Thursday, May 23, 2013
That said, since I have no immediate plans to travel to Southern California but do plan to visit Texas this summer, I began asking around to see if these fries were offered in our great state. Unfortunately, however, my search only turned up one place that had them—a California-style Mexican restaurant in Arlington. After that, I came up with nothing.
To me this seemed a little strange. Texans love meat and Texans love potatoes—why wasn’t this combination more common? Sure, in Texas you’ll often find chili cheese fries, of which I am a fan. But I had a craving for the combination of steak with guacamole, cheese, with potatoes, not chili and cheese.
Then, as I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t find the fries in Texas, I came across something even better: baked potatoes stuffed with carne asada. And this dish, often called simply papa asada, is found all over the state—from El Paso to the Valley, from San Antonio to Dallas.
The most common spots offering the carne asada stuffed baked potato are taquerias that specialize in grilled meats, such as the pollo asado joints like El Pollo Regio and/or taquerias that have roots in Northern Mexico, such as Taco Tote or Taco Palenque. Though the more I searched, the more I found it on a host of menus—clearly I just hadn’t been looking for the right dish.
Carne asada is typically a grilled beef dish, even though its literal translation from Spanish is roasted meat. To make carne asada, the beef, which is usually flank steak or skirt steak, spends some time in a lively marinade made with citrus, garlic, cilantro, and chiles. Then the steaks are usually grilled.
As I live in a small apartment without a yard and grill, to make my carne asada I had to make do with my cast-iron skillet and my broiler. That said my scorching skillet and broiler’s flames do make for a juicy, flavorful steak.
To complete the dish, I then split open some baked Russet potatoes and layered in some cheddar cheese so it would make contact with the steamy skin and melt. I topped that with slices of my carne asada and finished with generous helpings of guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo. I might be prone to exaggeration, but believe me when I say this carne asada stuffed potato was probably the best baked potato that I’d ever had.
While I realize that some purists may take umbrage with my using my skillet and oven for carne asada, after taking a bite I didn’t hear one complaint. And of course, this marinade works just as well with steaks thrown on the grill. Though no matter how you cook your carne asada, I highly recommend adding it to a baked potato with all of these Tex-Mex fixings. It makes for a fine snack or starter if you have a large appetite, though it's also a very satisfying main dish.
Carne asada stuffed potatoes
For the carne asada:
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of cayenne
1 (2-2 1/2 pounds) flank steak
1 teaspoon butter
For the potatoes:
4 Russet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
Guacamole, for serving
Sour cream, for serving
Pico de gallo, for serving
To make the carne asada marinade, place in a blender the garlic, jalapeños, lime juice, orange juice, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, cilantro, oregano, salt, allspice, and cayenne. Blend until well combined. Place the flank steak in a food-safe, non-reactive storage container and pour over it the marinade, evenly coating the meat. Let the meat marinate for at least 4 hours but no longer than 24.
To make the potatoes, preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with foil. Pierce the potatoes in several spots with a fork, and stir together the olive oil and salt, and then evenly spread over the potatoes. Place the potatoes on the sheet and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until they’re soft and can easily be pierced with a fork.
About 30 minutes into the potato-baking time, remove the flank steak from the refrigerator and the marinade, blot the surface of the steak with a paper towel to remove any excess liquid, and allow it to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Once the potatoes are done, remove from the oven and then turn on the broiler. To cook the steak, heat on high a large, ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron. When a dab of water dropped into the skillet sizzles, add the butter and as soon as it melts, add the steak. Cook the steak for 2 minutes and then flip it and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side. Remove the skillet from the stove and then slide it under the broiler, cooking the steak in the oven 1 minute for medium rare, 2-3 minutes for medium.
Take the steak out of the oven and then remover it from the skillet, allowing it to rest on a plate or platter for 10 minutes. To serve, slice the steak into thin, long slices against the grain of the meat, and then chop these into bite-sized pieces.
To assemble the carne asada potatoes, take a potato, slice it lengthwise across the top and open it, fill it with cheese, then top with the carne asada steak, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo, serving with any additional guacamole or pico on the side.
Note: To cook this on the grill, after it comes to room temperature, cook for a few minutes on each side until it’s your preferred doneness. The potatoes can also be cooked on the grill, though I’d wrap them in foil first.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
If your mom is anything like my mom, then she probably loves avocadoes. While everyone in my family enjoys this tropical fruit, I most identify it with my mom, as when I was growing up it seemed that she ate an avocado every single day.
Her favorite lunch was a batch of nachos, and with these nachos she’d mash an avocado with hot sauce and lemon juice for a quick and easy guacamole. When she wasn’t making nachos, she’d also dice avocadoes and then toss them into salads, or slice them into thin slivers and then serve them with fish or tacos.
Of course, my recollections may be hazy and perhaps she didn’t eat them every day, but it sure does seem like there was always a bowl of ripe avocados sitting out on the counter, waiting to be peeled, pitted, sliced, and served.
Now here’s the sad thing. I didn’t like avocadoes when I was a kid. I’m not sure if it was the soft texture or if it was because they were green, but it wasn’t until I fell in love with Ninfa’s green sauce that I became a fan.
Apparently, I’m not alone. When I was reading Gabi Dalkin’s new book Absolutely Avocadoes, she also admits she thought she wasn’t a fan of avocadoes, at least until she, too, had a transformative moment with avocadoes at a Mexican restaurant in Arizona.
She’s since made up for any lost time, and is now very passionate about the fruit. As she says in her intro, writing this book was a dream assignment since she loves avocadoes so much, and you can feel that love as she shares all that she knows.(It's also a beautiful book as fellow Texan Matt Armendariz took the photos.)
Most people associate avocadoes with savory dishes—I know that I do. But lately, I’ve been hearing more people talk about using avocadoes in sweet dishes, too. A friend showed me a picture of an avocado chocolate cake she’d made, and while if you squinted, you could maybe see a slight green tint, she said otherwise it didn’t taste like avocadoes—their addition just made the cake more tender.
Then a friend mentioned that avocado ice cream was his new favorite thing. He’d had it at Amy’s Ice Cream in Austin and said it was surprisingly good. “Does it taste like avocadoes?” I asked. He said that the avocadoes were present, but it wasn’t strange and the ice cream was very pleasing.
At the time, I was intrigued. But as we don’t have Amy’s in New York, I didn’t pursue it until I was flipping through Gabi’s book. And there it was, a recipe for Avocado Coconut Ice Cream. I knew what I was going to make first.
The ice cream is simple to make, as it’s avocadoes, coconut milk, sugar, and cream all whirled in a blender and then churned in an ice cream machine. Gabi’s recipe calls for lemon extract, but not having that on hand I used lime juice and lime zest instead. After a spell in the freezer, you serve it with toasted coconut, for added flavor and crunch.
I will admit that it’s a little unusual, but that’s what makes it so appealing. It’s also creamy and smooth without being heavy, another plus. And though you feel slightly virtuous as you eat it, it still tastes like a treat. But most importantly, it’s cool and refreshing, which is just what you want during these longer days.
Avocado-coconut ice cream (adapted from Absolutely Avocadoes, by Gabi Dalkin)
2 Haas avocadoes
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 cup coconut chips
Cut each avocado in half lengthwise, remove the pit, and scoop out the flesh into a blender or food processor. Add the coconut milk, heavy cream, and sugar. Blend on low until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and zest.
Transfer the mixture to an ice cream machine, and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. Cover and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving, so the ice cream can become more firm.
Meanwhile, add the coconut flakes to a dry skillet heated to medium. Cook the coconut while frequently stirring until the edges begin to turn brown, about 2 minutes. (Keep a close eye on the coconut, as you don’t want it to burn.) Remove immediately from the heat. Allow it to cool and then sprinkle over the ice cream for serving.
Note: Gabi’s original recipe called for 1/2 cup sugar, but I like things extra sweet. Her recipe also calls for 1 teaspoon lemon extract instead of the lime juice and zest, but I didn’t have that on hand so I made the lime substitution.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Last week I began the writing phase of my book, which means every morning I get up early and begin working. Because I like to write without any distractions, I don’t talk to anyone or go online until I’ve met my daily word count. And every day last week, there was some new terrible news waiting for me when I finally plugged back into the world. What a week it was.
While there was no shortage of people to be praying for, I have to say that my heart was most heavy for the Texas town of West. A fertilizer plant there exploded late Wednesday and the impact was so extreme that it was felt over 50 miles away. Not to mention, when you saw images of the blast, the mushroom cloud reminded you of a war bomb. To date, 14 people have been reported dead with many still missing and injured. What an awful, horrible event.
The town is a few miles from Waco, almost at the halfway point of the route between Dallas and Austin, so people making that journey have long stopped in West to rest, fill up the tank, and grab something to eat. West has a large Czech population and it’s famous for offering Czech sausages and pastries, such as kolaches. And as Texans love their kolaches, it’s for this reason this tiny Texas town has such a large hold on so many Texans’ hearts.
If you’re not familiar with a kolache (pronounced koe-lah-chay), it’s a Czech pastry that’s typically filled with fruit, cheese, poppy seeds, sausage, or eggs. If it’s a sweet filling, the roll will be round or square with an indention at the top that’s been stuffed. If it’s made with sausage or something else savory, then the filling is completely encased in the dough and a mystery until you take that first wonderful bite.
Kolaches are what I like to call share food. In other parts of the country, people will bring bagels or doughnuts when they get together with people in the morning. But in Texas, we offer kolaches. Sure, you could eat just one, but if you’re buying one kolache, you might as well get a few more to share with others as they’re just too good to enjoy on your own.
My grandparents lived in Waco in the early 1950s (and my mom was even born there), and whenever they’d go on road trips to visit their North Texas family, like so many of us, they would stop in West and buy a box of kolaches to share with those they were going to see. My grandma said they'd often pick up boxes of kolaches to take to church or to ladies’ meetings, too.
Even today, whenever my uncle makes the trip from Austin to the farm, he usually will stop and pick up a box for the family to enjoy. Though this principle applies even if you’re baking them at home. If you make them from scratch, then you’ll definitely want to share them with others as all that love and effort is too good to keep to yourself.
For me, baking can be therapeutic so when I heard the awful news about West, I took to my kitchen and made a batch of kolaches in honor of the town. I shared them with some friends and now I also share them with you. Because strawberries are in full swing down in Texas, I made a strawberry filling to celebrate the season. Though when you’re feeling sad, a little extra sweetness doesn’t hurt, so I decided to add a cream cheese filling to the kolaches, too.
It’s times like these that can make you even more homesick, as the bad news can leave you feeling helpless as you’re so far away from home. These strawberry cream cheese kolaches certainly won’t change what happened, but as I ate them I felt closer to Texas. And while my heart was still heavy, for a moment that connection helped lighten the load.
Whenever you hear about a tragedy you will also hear about people helping the community. Here are ways people are offering to help the people of West and how you can help, too:
*Village Bakery of West has set up a relief fund and can take donations over the phone. Call 254-826-5151.
*If you're in New York, the TexPats and Brooklyn Kolache are having a fundraiser this Sunday.
Strawberry cream cheese kolaches
To keep this recipe from being overly long, I’ve directed you to my previous kolache recipe for the dough and posypka and only included instructions for the strawberry and cream cheese fillings. Please make the dough as directed and be sure and have the melted butter on hand for brushing when the kolaches come out of the oven.
For the kolaches:
One batch of kolache dough
One batch of posypka (crumble topping)
For the strawberry filling (adapted from Saveur):
8 ounces fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the cream cheese filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
To make the strawberry filling, place the sliced strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a pot and allow them to sit with the burner off for 30 minutes or until the strawberries begin to release some of their juices. After they've released some juices, turn the heat to medium high and while occasionally stirring, cook the strawberries until thick and jammy, about 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir in the cinnamon, and mash the berries with the back of your spoon or a masher. Allow to cool and then refrigerate until needed. (The cooler the strawberry filling is, the less likely it will run as it bakes, says this cook from experience. I’d make this when the dough is doing its first rising or even the night before.)
To make the cream cheese filling, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in the flour, egg yolk, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
After the kolache dough has done the first rising, form it as directed on 2 parchment paper lined baking sheets, cover, and allow it to rise for 30 more minutes.
After this time, preheat the oven to 375°F. Uncover the rising dough and with the back of a spoon or your thumb, gently form a well in the center of each roll. Fill the well with 1 teaspoon of the strawberry filling and then top that with 1 teaspoon of the cream cheese filling. After filling the kolaches, sprinkle the posypka generously over all of them.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown. While baking, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter that’s listed in the kolache dough recipe. When you take the kolaches out of the oven, brush with the melted butter and serve warm.
Yield: 12 kolaches
Monday, April 15, 2013
The other night I dreamt that I was in Texas. It was the end of my visit, and I hadn’t seen many wildflowers while I was there, but as we pulled into the Austin airport, suddenly the surrounding fields were blanketed with our beautiful state flower. I gasped and then I cried.
In real life, my recent trip home wasn’t much different. It was cold, rainy and grey most of the time, and the bluebonnets I did see were few and far between. But if you looked, there were still signs that it was springtime in Texas and plenty of reminders that I was indeed back home.
My first order of business was a book signing at the Texas State Capitol, where I looked up and saw this:
Then I spent the next couple of days at Foodways Texas’ annual symposium eating, pondering, and discussing this:
As much as I love barbecue, after two days of smoked meat I had a huge craving for this:
My travels then took me to North Texas, where along the way I spotted this:
I then popped into Central Market, where on display was this:
Then I paid a visit to my grandma's farm, where to celebrate its being named the official pie of Texas we enjoyed a slice or two of this:
The next day, I drove back to Central Texas and stopped in Taylor for this:
My last night in Texas was spent with good friends, and we slurped oysters, shared stories and felt lots of love and, of course, this:
As always, it was good to be home.
Friday, March 29, 2013
A reader recently emailed me, asking for my deviled egg recipe. In her letter, she explained she was at work and had left my book at home. While she had hoped to find the recipe on my site, after poking around she noticed it wasn’t there.
In my reply, I said that to keep the books interesting, I include plenty of recipes that aren’t on my site. She said she understood, but added: “It doesn’t have to be the same recipe—there are many ways to make deviled eggs.” And this is very true.
Deviled eggs are one of those foods that you’ll see at most Texan gatherings—from birthdays to funerals, from Christmas Eve dinners to Fourth of July picnics. They are timeless.
They are also easy to prepare, as evidenced by the fact they were one of the first things that I cooked on a regular basis. When I was young, I’d come home from school, boil an egg or two, scoop out the yolk, mash it with lots of mustard, a little bit of mayonnaise, a dash of Worcestershire, and then go to town with the spice cabinet. Deviled eggs made for a very fine (and fun) snack.
It’s probably their simplicity and ubiquity that made me ignore them for so long in this space. And yet, even though I have a recipe in my first book (and there will be another in my second book), as my reader noted, there is no shortage of good ways to make a deviled egg.
In doing some research on another topic that is dear to many of our hearts—pimento cheese—I learned this cheese spread was once commonly made with hard-boiled egg yolks. I tried making a batch in that fashion, but it wasn’t quite what I was used to eating. Though when you turned it around and made pimento cheese part of a stuffed, hard-boiled egg, it suddenly made more sense.
Pimento-cheese deviled eggs. Does it get much better than that? No, not really. And making these deviled eggs takes no time at all, especially if you’re like me and forgo doing any fancy piping with the filling.
With these eggs, I haven’t taken too many liberties—I’ve just used my family’s basic filling and then thrown in some chopped jarred pimientos and a splash of their brine, some cheddar, a little bit of garlic, a little bit of onion, and then finished it off with a sprinkle of paprika and cayenne for heat and color—they are called deviled, after all.
So if you’re heading to a potluck, a picnic, or just hanging out with your family and friends, these pimento cheese deviled eggs will be a popular addition. And they will certainly make most folks smile.
Pimento cheese deviled eggs
6 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon grated white onion
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons jarred pimientos, diced
1/2 teaspoon jarred pimiento brine
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Scoop the yolks out from the eggs into a bowl and mash until smooth. Stir in the mustard, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion, cheddar cheese, pimientos, pimiento brine, and cayenne. Adjust seasonings and add salt to taste.
Scoop or pipe mixture into halved eggs and sprinkle with paprika and/or cayenne, if you like.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Note: There are countless ways to boil eggs. My favorite is to place the eggs in a single layer, cold from the refrigerator, into a large pot. I then cover with at least 1 inch of water, bring the pot to a boil uncovered, then cover the pot, remove from the heat, and let sit for 17 minutes. After this time, immediately remove the eggs from the pot and place the eggs in an ice-water bath for at least 30 minutes. Older eggs will be easier to peel, and if you’re organized you can turn the eggs on their side the night before so the yolks will be centered in the white.