Thursday, April 19, 2012
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Condoignac: Medieval French quince butter
The quince is a relative of the apple and pear and though it looks a lot like a chartreuse apple, it is incredibly sour when raw. The quince is so similar in looks to the apple that ancient texts translated as 'apple' may in fact be referring to the quince. It, like Aphrodite, is a native of the east, so the Greeks believed it to be sacred to the goddess and would feed it to newlyweds to ensure good night of hanky panky. In medieval medicine, pregnant women were encouraged to eat quince to produce more intelligent children.
The French paired quinces with wine and exotic spices to create a delicacy called condoignac. Legend has it that the people of Orleans, France gave this candy to Joan of Arc when she freed the city from siege by the English in 1429.
Its too bad poor Joan wouldn't be showered in tasty fruit delights for too much longer - she was burned at the stake for heresy and witchcraft on May 30th, 1431 at Rouen, France. The Catholic Church totally apologized for all that though when they canonized her a saint in 1920.
Joan is now the patron saint of France, captive, women in the army, and cross-dressers (that's actually just something I threw in, but she totally should be! She was one trouser-wearing, cross-dressing Medieval babe. Seriously Catholic Church, get with it- emphasizing the cross-dressing would be a great PR move).
The site of Joan's execution in Rouen is now a church that incorporates elements of a Renaissance church in the spot that was destroyed in WWII (the architecture reminds me of the movie Suspiria somehow - maybe all the Gothic-via-the-70's curves?)
Menagier de Paris (via the fanastic Early French Cookery by D. Eleanor and Terence Scully). I struggled with this recipe - repeatedly - completely unable to get the quinces and honey to harden to any sort of managable texture. So, I gave up completely on the idea of solid quince candies and instead embraced the beautiful quince butter I was left with.
I spread my quince concoction on some homemade biscuits and forgot about the hard candy version. This stuff is good.
Makes 1 cup
3/4 cup red wine (plus potentially another 1/4 c.)
1/4 cup honey
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
pinch ground grains of paradise
Cook quince in the wine over low heat until soft, anywhere from 30-45 minutes. If the wine evaporates too quickly, add another 1/4 c.
Pour cooked quinces into food processor and puree until very smooth.
Bring honey to boil over low heat; add quince puree and spices. Cooked, stirring frequently to prevent cooking, until the mixture is reduced by 1/2 and noticeably thicker and more gelatinous.
Pour mixture into small greased baking dish and allow to cool.
THIS is where I failed. My mixture never solidified in order to 'cut into bite sized pieces' as the recipe called for. Maybe you will have more luck. Or maybe you will enjoy this luscious and deeply flavored quince mixture as a spread rather than as a candy. Honestly, I think I'm happy my quinces stayed soft. These biscuits spread with the stuff were totally divine. Plus this stuff would can so incredibly well and make an excellent gift for newlyweds or an expecting momma, seeing as how quince ensures great sex and smart babies. Great combo, right?
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Pescado a la naranja for Malverde, the narco-saint
And my mermaid-tastic jewelry can be found in my etsy shop.
Lest anyone who actually looks at this blog get worried, there will eventually be non-Mexican recipes, I promise!
It just happens that I started this whole project right before May 3rd, the day that Mexican folk saint (of Narcotics trafficking, no less!) Jesus Malverde was hung outside of the city of Culiacan in Sinaloa, Mexico.
Sinaloa stretches along Mexico's Pacific coast, which means Mexican seafood, people!
Malverde was a Sinaloan brick layer executed for robbery circa 1909 (if he even existed, which is debatable).
He apparently began performing miracles almost immediately after his death when a frustrated rancher looking for his lost cows threw a rock out at Malverde's hanging body (nice image, eh?) only to discover that the missing cows had magically reappeared.
Since the early 20th century, Malverde has been a symbol for the poor triumphing over the system - a Robin-Hood-esque figure that the poor of Sinoloa and many other areas worship and pray to for money, protection from the law, etc. His major day of veneration is the anniversary of his death, May 3rd. His cult isn't confined to Mexico, either - I've seen Malverde candles and paraphernalia in the dollar store down the street.
This might be my favorite Malverde pic on the internet - taken in San Francisco. Malverde chillin the the cherbus. Again, he's considered just another saint.
His shrine in Cuilican, Sinaloa:
Malverde's general fuck-the-system image has attracted some more nefarious followers as well. Malverde is called the narco-saint by the press because of the attention he gets from drug traffickers and even some of the higher-ups in the Mexican drug mafia. Sinaloa is the hub of Mexican weed and opium production and several cartel leaders have their bases in the region, publicly worshiping Jesus Malverde along with the poor folk at the local shrines.
Here's someone's lovely photoshop interpretation of the Malverde-drug connection:
Malverde has even become a fashion statement, I guess is some sort of 'look at me I'm a badass and might be a drug dealer' kind of way:
Malverde is fabulously dark and mysterious, his image forever caught in the sprawling and violent web of the Mexican drug trade.What's not dark or mysterious at all, though, is Sinaloan food. Since its on the Pacific coast of Mexico, seafood is key. A specialty is huachinango a la naranja, or whole red snapper cooked in orange juice. I frankly didn't feel like cooking an entire snapper when its just me here this week so this is a simpler, less dramatic version with all the same flavors. Its light, bright, and beachy enough to make you want to drop everything and run to Sinaloa, drug lords and all.
I used sole filets because they were on sale and looked good, but really any white, fairly firm fish will work. Snapper, of course, is the classic, but grouper or halibut would be fabulous, too.
Rice is a must with this - there will be a ton of tasty juice to sop up. As you'll notice from my rather sloppy pictures, this is probably best served in a bowl - its that juicy.
Pescado a la Naranja
2 filets of firm, white fish firm white fish such as halibut or grouper, each between 0.25 and 0.5 lbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
All-purpose flour for dredging
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs lime juice
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (you may choose to seed the pepper if you'd like to keep things on the mild side, though I have a feeling Malverde would have liked his pescado nice and spicy!)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Holy (Oaxcan) Mole!
Holy Saturday is the feast day of Our Lady of Solitude - one of the thousands (? I haven't confirmed this, but there are a ton!) of Mary's incarnations. Our Lady of Solitude represents Mary when Jesus was put away in his tomb and his poor momma was lonely.
She is also the patroness of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, land of tropical beaches, soaring mountains, and mole.
Legend goes that in the 16th century a donkey carrying way too much crap stumbled into the city of Oaxaca and died on the spot. The towns people opened the pack on its back to discover a mysterious statue of Our Lady of Solitude wearing a crown of diamonds. The Oaxacans took this event to show that The Virgin wanted to stay in Oaxaca so they built her a church on the spot and they've been really into Our Lady of Solitude ever since.
The church is fantastically baroque:
The internets are little murky about what happened to the original statute, but this is what she looks like now inside her Oaxacan church:
This image is from a different Oaxacan church; note the neon (religious imagery + neon is a winning combo, no matter what):
And, when she's made out of radishes:
Apparently Oaxaca has a radish festival every year in December and Oaxacans are just as into carving radishes as they are Our Lady of Solitude.
Perhaps the most famous Oaxacan food is mole, that sinfully rich and deep sauce with its mysterious, varying, and incredibly long list of ingredients (chocolate? sometimes? cinnamon? maybe? plantains? if you feel like it? Really, someone needs to write a book just about mole). My first taste of real mole was in Monterrey, Mexico from my boyfriend's Mexican mama's kitchen and I was totally smitten - her version was deep and peanut-y, slightly sweet, served smothering the most tender shredded chicken.
The mole and chicken combo is total comfort food - there is nothing better on your tummy after a night of too many cervezas and too much drunken dancing.
I haven't gotten a copy of Mexican mama's recipe yet, but in honor of Our Lady of Solitude's Oaxaca I tracked down this smoky almond-based version from Rick Bayless.
This is basically a combination of two of his recipes. Every recipe collection I've been able to find, his included, always makes the mole sauce and then pours it on top of something at the last minute, say an enchilada or a roasted chicken breast. But Mexican mama's mole is all mixed and cooked in together and is how I will always prefer my mole. The chicken here is poached like you were going to put it in an enchilada, but instead you're going to smother it in heaps of mole. The result is really weepingly delicious.
Keep in mind that mole is by its nature time consuming - there are a lot of steps, a lot of ingredients that have to be prepped, and a lot of long, slow cooking. That said, its really not difficult to make. Its one of those recipes that you can do in stages, letting everything chill for awhile as needed. Mole is not be rushed. I made this one Sunday afternoon, alternating between the various stages in mole-making and other projects I had going so that by late afternoon when I was good and hungry, pum, it was done.
And so, for the Oaxacan patroness Our Lady of Solitude:
For the mole:
8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
4 ounces dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
1.5 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
0.5 tsp freshly ground black pepper
A big pinch of ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
About 6 cups chicken stock (cooking the chicken will make around this much, maybe a little less)
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole, raw almonds (with or without the skins)
1 medium white onion, sliced
1/4 cup raisins
5 ounces ripe tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup roughly chopped Mexican chocolate (truth be told, I subbed some good moderately dark chocolate here)
1/2 a Mexican bolillo or 2 slices white bread, toasted
salt and sugar to taste
For the chicken:
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
a handful of baby carrots
1 tsp. salt
3 lbs of bone-in, skin-on chicken, light or dark or a mixture
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. Mexican oregano
Add the bay leaves and oregano after skimming. Cook partially covered. When time is up, remove from heat and let chicken sit in broth for a few minutes.
Remove chicken from pot and let cool. Once cool, shred the meat, discarding bones and skin. Strain the broth and spoon off any fat that rises to the top. You'll be using this broth for the mole sauce next.
1. Roast the garlic on an ungreased heavy skilled over medium heat until soft (it will blacken in spots). This takes about 15 minutes; cool and peel when done. While the garlic is roasting, toast the chiles on the other side of the skillet, a couple at a time: open them up flat and press into the pan for a few seconds until they crackle, then flip em and do the same to the other side. Toss the toasted chiles into a bowl and cover with warm water for 30 minutes to rehydrate. Drain and discard the water.
2. Combine the chiles, garlic, oregano, black pepper, cumin, cloves, and 2/3 cup of your brother into a blender; process into a smooth puree. If your blender is having trouble pureeing, add a little more broth. Dump out into a bowl.
3. Roast the tomatoes under a broiler until blackened on one side, the flip and roast on the other side. Cool, peel, and put into blender.
4. In a medium dutch-oven type pot, heat 1.5 tbs. of the oil over medium. Add the almonds and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly toasted - you'll smell them! Using a slotted spoon (to preserve the oil in the pot) remove the almonds to the blender. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until richly browned, about 10 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to scoop the onions into the blender. At this point, you might need to add a little more oil to coat the bottom of the pan... if so, let it heat, and then, add the raisins. Stir for a minute and when they puff, scoop them into the blender.
5. Add the cinnamon, chocolate, and bread to blender along with 1 cup of the broth and puree until smooth.
6. Return your pot to medium-high heat and, if needed, add a little more oil to coat the bottom. When very hot, add your ancho chile mixture and cook, stirring constantly until dark and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed almond mixture and cook, stirring constantly for another few minutes, until very thick again. Stir in the remaining 4 1/3 cups of broth, partially cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low for 35 minutes.
7. Taste and season with salt and sugar - you'll want the sauce to taste slightly sweet.
8. Heat another pot of about the same size over medium-low, adding a little oil to coat the bottom. Dump in about half the mole sauce and all of your chicken. Stir everything together and continue adding sauce to the chicken until you have a mixture that seems to be a little over half sauce. You want to use perhaps a little more sauce than you think is correct... All the better to soak up with tortillas and rice! Cook this mixture just about 10 minutes total so that everything is evenly distributed and heated through.
9. To serve:
You really must serve chicken mole with Mexican rice! There is something alchemically divine about the mole soaking to the rice. You can use my favorite recipe (here, which is another Rick Bayless adaptation) or if after all that mole making you're feeling little lazy, I'm pretty sure Our Lady of Soliitude won't be offended if you want to use a mix.
For each serving, spoon a heap of the chicken mole into a bowl or dish, along with the rice. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Serve with warm corn tortillas to wrap that gooey mess of goodness up into manageable tacos:
Now thank Our Lady of Solitude for riding that donkey to death into Oaxaca and bringing you this crazy amazing meal!
Saturday, April 9, 2011
This is basically going to be blog about reading about really gruesome torture while eating tasty food.
Its been in my head for awhile now to reinvigorate the old tradition of saint feast days – each day has saints associated with it and traditionally, if you followed a particular particular saint you would celebrate it when its day rolled around by chowing down. (There are totally of course people who still celebrate these but they tend be rather serious about it and the modern Catholic and Orthodox saint calendars have eliminated a lot of the fun/marginal/really creepy saints in favor of the rather boring standards.)
So, my goal is showcase recipes for each saint I feature – maybe its a traditional recipe from their home country, maybe they happen to be the patron saint of sweet potatoes, or maybe they were killed by being dropped into boiling soup, etc.
This probably sounds crazy, but its going to work! Trust me!