Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Handmade Christmas.

Long before the stockings were hung by the chimney with care & the pitter-patter of tiny hooves on the rooftop were heard our family decided a Handmade Christmas was in order. Considering the distance we have to drive returning to Texas & the time we wanted to spend with family once we arrived I was glad we opted for our handmade items as the majority of our family gifts. The girls had been beading, scrap booking & knitting for somewhere between full time job & college hours. I of course was not as on the ball as my girls & had some of my projects running right until I wrapped them up & placed them under the tree. I completed one more Tee-Shirt memory quilt & countless knitted items as well as some photo tiles with some of my black & white photos. Early mornings & a few late nights made it all come together in time though. Possibly one of the more enjoyable projects for me was the Gingerbread cookies we decorated late one evening while watching Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye sing "White Christmas". A holiday movie favorite was all the better when it involved Royal Icing & Spices. The blogging daughter posted the recipe here:

I even picked up a new technique from my daughter when she taught me how she made her knitted rosettes! Now I am wondering how many things can I put these little rosettes on?

The handmade Christmas items are the ones we hold close to our hearts for many years to come. The loving care which went into them make them treasures for a lifetime.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Eve traditions~Tamales at home for the Holidays.

Forget the old saying about not taking the girl out of the country or the country out of the girl. You can't take the Tex-Mex out of this Texas gal! Living in a country & surrounded by Mexican food & cuisines ranging from Northern Mexico to Southern Mexico & borders beyond there is something to be said for the familiar Tex-Mex food I know & love. Our family has the traditional tamales for Christmas eve each year. This year was no exception. A few days prior to Christmas I was informed by our favorite tamale purveyors in town that they would have plenty of tamales on hand for Christmas Eve. "No need to order ahead" I was told... as I always have. (I hate changes I am not prepared for!) Not being one to trust fate to such a major part of Christmas Eve I was in the door of Juarez' very early on the morning Christmas Eve. Judging from the lines reaching out the door I was not the only one feeling uneasy about grabbing my allotment of tamales for my family. Once we drove our tamales home, did a little Christmas shopping, had Starbucks (All roads lead to Starbucks don't they?) we landed in the kitchen at home to whip up a batch of our favorite quickie Tex-Mex cheese enchiladas. While these aren't the most traditional of recipes the flavors are creamy, cheesy & very quick to prepare. From our home to yours for the Holidays~Feliz Navidad.

Family Christmas Eve 2008: Tamales, Enchiladas & a few fresh veggies highlighted the evening. The menu may change but the tamales always have a staring roll year after year!

Easy 3 Cheese Enchiladas
1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack Cheese (6 oz. by weight)
1-1/2 cups shredded Cheddar Cheese (6 oz. by weight)
1 8-ounce package softened Cream Cheese
2 cans Old El Paso Enchilada Sauce, red
1 medium red or yellow Bell Pepper (1/2 diced & 1/2 cut into strips)
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion, minced
1 can of black beans, drained & rinsed
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
12-15 corn tortillas

Combine 1 cup of Monterrey Jack Cheese, 1 cup of Cheddar Cheese, the Cream Cheese, the red pepper, onions and cumin. Mix Well.
Heat corn tortillas, dip tortillas one at a time into enchilada sauce, coating the tortillas.
Spoon 1/4 cup of the Cheese Mixture down the center of each Tortilla. Sprinkle 1 Tbsp. black beans over cheese mixture.
Roll and place the Tortillas, seam side down, in a 9" x 13" pan. Pour the remaining sauce over the enchilada. Cover with the remaining 1 cup of Cheese. I garnish the top with 2 Tbsp. minced onion & pepper strips.

Bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes or until hot.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Posadas, quick bites & Mexico sights.

In a whirlwind of activity & colorful South of the Border holiday activity our college girl came to visit us in Mexico last week. We shopped the Mercado de Navidad, lunched with friends, attended a traditional Mexican Posada & spent some mother daughter time as well. `While in town we ate fabulous Carnitas, loads of guacamole & I made her favorite soup. The Cheese Soup I make is a Texas favorite & an adaptation of a recipe from Austin's 1886 Cafe and Bakery from the historic Driskill Hotel. It's easy, filling & warms a cold evening. The cold snap being experienced to the north has dipped down into Northern Mexico dropping temperatures.~Yes,Virginia... it does get cold in Mexico but not for long. As we head back to Texas for Christmas I've packed the coats knowing that the cold snap with hit sooner than later!

She helped make hard choices at the Mercado & saw the Christmas sights in Santiago. Katerina however, was less than thrilled with her little pink Christmas sombrero...

Cheese Soup
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/2 cup carrot, minced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 lb. grated Velveeta or mild cheddar
1 jar Old English cheese spread
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 dash cayenne or to taste
1 dash paprika or to taste
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon white pepper or to taste
several dashes Tabasco sauce, to taste

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Over medium-high heat, sauté the onions, bell pepper, carrots and celery until translucent and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cornstarch. Cook about 3 to 5 more minutes. Add stock and milk gradually, blending until smooth, and reduce by 1/4. Do not allow to boil at any point. Add baking soda and cheese and stir until melted and thickened, about 10 minutes. Add parsley, cayenne, and paprika. Keep soup warm over very low heat or in a double boiler if not using immediately. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6 to 8.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cooking & travels in an ordinary time.

Life for us isn't so extraordinary, the travel, hellos & goodbyes just take us a little further than most these days.

Our return to Mexico & subsequent South of the Border Posada schedule had a slight detour. We were back in Texas longer than anticipated this trip with 2 family members in the hospital. The blur of frenzied meals, hospital visits & family activities drew to a close this weekend as we drove South once again to Mexico. Returning to Monterrey generally throws me into a whirlwind of getting things up & running at the house when we have been absent for any length of time. We had a rare snow last Tuesday evening in the Austin area & returned here to 92 degree temps this afternoon. While the warm weather had things toasty outside, our house was chilly & cool as we entered, it made unpacking sweaters & jackets a little easier... Checking my well stocked Mexican pantry & freezer I found I had all the ingredients to pull together a quick & spicy version of an ordinary Indian side dish. My version of Cabbage & Peas had a bit more Mexican bite with a dried chili thrown in as well as excellent ground cumin. To this dinner we added a rich glass of Cabernet & shared a small amount of steak. Travel is exhausting but returning to the ordinary makes us focused once again on life south of the border.

Cabbage & Peas
5 cups of chopped cabbage
1/4 cup of sliced yellow onions
4 Tbsp. Oil
2 Bay Leaves
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. Chili powder
1 dried whole chili pepper
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 cup green peas, frozen but thawed
2 tomatoes, chopped
Heat oil, add cumin seeds, onion. Saute till onions are translucent. Add cabbage, all other spices & bay leaves. Saute for 3-4 minutes, add tomatoes, peas & cook 10-12 minutes till cabbage is cooked but still slightly crisp. Serve immediately.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey gone rustic.

On Thanksgiving eve as the leftovers at were mounting into a Texas sized load I wondered what I would whip the turkey into, save a sandwich or two. Sure, nothing beats the first Turkey sandwich but the trick is to re-mix, re-style & re-make Turkey giving it new excitement. My first suggestion was met with a resounding "NO"! I had some South of the Border ideas; however, that concept was unpopular since we live in...well, Mexico!! I mean, when in Rome~I do! When at home, I have to stretch the mind a little more. So digging through the stateside pantry I located a can of artichoke hearts, a few shallots & red bell pepper. The Turkey in question a rough version of a Rustica Pasta dish. The turkey leftovers at our house now? Well, I have two wings & some stuffing. Problem solved until the next big holiday meal~I could have bigger problems I realize. This is a problem I enjoy solving. Buen Provecho!

Turkey Rustica
3 cups turkey breast meat, cubed or sliced
16 oz. penne pasta, cooked (reserve 1 cup pasta liquid)
1 red bell pepper, roasted, seeded & sliced
1 can artichoke hearts, drained & quartered
1 chopped shallot
4 slices of bacon or pancetta, sliced in 1/2 in. slices, or chopped
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt & pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard,
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary,
6 fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish
1/4cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups cream
6 Tbsp. bread crumbs

Cook bacon in skillet till browned, add garlic, shallots. Saute till translucent then add the cooked turkey, heat thoroughly. Stir in white wine, artichoke quarters, roasted red pepper & Dijon mustard (except paprika). Once the wine simmers add in the cream slowly, heat slowly, add in the Parmesan cheese. As the mixture heats. Stir until the sauce is thickened slightly, careful not to bring to a boil. Pour turkey, vegetables & sauce over the cooked penne pasta. At this point the reserved pasta liquid can be used to thin the sauce out as needed. The organic Parmesan cheese I used made the sauce slightly thicker so it was thinned with the pasta liquid. Pour the pasta & turkey mixture into a greased 1 1/2 qt. casserole. Top with bread crumbs & sprinkle with paprika & heat @ 350 for 20 min. Garnish with sprigs of rosemary, serves 6.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Wake up the Cranberry Sauce!

Long before the appetizers are set out for a day long "noshing fest" the girls & I were up early chopping, cutting & simmering. Many hands do make light work, thank goodness I was blessed with daughters. In our family the Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without Cranberry Sauce. The mechanical "suction noise" of store bought cranberry sauce in a can is virtually unheard in our home. My mother used to make fabulous cranberry sauce when we lived in Alaska & could pick wild cranberries. These days however we rely on the bags of farm raised berries. My version of Cranberries for the holiday adds Triple Sec to wake it up a bit & heighten the orange & tart/sweet flavors. Some years ago my sister simmered brandy into her sauce & it really packed a punch. There is no one right way to make Cranberry sauce but here is my current version.

Cooking & the 3 F's of Thanksgiving= Family, Food, Football!

Cranberry Sauce
2- 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup Triple Sec liquor
2 mandarin oranges, seeded, cut the segments into halves,
1 whole cinnamon stick (to be removed after cooking)
1 tsp. finely grated orange rind (optional)

Place the cranberries, oranges, rind, sugar & water into sauce pan & bring to a low rolling boil. Once cranberries are boiling, reduce heat to simmer, add Triple Sec & stir frequently. Once the berry skins have burst, achieved a translucent quality & thickened slightly remove from heat & let cool. Remove the whole cinnamon stick. This sauce is good for home canning/processing but then our family never has much left over after the holiday. This recipe can also be frozen immediately or cut in half if you don't need this quantity. If I don't have oranges & feel there is a little more sweet needed I add in 1 small undrained can of crushed pineapple. This recipe is very forgiving & you can get creative.
*I have also used whole star anise or ginger in this recipe.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brussels Sprout fit for one Grande Bird!

Brussels Sprout flavored with Chardonnay & Bacon just might become my new favorite~
While recently shopping for our family Thanksgiving dinner I stayed focused on my shopping list at the grocery store. Truly not always an easy task given my penchant for locating those hard to find items each trip we return from Mexico to our home in Texas. Holiday meal planning has grown less stressful during the last few years since I have daughters of an age who will takeover & share the big meal preps with me in the kitchen. (Fabulous really!!) I am truly amazed how our holiday meals fall into place as my girls give input & ideas for our meal. In the past I would feel overwhelmed & compelled to have all of the ultra traditional side dishes. I have finally figured out that each holiday becomes a new tradition as we morph dishes to suit our needs & local available produce. Truth be told the favorite dishes which are enjoyed the most are that which are the most simple with the freshest ingredients. Frankly, who needs to fret over each dish? This is not the first time we have had Brussels Sprout for a holiday meal but certainly a new spin on an old favorite. The flavor of the Sprouts seemed a perfect side for our Turkey. What you probably didn't know about Brussels Sprout...other than correct spelling of these green delights?

Chardonnay & Bacon Brussels Sprout
1 Stalk Brussels Sprout (not on stalk, 2-2 1/2 lb)
1/2 lb. mesquite smoked, thick cut bacon
8 oz. Chardonnay Wine
1/2 med. Yellow Spanish Onion, diced
pepper & salt to taste

Remove Brussels Sprout from stalk with sharp twisting motion. Trim any excess stem at the bottom of each Brussels Sprout head. Cut the Brussels Sprout into quarters, rinse.
Cook bacon until almost crisp, add onion & continue to saute. Scrape pan to remove any bacon from the bottom & sides of pan, place the Brussels Sprout in pan with bacon, onion & saute for 15 minutes. Pour wine over the Brussels Sprout, continue to cook till tender crisp. Add Salt & Pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Aztec Pie, warm dish for a cool evening.

Just prior to the onslaught of pies, desserts & stuffings wash over us in a warm holiday buzz I thought I'd post a different type of pie recipe from South of the Border. Pay (pronounced pie) Azteca is a traditional Mexican dish which is an easy casserole perfect for the upcoming holiday rush. The warm cheese layers & hearty quality of this dish make it a wonderful choice for cool weather. Mexico's ancient Tenochtitlan later known as the Aztec used corn in much of their food. In this recipe I used roasted Poblano Peppers which we can always locate in Mexico (*if those are unavailable canned roasted green chilies can be substituted). The origins of this dish are rather blurred by time & history but the traditional dish has popularity both north & south of the border. Besides it's as easy as....

Aztec Pie~Pay Azteca

15 Corn tortillas, cut into triangles
1 1/2 cups Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
3 Poblano chili peppers roasted, peeled, seeded & cut into strips
2 cups Sour Cream
1 lg. egg
pinch of ground cumin
8 oz. Manchego, Oaxaca Cheese or Monterrey Jack grated
1/4 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Lg. Tomato, diced
2 cups Tomato puree
salt, pepper to taste

Lightly bake tortillas @ 350 for 15 min. spread evenly on a cookie sheet, sprayed with vegetable spray.
Prepare the sauce by sauteing the onion, garlic & tomato for 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree & simmer 10 min. seasoning with salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat. Mix sour cream & 1 beaten egg with pinch of cumin.
In an oven proof, greased 9 x 13 casserole: layer 1/2 of the tortillas, 1/2 of tomato sauce, 1/2 of the corn & poblano strips, 1/2 sour cream mixture, top with 1/2 cheese. Repeat layers ending with cheese. Bake in 350* oven for 30 minutes or till bubbling at the edge & slight golden color to the edges. Remove from heat, cool for 10 minutes, cut into squares & serve. This is great served with a tossed green salad & a nice white wine. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thankful Heritage & giving thanks.

From my Grandfather & countless family members the lessons & savory teachings have lasted a lifetime.

I'm so thankful for my culinary memories & heritage which makes me yearn for the sweet & memorable meals for the past. There was an exquisite timing to Grandfather Harrington's perfect Sunday afternoon pot roasts. He taught me not to grab for the salt & pepper before tasting & savoring. Long before I understood; he imparted wisdom of watching the food as it cooked. He showed me that flavors either mellowed or reached the anticipated perfection. The experiences of seeing him in the kitchen or working in the restaurant showed me that if people enjoy the experience, food is almost secondary.
The women in my family later taught me that perfect baking measurements really matter but mistakes can be covered with mounds of icing & clouds of powdered sugar! The truly inspiring person in the family was my Mother who did wonders with simple ingredients turning every meal into an occasion. She taught my sister & I that food prepared with care for the family takes center stage even if you've made it a hundred times before. To this day my favorite meal is her fried chicken. My sister & I used to argue about who could have the chicken wishbone & then make a wish at the end of our meal as we broke it. (Does that sound strange & primitive to kids in 2008?)
My father's family had large holiday gatherings where boisterous groups of uncles, aunts & cousins would come together under one roof for a Texas size feast. At the appointed moment we were all drawn into the dining room at the ranch house towards what seemed like an endless buffet table loaded with turkey, stuffing, gravy & enough deserts to send a kid into orbit! It was difficult to concentrate when my Grandfather or some other family member said the Blessing & the kids waited to be served. (we always hoped the food wasn't growing cold & the prayer wasn't too long...) After the meal the adults retired to talk, play the traditional Texas game of "42" & kids could roam & play. The serious discussions of religion or politics always waited till after the food had digested. As we draw towards Thanksgiving 2008 the serious business of politics has finally been settled even if it has worn us out with months of pre election babble. For this I am truly thankful!! I look forward to some much needed family time. Now with my own family, I realize time is to be savored as much as the finest of wines. I hope my daughters realize the rich heritage they have inherited. Let the culinary heritage continue & the memories deepen. Family is a rich & sentimental mix! Cooking & family: blessed be the ties that bind throughout the South!