carne en Jocon)
olive oil, for browning
1½ cups (more if desired) Salsa Verde / Green Sauce
1½ teaspoons salt
1 - 2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon unhulled sesame seeds
1½ tablespoons raw, green pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons corn tortilla flour (Masa Harina or Torti-ya)

Heat a dry skillet over medium heat until very hot, then add in the sesame seeds. Stir constantly, and they will begin to pop and snap. Once they turn a light brown, turn them out immediately to a plate to cool. Add in the green pumpkin seeds and stitrring constantly, toast them until they begin to get browned spots but do not let them burn! Once browned a bit, turn out to the plate with the sesame seeds. Once cooled, place the toasted seeds into a spice grinder or coffee grinder used only for grinding spices and grind fine.
Have the recipe for green sauce already made, either fresh or frozen. Heat some olive oil in a heavy duty oven safe enameled cast iron stew pot or Dutch oven and brown the chicken pieces or stew meat. Pour the green sauce over the meat and add in the salt, bay leaves and oregano. Stir in the toasted and ground seeds. Bring to a boil and cover with tight fitting lid. Place covered pot in a preheated 300 degree oven for 1½ to 2 hours for chicken and about 2 to 2½ hours for beef. Ensure that there is plenty of liquid in the pot, adding water if it gets low during cooking.

Once the meat is cooked through, Stir together the Corn Tortilla Masa flour with a little water to dissolve, then stir into the pot and allow to cook for about 15 minutes more, to thicken. Serve with rice.

If you would like to thicken your sauce with a corn tortilla or two, soak it in hot water until very soft and then blend or just crumble before adding to the sauce.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Another New Spice Mixture: Egyptian Dukkah

I love spices of all kinds, and even more when they are combined to make delightful mixtures. Each time I discover another new flavor combination, I like to try it immediately. I do keep a wide variety of spices at home. I know I keep far more than most people, due to my fascination with all the flavor aspects and combinations. The more exotic the spice, the more curious I become. This all began when living in Guatemala. While the spices used there are not terribly unusual, what made them interesting was the way they were combined. Chilis with chocolate, I asked? How about sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds in desserts?

The next step was Indian spices, which was akin to finding a whole new genre of books to read. I dove in head first and tried every spice and spice mixture I could. Mixtures like Garam Masala are known nearly everywhere these days, but how about something like Panch Phoron? Not long ago I heard of a new spice mixture from the Middle East called Zahtar. I just happened to have all the ingredients, so I mixed up a batch and started using it on everything. It was wonderful.

Yesterday I came upon a reference to Egyptian Dukkah. I immediately looked up everything I could find about this new spice and pulling ideas from many possible recipes, got a glimpse of the personality of this mix. Middle Eastern spice mixtures like Zahtar or Dukkah can be used in many possible applications. One of the simplest is to mix with olive oil. Bread, pita or other flat breads are then dipped into the oil, similarly to the mixture of spices with olive oil in Italian restaurants. Dukkah can be used rubbed onto meats for stewing, frying or grilling. Lamb is used often in the Middle East and is ideal for use with these particular flavors. Sprinkle Dukkah onto eggs, or avocados, salads, pastas or vegetables for remarkable flavor.

Nigella Seed or Kalonji or Onion Seed
Nigella Seed or Kalonji or Onion Seed

Ingredients used for Dukkah

What I learned is that Dukkah is made from some basic ingredients, with other spices added in for variation. The basic ingredient is nuts. Most often hazelnuts are used in combination with almonds, and sometimes sesame seeds. Sometimes pistachios are used in place of the hazelnuts, and chickpeas are yet another option. Other nuts can be substituted, such as macadamia nuts, pine nuts or cashews. The most common spices added to this mixture are coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black pepper and salt. Other possible spices commonly added to this mixture are fennel seeds, sweet or smoked Spanish paprika, caraway, or nigella seeds (also known as Kalonji/Calonji or "Onion Seed, thouth it is not onion seed at all). Some recipes call for a little Zahtar to be added in, and another spice mixture called Baharat. Some sweeter spices such as cinnamon, cloves or allspice can also be used. In some recipes herbs such as marjoram, mint or thyme are also added in, as well as chili flakes if heat is desired. Here is my recipe:

Dukkah, with olive oil and bread for dipping


This makes about 1½ cups of Dukkah.

½ cup shelled hazelnuts
½ cup shelled raw almonds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons nigella seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
½ teaspoon dried lemon zest
2 teaspoons flake salt, or other salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place nuts on a baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and place the hazelnuts into a kitchen towel to remove as much of the dark skins as possible. Place all the nuts into a food processor and process to small chunks.

Separately, heat a skillet over medium high heat and add in the coriander, cumin, fennel and nigella seeds, with the peppercorns. Toast these in the dry pan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes, until quite fragrant. Pour the seeds into a bowl to cool. Once cooled, place them in a spice grinder with the dried lemon zest and grind until well broken, but not a fine powder. Alternately, a mortar and pestle can be used. Add the spices to the nut mixture, along with the salt and mix well.

Do give this a try. It is most excellent mixed with olive oil on bread, but try other applications or make other combinations to satisfy your taste.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Salsa Verde: Guatemalan Green Sauce

In the early 1970s I had never heard of Green Sauce. I moved to Guatemala and lived there for 12 years, so I learned a lot about green sauce and ways it is used in that country. What I didn’t know is how many different countries all have a version of a green sauce, with only the color in common. From a rustic mix of green chilies, anchovies, capers and lemon zest, to a combination of greens like sorrel or spinach with other flavoring ingredients, these sauces are versatile.

Tomatillos (called "Miltomates" in Guatemala)
My recipe for Guatemalan green sauce, or Salsa Verde, is just one of many, and is quite similar to the Mexican version. The basis of my sauce is tomatillos. Similar to "ground cherries", tomatillos look like small green tomatoes with a husk. The husk is peeled and discarded, and the tomatillos may be used just as for tomatoes, either raw or cooked. Tomatillos can be used as a basis for a raw salsa, just as for a tomato salsa used for dip. They may also be combined into a tomato salsa, if desired. Their flavor is tart, much like a green tomato. They may be cooked or canned the same as tomatoes, giving the ability to use them at any time.

Salsa Verde, or Green Sauce

Salsa Verde
Salsa Verde
Makes about 3 cups sauce

1 pound tomatillos, husks removed
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 to 6 jalapenos, optional
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, roughly chopped

2 - 4 Poblano peppers
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup each parsley and cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon allspice

Place tomatillos, onion quarters and jalapenos if using, on a baking sheet. Preheat the broiler with the rack in its second highest position. Broil the vegetables until charred, about 4 to 5 minutes, then turn them over and broil for another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the tomatillos and onion to a blender container. Remove stems from the jalapenos and seeds, if you prefer less heat. Place the bell pepper and Poblano peppers on the baking sheet and blister the peppers until blackened on all sides. Once blackened, place into a zip-top bag, sealed, to steam. Once cooled enough to handle, peel skins and remove seeds and membranes. Add peppers to the blender. Set the garlic on the baking sheet and broil until the garlic is browned, but not black, then add to the blender,
along with the cilantro and parsley, thyme leaves, salt, pepper and allspice. Blend briefly, to combine.

Pour this sauce into a saucepan and simmer for about 8 to 10 more minutes, until flavors meld.

One of the uses for this sauce in Guatemala is to make what is called Pollo in Jocon. A whole chicken is cup up and cooked in water with salt and onion. Once cooked, the pieces are browned in butter or oil and then the Green Sauce is poured over and allowed to cook and meld flavors. Bay leaf may be added while it is cooking with the chicken. Some will grind a corn tortilla or two and add to the sauce, both as flavor and thickening.

This Green Sauce is also delicious simply as a dip for chips. It can be used to pour over tortillas rolled up with chicken or other meat inside and baked. Some cheese over top would be a great addition. The sauce can be used as a braising sauce for a beef roast or pork roast with a long, slow cooking time. It would be delicious over poached or grilled fish as well, possibly with the addition of lemon or lime zest. Whatever you choose to cook, this sauce is delicious and healthy. I am going to make the "Pollo en Jocon" recipe tomorrow, so pictures will be coming soon.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Guatemalan Enchiladas, a Healthier Alternative

Okay, I do admit, these things take some time to make properly. There are probably shortcuts, but they taste so good made the long way that I hesitate to take those shortcuts for fear they will not taste the same. And they taste so very, very good.

Guatemalan Enchiladas do start off with a fried corn tortilla, but everything else that goes on top is made from scratch. From a tomato sauce, to separately cooked pickled vegetables and a roast that is chopped into bitty pieces (this can be done in the food processor), it is a time consuming recipe, but easily made in stages over a couple or more days, as desired. 

A Guatemalan Enchilada
Another difference from what is commonly known as an "enchilada" here in the US, is that the Guatemalan variety is picked up and eaten with the hands. It is as messy as it can get, but it is nearly impossible to use a fork to eat them. Regular pressed corn tortillas found in stores all over the US these days are far too thin to really support all the things that go on top of these enchiladas. In Guatemala, when the corn tortillas are made by hand, patted out lovingly and shaped into far thicker tortillas, they are fried only partially for the enchilada. If they were fried to complete crispness, the thickness alone would prohibit biting into them without breaking a tooth. I found that "La Tortilla Factory" corn tortillas, though they do have some flour added in, are just the perfect size and thickness to use for this recipe. 
Enchiladas from another occasion
Enchiladas from another occasion

There is an order to the layering of the ingredients on these enchiladas. Onto the fried tortilla goes the homemade tomato sauce. It is made from Roma tomatoes, onion, garlic and celery, with some salt and pepper for flavor. It is a delicious sauce, equally at home over fried eggs. This sauce is topped by a leaf of lettuce. Next comes the vegetables.

The main vegetable that is always present is beets. They can be used alone, or in a mixture with any or all of cabbage, green beans and carrots. Each vegetable is cooked separately in water and salted. A mixture of vinegar and water is poured over each separate, shredded or finely cut vegetable. Once a few hours or days have passed, the vegetable(s) are drained and only then combined. A pile of the mixed vegetables goes on top of the lettuce. Following the vegetable layer is a layer of a cooked meat that has been chopped finely and then fried with onion. My personal preference for sheer flavor is brisket. It also lends itself to easy slicing across the grain, eliminating a lot of chopping. It literally falls into little bits on its own. The meat is piled onto the vegetables. A slice of hard boiled egg goes on next, followed by a slice of raw onion, a good sprinkle of Cotija cheese and then a sprinkling of chopped parsley. And this marvelous combination of flavors is just almost too good to be true. I hope that despite all these steps, someone enterprising might give these a try.

Enchiladas (Guatemalan Style)

Makes about 8 - 10 enchiladas

3 medium beets, about ¾ pound
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced green beans, optional
½ - 1 cup julienned or thick-shredded carrots, optional
Vinegar / water solution

The main vegetables used are always beets and cabbage. Sometimes green beans and carrots are added as well. Boil the beets whole, then peel and shred. Place in a container with a lid. Cook the cabbage until tender; place into another container with lid. If using green beans and carrots, repeat, placing each in their separate container.

Mix up a solution of half white vinegar and half water, with a little salt for flavor. Pour about ¾ cup of this solution over each of the separate vegetables, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

1 pound brisket
1 medium onion, whole
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place brisket in a pot with water to cover, along with the next three ingredients and cook at a slow simmer for 2 to 2½ hours, or until very tender. Remove meat from pan to cool. Strain and save the delicious broth for another application, or freeze for later. Slice the meat very thinly across the grain, which is very apparent in brisket. The meat will easily fall apart into tiny, "shredded" pieces.

Heat a skillet and add in the oil until it shimmers. Saute the chopped onion until well cooked and golden. Add in the meat and saute over relatively high heat, tossing constantly. The goal is fine bits of meat, nicely browned. Place in a container and refrigerate or set aside until needed.

Tomato Sauce
Tomato Sauce

1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes - OR -
(4 to 5 Roma tomatoes, finely chopped)
1 onion, chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 stalk celery, finely minced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
¾ - 1 teaspoon salt, as needed

In a skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers and add in the onion. Saute until nicely golden but not brown. Add in the garlic and celery and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add in the tomatoes and cook until completely melded (if using Roma tomatoes, simmer until tomatoes are cooked through); if there is too much liquid, cook until some liquid has evaporated. Season with salt to taste. Place all in a food processor or blender and puree until fine. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.

Other Items Needed:

2 or 3 hard boiled eggs, sliced
8 - 10 Romaine lettuce leaves
Cotija cheese (or Queso Fresco), grated, for sprinkling
Sliced raw onion rings for garnish
Parsley, chopped, for garnish
8 to 10 corn tortillas, partially fried in oil of choice

ASSEMBLY: Follow the diagram above right. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Little Cookies from Guatemala: Polvorosas

I had never made Polvorosas before today. I lived in Guatemala for 12 years and loved these little cookies so very much, but never had a recipe to make them. It makes me wonder why? But, it's never too late to start, I say.

Polvorosas get their name from the root word, "Polvo", meaning dust or powder. They are little shortbread cookies dipped in confectioners' sugar. One bite and the crumbs and powder go everywhere. Hence the name. Similar cookies are known as Mexican Wedding Cakes. I love the apt name of Polvorosas better. 

I was thinking about these little cookies as I have been working through various Guatemalan recipes lately. I have been eating black beans like no tomorrow, and I made Rellenitos de Platano, or plantains with a black bean filling last week. I made enchiladas; no resemblance at all to what we know in the U.S. as an enchilada. Another thing on the agenda before I am over this Guatemalan food kick is Empanadas de Manjar. Many have heard of Empanadas as a meat filled pastry, but the ones I ate in Guatemala were a little orangey colored pastry filled with a cornstarch pudding. Delicious. I haven't made them for probably 30 years. I am craving my little antojitos (snacks, or cravings). 

packing into mini muffin tins
Back to the Polvorosas. I know from many years of baking that they are a shortbread cookie. Shortbread, if any of you are unfamiliar, is a dough made with no eggs. Often it is a simple, basic three ingredients: flour, butter or shortening and sugar. I chose to go with a little cornstarch to lighten the flour a bit, and I used a combination of butter and shortening; butter for the flavor, and shortening for stability. The next thing I wondered was how to get the right shape? These cookies are always about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch high. Making shortbread stick together in any shape is not easy. Then a had a flash of brilliance! Mini muffin tins.

unmolded from mini muffin tin
I took the "dough", more like a bowl of crumbs, and packed some into a mini muffin cup. Just one, to try out my theory. I pressed it in well, then turned over the tin, holding it from the opposite end and sharply rapped the tin down onto the cutting board. I lifted the tin, and there was the little formed cookie, pretty as you please. Okay, that worked. I continued on, using one row of 4 mini cups at a time, then turning it over and rapping sharply to get them out. Worked like a charm. 

Making these, I started out using pounds and ounces to measure the ingredients, though I translated that over to cups. Pounds and ounces is a more accurate measurement, of course. Here is my recipe.


makes 35 to 40 cookies

8 ounces all-purpose flour (1½ cups)
4 ounces cornstarch (¾ cup)
9 ounces sugar (1 cup)
5 ounces butter, room temperature (5 tablespoons)
4 ounces shortening, room temperature (4 tablespoons)

Place granulated sugar into a food processor or blender to make it very fine. Cream the butter and shortening, then add the sugar and cream well.

In another bowl, sift or whisk together the flour and cornstarch. With a wooden spoon mix the flour and cornstarch mixture into the creamed mixture, with a pinch of salt. This will never be a cohesive dough like other cookies, but crumbs that can be pressed together.

Using a mini muffin tin, pack the crumbs into the little wells, then turn the muffin tin over, holding from the opposite side. Rap sharply down onto counter or cutting board to release the cookies. You may try to make other forms out of this mixture, but the mini muffin tin idea worked really well.

Gently place cookie forms onto a baking sheet. Bake these in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Dredge in confectioners' sugar while still hot from the oven.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Friday, February 8, 2013

My Mother-in-Law's Famous Baked Beans

When I joined my husband's family almost 25 years ago, one of the things I learned early on is that there is no substitute for his Mom's baked beans. I was assured it was somehow impossible to replicate them, and the family had tried. Not one to back down from such a challenge, I wondered about this, but when his parents came to visit one time, I asked Mom R to make them, so I could see how it was done.
Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

She said we needed a ham bone, with some meat left on it, preferably about a pound. Check. Had one of those in the freezer, since I like to make bean soup with ham. She said we needed ketchup, some brown sugar and molasses. Check, check and check. Doing good so far. We needed white beans, preferably Great Northern. These I did not have in the pantry, alas. We took a trip to the grocery store and rectified that lapse. She sorted through the beans, checking for bits of dirt and such, washed them and left them to soak overnight.

Next morning she got down to business and set the beans in water in a large pot. Adding in the ham bone, she turned on the beans to boil, lowered the heat and covered the pot and allowed the beans to simmer away for a couple of hours on top of the stove. The next thing she did was remove the bone, cutting off the meat and adding that back in, and next went in the other three ingredients. We had a 32 ounce bottle of ketchup, and most of that was used, or something like over 2 cups worth. About a half cup of dark brown sugar went in next, and a couple of tablespoons of molasses. She stirred the mixture, covered the pot and placed into a low oven, about 260 to 280 degrees, or whatever maintains a simmer. Now, she said, 4 or 5 hours of baking and they are ready for supper.  

Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

Mom Rawstern's Famous Baked Beans

Five ingredients and long slow cooking make these baked beans a hit at any time. If the thought of ketchup puts you off, think about the fact that ketchup has all the flavor ingredients already included; spices, vinegar, sugar. You need a long day at home to babysit these, but the recipes is large and they freeze very well, so it's easy to have them at any time.

Makes one large pot of beans

1 pound great northern beans, picked over and soaked overnight
1 leftover ham bone with at least 1 pound of meat left on
2 cups ketchup
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses

When ready to begin the recipe, place the beans with their soaking water into a 8 quart, oven-safe soup pot. Make sure the water covers the beans by about 2 inches. Set the ham bone into the beans and water; the water will not cover all the ham bone; this is fine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to about 275 degrees, or whatever temperature will maintain a low simmer. Add in the ketchup, brown sugar and molasses and stir. Bring back to a boil and cover the pot. Set pot into the oven and allow to slowly simmer for 4 to 5 hours more. If the beans still look soupy, remember that once they cool they will thicken significantly. If making these for a party, it is best to make them at least a day in advance, giving them time to thicken to proper consistency.

NOTES: With any beans, it is best to soak them overnight in water to cover by about 3 inches. If you forget, put the picked over and washed beans into a large pot with water to cover by 2 to 3 inches and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow to stand for 1 hour, then proceed with the recipe.

So what was the difficulty?

Looking at this recipe, it was way too easy. Why would it be so difficult to mimic? All these years later, I was asked to take her one cookbook and make all of her recipes into a cookbook for the family. I love my husband's family a lot, and I put heart and soul into that compilation of recipes, including a lot of family photos. Mom R did not use her one cookbook for the recipes, but just as a place to write in her own, anywhere there was a bit of space. Sometimes, in 3 or 4 different places. And sometimes, all of them were slightly different. Aha! This might be the problem. Mom R changed her recipes over time, it appears, and the recipe was written one way for this person in the family, another for that person. In some recipes she has onion added. In some were onion flakes.  Some had more or less of an ingredient. I guess it would be harder to truly know the recipe that way.

Looking at this recipe, I have stuck with the it as she gave it to me, with one difference. I know that any bone in a soup or stew gives immense flavor. I leave the bone in for the entire cooking time. At the point the beans are done, the meat literally dissolves off the bone, and the bone is easily removed, bare. My husband has always been extremely pleased with the outcome of my version of his Mom's best recipe, and that is what counts.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Guatemalan Foods; Heathy and Delicious

In general, the typical foods from Guatemala are quite healthy, and certainly full of fiber. I learned a lot about  foods in Guatemala when I lived there in the 1970s and early 1980s. They use a lot of vegetables and beans in very creative ways, with the addition of tomatoes, tomatillos, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in the most unlikely places. And the food is so good. Even now, so very many years later, I crave some of these foods. The fact that it takes a fair amount of time to create some of these dishes is the only deterrence from making them all the time. I am going to make Rellenitos de Platano today, and some time this week I am making Guatemalan Enchiladas. Guatemalan enchiladas are nothing at all like Mexican enchiladas, and I cannot wait to taste them again.
Rellenitos ready to eat

I have been eating black beans regularly for the last 4 weeks, just because I got in the mood, suddenly. I love them made "volteados" or pureed and cooked down to nearly dry  consistency, where they hold the shape of the pan, when flipped back and forth. But just pureed is easy and really good, and that is how I have made the last batch. But there are dishes using black beans that make one wonder. One of these is Rellenitos de Platano. Relleno means filled. Any word with the addition of the letters "ito" or "ita" afterwards is a diminutive. Rellenito (rrray-yen-EE-toe) means something small and filled. Platano is the Spanish word for Plantains, so we come to "small fried filled plantains".  Somehow that doesn't sound quite as lyrical as Rellenitos de Platano, but I will go on to wax lyrical about how good these little things can be! 

So, okay, what are these little things? And, how are they made?

Rellenitos de Platano are cooked, very ripe plantains, which are then pureed. A little sugar is added, with some cinnamon. For this recipe, only true cinnamon will taste right, so if you are unsure what this is, look in the Mexican section of your grocery, or go to a Mexican grocery. They always have true cinnamon. True cinnamon, cinnamomum verum, is distinguished by its very thin quills, making it very easy to break into bits. With the thick-quilled cassia we are so accustomed to, this is not an easy task. Cassia tastes very different.
Once you have your plantains ready, you need to have some black beans made into volteados, or very cooked down and dry and paste-like. You take a small ball of the plantain puree, probably about an ice cream scoop size. Oil your hands well and take the plantain mixture in one hand and pat it out a little. Place about 2 teaspoons or so of the black beans and place in the center, and then form the plantain mixture to encase the black beans, making it into an oval. Now you have the relleno, or filled part of the recipe. At this point, though it is not authentic, I always dredge the filled plantain lightly in flour. This helps when frying so they do not stick to the pan. If you leave off the dredge in flour, or use maybe a rice flour instead, these are naturally gluten free.

The little ovals are fried in oil in a skillet to brown. The ingredients are all cooked already (except if they are dredged in flour), so they do not need a long cooking period. In Guatemala, they generally fry them in a little oil, but I have also filled the pan with oil to about an inch or so, so that when they are frying, they partially float, ensuring that they are not sticking to the pan. If the plantains are very soft, they can stick. Once fried, they are rolled in white sugar, to coat. These are good hot or cold and oh, so delicious.

If all of this does not sound good, it is just as I said. Guatemalan foods use lots of ingredients in unlikely places, but you really have to try the foods to believe how good they can be. It may be less likely that someone just tries this out without any prior knowledge, but I do so hope that someday you all may find a good Chapina to make them for you, or lacking that, someone like me who lived there long enough to become enchanted with the foods. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest