Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall into Beef Stew!


Ahhh, Fall! . . . there is a crisp chill in the air . . . it seems that the last leaves finally fell off the trees . . . it's the perfect time to cozy up with someone you love . . . and enjoy a hearty beef stew!  :)

 



Now that I’m living the life of a “respectable woman of leisure”, as some of my friends say (I retired on 31 July and got married on 4 August!), I, supposedly, have more time in my hands to do all the things I really want, but the truth of the matter is that, sometimes, the day goes by so fast with all the stuff to do at home, that I keep postponing the things I truly want to do, like writing in my blog more often!

When it comes to testing new recipes, I have a few favorite celebrity chefs who I trust almost blindfoldly, and Alton Brown is one of them (I would say it’s a hard toss-up between him and Christopher Kimball, from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook's Country).

What I love about Alton Brown, though—and haven’t seen in any other TV celebrity chef—is his contagious enthusiasm for the science of cooking and food, as well as his humorous approach to it in each and every one of his shows!

Two Saturdays ago—while my hubby left in the wee hours of the morning to play golf with a friend in a chilly 40°F weather (around 4°C)—I was all warm and tucked up in my bed, watching back-to-back reruns of “Good Eats”.  On the first scene of the episode “Stew Romance”, Alton Brown is sitting at the fireplace heart:


Ahh, the stew pot. If there’s a more enduring or endearing symbol of hearth and home, I don’t know what it is. From the dawn of cookery when water simmered in animal hides stretched over campfires through the Ages of Clay, Bronze, Iron, and Steel, cooks have continually fed and fed from their stew pots. A tough hunk of mastodon here, a snaggled bit of taproot there. All rendered edible and nourishing through the combined efforts of time, heat, and water. The problem is, all that time, heat, and water tend to blur the individual notes of the ingredients into a murky monotone. If you ask me, a stew, or a culture for that matter, should be more like, well, a barbershop quartet.”

On the second scene, he offers a glimpse into what his unique cooking method for a stew is all about:

“Suppose I were to ask you to define the word “stew”. You might say, “a shortened version of the Scottish name “Stuart”, or “to dwell on something, negatively”. But you might also offer, “a dish composed of chunks of meat and vegetables, cooked and served together in a flavorful and potentially thickened liquid.” And you know what? You’d be right on all three counts. Of course, you might also say that it is the verb “stew”, the traditional cooking method by which “a stew” is produced. But if you ask me, the key to “a stew” isn’t stewing, it’s braising. And although braising is indeed related to stewing, there’s some significant differences.”

I can’t quite remember how many different recipes I’ve tried along these last years when it comes to stew.  Some have been decent and, some, well . . . just plain bad!  And after watching this episode of “Good Eats”, the science of beef stew became all clear to me! As Alton Brown explains:

“Stewing involves cooking small pieces of food. Braising calls for large pieces, which limits surface area and therefore limits moisture loss from the target food. Unlike stewing, which calls for submersion of the food pieces in liquid, braising calls for a relatively small amount of liquid. That means less chance of producing watered down flavors. Remember, water is a solvent. Stewing, often achieved in an open vessel. Braising calls for a tightly-lidded vessel. That prevents moisture loss via evaporation and helps to tenderize meat through the slight elevation in vessel pressure. And perhaps most importantly, while stewing always calls for cooking ingredients of different natures together, braising applications often call for separation of meats and vegetables. And that makes braising the precision choice, even when the desired dish is a stew.”


Aha!  Braising is the key then!  Why didn’t anyone think of that before?  Well, I guess it takes a genius like Alton Brown to figure it out, right?  :)

After watching the complete stew episode, I got up and came to my computer to look up for the recipe . . . “Yikes!”—I said to myself—“The recipe takes a mere 6.5 hours to prepare!  I better start now!”  :)

Fortunately, I had all (well, almost all) the ingredients I needed but, as usual, I tweaked the recipe a tad.  Since I had Chuck Eye Steak, I used that instead of the short ribs called for in the original recipe. Here is my version (I’ll post a link to the original recipe at the end, together with the link to the corresponding video):

Good Eats Beef Stew (slightly adapted tweaked)

Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 lbs Chuck Eye Steak*, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano and sage)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1.5-inch cubes
  • 2 14.5 oz cans of sliced carrots
  • 1 15 oz can of sweet peas (no salt added)
  • 4 oz Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer
  • 4 oz chicken stock (low sodium)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

* The Chuck Eye Steak is cut from the Chuck Eye Roast (Chuck Primal), lower down from the rib primal. This means that this steak is a similar cousin to a Rib-Eye Steak, but isn't as tender or flavorful. This steak is a good low cost alternative but will dry out quicker than a Rib-Eye. The Chuck Eye Steak is best braised to keep it moist, but is also good grilled or broiled, provided care is taken not to over cook it. 



Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and dried herbs. Set aside.

Season the meat chunks with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt. Place a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil and divide your meat chunks into two batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Sear the meat until browned on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat to the bowl with the apple cider mixture and toss to coat. Set the pan aside without rinsing it, since you'll use it later . . . you know, gotta save all that fond (the crispy little bits left in the pan)! Transfer the meat and juices to a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and seal tightly. Place the package into a metal pan and put into a cold oven on the middle rack. Set the oven to 250 degrees F and cook for 2 hours.

Remove the meat from the oven and carefully (it will be hot!) poke a hole in the pack while holding it over a heatproof container. Drain the liquid into the container and set aside.

Grab the frying pan you used to brown the meat. Add one tablespoon of oil and place the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion along with the remaining teaspoon of salt and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, carrots and peas along with a pinch of black pepper and the teaspoon of thyme, and stir to combine. Next, add the liquid reserved from the meat together with the beer and the chicken stock and stir. Cover tightly and decrease the heat to low so that no heat is escaping the lid. Cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

Once the potatoes are tender, uncover and set the meat atop the vegetables. Cover and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Note:  Because I was using Chuck Eye Steak, I cut down to half the time the meat needed to cook in the oven and skipped refrigerating the liquid, since the meat hardly rendered any fat at all. As you will see, I also added carrots and sweet peas to my stew. The beer and chicken stock were added for extra flavor and because I like a juicy stew, since I serve it with rice!  :)

Link to original recipe:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-beef-stew-recipe/index.html

Link to “Stew Romance” video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2haGEykOaq0


“If great stew, like great music, is a commingling of ingredients to create culinary harmony, why do so many stews taste less like beautiful music and more like a murky dirge?” (Alton Brown)



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Monday, June 11, 2012

Childhood Memories and . . . Dorie Greenspan???


Growing up, I couldn't quite recall seeing either my mom or my grandmas preparing a lot of desserts at home, unless there was a special occasion, like birthdays . . . and, in those cases, we would indulge in the typical sweet fare back then: “flan” (caramel custard), “gelatina” (jello), “pudín” (pudding)all from a box mixor “mazamorra morada” (purple corn porridge), “arroz con leche” (rice pudding) and “leche asada” (baked milk custard), usually made from scratch. There were also other kind of desserts that we would eat, like “Picarones” (kind of fried doughnuts, made with squash and sweet potato, served with syrup, which we usually bought from street vendors) or certain pastries and birthday cakes that my parents would buy from local bakeries. Oh . . . and there were a couple more things that my mom made every now and then, for no particular reason: apple pie (which was always divine!) and this homey and comforting pudding/custard like dessert called “Budín de Sémola”. And although I have eaten apple pies galore for years, I never ate again my mom’s “Budín de Sémola” after leaving Peru.
I have to confess that, after moving to Michigan, I developed a serious addiction to Pinterest (although I had created an account more than a year ago) . . . and, sometimes, I feel like there are not enough hours in a day to “pin” or “re-pin” stuff! :)
I have different boards devoted to one of my passions in life: food. And, of course, I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet in search of striking new recipes to pin.
If you are familiar with the “food blogosphere”, there is a chance that you have heard of the “French Fridays with Dorie” website—an online cooking group dedicated to Dorie Greenspan’s newest book, “Around My French Table”. And, if you are familiar with this cooking group, then you know that one of their rules state: Please do not post the actual recipes on your blog. We encourage everyone to purchase their own book in order to belong to the group”. So, needles to say, every time you stumble upon one of the weekly challenges on the Internet, you’ll see back-to-back postings commenting about a particular Dorie Greenspan’s mouthwatering looking dish . . . but you won’t find the actual recipe! Of course, there are other Dorie Greenspan’s recipes on the Internet, but they are not usually the ones the cooking group members try.
So . . . tired of this situation (ha ha ha . . . how pathetic dramatic does that sound, huh?), I put “Around My French Table” on my wish list in Amazon, knowing well that it would be a long time before I could get my hands on it because of the stiff price (more than $40 the first time I saw it!). However, about two months ago, I saw the book selling for $16! I didn’t think twice about it and ordered my copy!
Well, this past weekend—as I was surfing the InternetI came across a recipe that caught my attention because of its name: “Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake”. I have a cake recipe that I’ve prepared many times in the past that calls for semolina as one of the ingredients, and thought it might be the same one . . . nothing could be far more different from that! It was a recipe for my beloved and almost forgotten “Budín de Sémola”!!! I immediately looked for my copy of “Around My French Table” and searched for the recipe. This is Dorie Greenspan’s story about the recipe:
“It was Summer an sunny, and my husband, Michael, and I were having lunch outdoors at a tiny bistro off the picturesque and often pictured Place Dauphine in Paris. Someone had told me that Yves Montand lived in one of the stone buildings surrounding the square, and I was secretly hoping that he’d stroll past us at any moment. What I wasn’t expecting was that we’d finish our meal with a dessert that was completely new to me: it was a simple puddingish cake, almost like fine grained polenta, dotted with raisins and coated in caramel, like a flan.
Although my French friends had childhood memories of the cake and loved it, no one could tell me what was in it, because the only way they’d ever seen it made—or made it themselves—was from a supermarket mix.
It took me a while to find out that the semolina that gives the cake its name is farina, best known in our country under the brand name Cream of Wheat, the breakfast cereal. Now that I know, I make the cake often, usually to serve after a light meal. The traditional addition is golden raisins—they’re even included in the box mix—but bits of any dried fruit are fine, as are diced apple or pear sautéed in a little butter beforehand, or even small pieces of mango.
By the way, I tried the cake from the mix—it doesn’t hold a candle to this homemade version”.
All these years looking for “sémola” or semolina at the supermarket—to no avail—without having the slightest clue that it had been “staring” at me as “cream of wheat”, duh!!!
Any way . . . I read the recipe carefully and decided I would tweak it a little bit (which is what I usually end up doing with most recipes) because, for one, I only had a little bit of whole milk (but I did have one can of evaporated milk) and, for another, not only did I not have raisins, but I don’t like raisins—and they don’t like me! :)
Also, I had a bowl of strawberries and raspberries macerated in sugar and about 1/3 cup of dried cranberries . . . so, that got me thinking of the possibilities . . .
Ok, without further ado, here is my version of “Budín de Sémola”:
Ingredients for the “budín”:
  • 1 1/2 cups (1 12-oz can) of evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup cream of wheat
  • 1 cup sweet condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups of strawberries and raspberries macerated in sugar (without the macerating liquid)
Ingredients for the caramel:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup of the strawberries/raspberries macerating liquid
  •  Squeeze of fresh lime juice (1/2 lime)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with a rack set in the center. Have a 9-inch springform pan at hand (the original recipe calls for an 8-inch round pan) and, to add extra insurance, wrap aluminum foil around the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent leakage while baking). Place your round pan into a larger baking sheet/pan that it will fit into easily. Mix the strawberries, raspberries and dried cranberries in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Make the cake: Place milk and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. At the sign of the first bubbles, lower the heat and stir in the cream of wheat. Cook according to package directions, constantly stirring (I would recommend using a whisk instead of a wooden spoon here) and adjusting heat as necessary, until the mixture thickens. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the sweet condensed milk and vanilla. Let stand until cooled slightly, about 15 minutes.
  3. Make the caramel: Slide the springform pan into the oven to warm—warming it makes getting an even layer of caramel a snap. Put the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a small skillet or saucepan over high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon just enough to moisten the sugar, then allow the mixture to come to a boil. Don’t stir it! As the sugar starts to take on color, swirl the pan gently so that it heats evenly. Keep a close watch on the pan, and when the sugar begins to turn deep reddish-amber in color (about 5 minutes—you can test the color by dropping a bit of caramel onto a white plate), remove the springform pan from the oven (remember to wear oven mitts!) and pour caramel into it, tilting the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Scatter the berries mixture evenly over the caramel, pressing them slightly into the caramel with the back of a spoon. Set it aside.
  4. Stir the beaten eggs into the cooled cream of wheat mixture and pour the batter into the caramelized pan. Slide the pan back into the oven and bake until the mixture firms and puffs, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes.
  5. To unmold your budín, run a sharp knife around the inside edge. This will release the sides of the budín from the pan ring. Unlatch the clamp and remove the ring. Place a plate on top of the budín and gently flip it over (work carefully, remember the caramel will be very hot!). Take off the bottom of the pan very gently, so that you don’t remove any of the caramel. Let the budín cool to room temperature before serving. Makes 8 servings. Enjoy!



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Saturday, April 14, 2012


Susy's Banana Bread with Walnuts


I know this is my first posting after several months of silence . . . well, I don't want to bore you with lots of details, so let me just tell you the short version:  I got engaged in September (on Labor Day) and moved to Michigan by mid November.  I have been working from home since December and will be taking an early retirement by the end of July.  Period.  End of story.

I promise I will tell you more about my life later on. 

Bobby and I woke up early this morning and, like almost every morning, I made coffee.  It was raining lightly, but the squirrels were already out there and a couple of them came all the way to the glass door (in the kitchen) to ask for saltines.  They just love them! :)  Then I turned around to go check if the coffee was ready and, all of a sudden, I saw the lonely overripe bananas, sitting in the basket over the counter, staring at me! :(

All right—I said to myself—I better do something about this before they go to waste . . . so I turned on my computer and checked three recipes for banana bread.  Didn't really like the ingredients in one and the proportions seemed a little bit off in the other ones.  So I did the next best thing . . . just took what I liked from each one of them (also read the reviews and suggestions for one of the recipes) and added a couple of extra ingredients.  This is what I came up with . . .

Ingredients:

·         4 overripe bananas
·         1/2 cup granulated sugar
·         1/2 cup light brown sugar
·         1 stick unsalted butter, softened
·         1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
·         1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         2 large eggs
·         1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
·         1/4 cup honey vanilla Greek yogurt
·         2 cups self-rising flour (if you have all-purpose flour add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda)
·         1 cup walnuts, finely chopped


Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and then line the bottom with parchment paper (look at the photo) . . . that way, removing the bread from the pan is a breeze and the whole process is mess free!
Mash the bananas with a fork in a small bowl so they still have a bit of texture. With an electric mixer, mix together in a big bowl the two kinds of sugar, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg until they are well combined. Then add the two eggs and beat well until the mixture turns into a lighter color (about 5 minutes). Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time. Add bananas, vanilla extract and Greek yogurt and incorporate them into the batter with a rubber spatula. Add the flour in three or four parts, folding it each time into the batter with the spatula (don’t use the mixer) and just until incorporated, no need to overly blend but don’t leave either noticeable streaks of flour. You want sort of a light and fluffy banana cream. Finally, fold in the walnuts and incorporate them into the batter with the help of the spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Give the pan a good rap on the counter to get any air bubbles out. Bake for about 1 hour, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 
Don't get nervous if the banana bread develops a crack down the center of the loaf; that's no mistake, it's typical. Rotate the pan periodically to ensure even browning.  If the toothpick doesn’t come out clean after one hour, keep baking your bread in increments of 10-15 minutes until it’s done. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then lift it out of the pan by holding both ends of the parchment paper. Carefully peel the parchment paper and let the bread cool completely (preferably onto a wire rack) before slicing.







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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Enjoy fresh-squeezed lime juice . . . whenever you want it!


How many times have you bought limes, stored them in your fridge, forgot about them . . . just to find out they went bad when you wanted to use them in a recipe! :(


Well, that won’t happen to you any more if you follow this neat trick I learned last year from a Peruvian co-worker: on one of his vacation trips to Peru—and while shopping for produce at one of our many farmers’ markets—he happened to observe this old lady, at her stall, boiling a green liquid in a saucepan. He got curious and asked her what she was doing. The old lady succinctly told him that she was boiling lime juice. Evidently more curious now, he asked why. She then told him that it was the best way to preserve freshly squeezed lime juice for months. He had already asked “what” and “why” . . . so, the next logical question he asked was “how” . . . and here is the “how-to”. This is not a recipe, but rather a method, and I guess you can perfectly adapt it to lemons, as well.

After learning about this “trick”, I’ve done it twice so far and, each time, the lime juice has lasted in my fridge for months at a time! I didn’t write about it before because I wanted to make sure it was a tried-and-true method.

I made a “fresh batch” this morning and thought this would be the perfect time to tell you all about it. And it can’t be any simpler.  You'll just need:
  • limes (the more the merrier . . . today I used 30 big organic limes, which yields approximately 5 cups of juice)
  • a sharp knife
  • a cutting board
  • a reamer or citrus press
  • a non-reactive saucepan (mine is 2.5 qt.)
  • a fine-mesh strainer
  • a glass bottle with a cap (I use an old Paul Masson wine bottle)


  • Wash your limes under cool running water, scrubbing them lightly with your hands to loosen any debris.
  • Cut the limes in half crosswise (through the middle, not from end to end) . . . but—first—pressing the limes to your cutting board with your palm, roll them back and forth applying steady pressure to the exterior of the fruit. Kneading the lime slightly like this will help to break down any tightness and ensure you get even more juice. If you are taking your limes straight out from the fridge, stick them in the microwave—a good 20-30 seconds on high helps the citrus juice to flow more easily. Let them sit on the counter for a minute before juicing.


    
  • With a bowl underneath to catch the juice (I did it straight into the saucepan), hold the lime in one hand and press with the reamer into the center of the exposed side, twisting and grinding the ridges of the reamer against the inside walls of the lime to force out all of the juice. If you are using a citruss press, place one of the lime halves inside the citrus press with its flat, cut side facing down. Press the citrus press together to squeeze out the lime juice.


    
  • Put the saucepan onto the stove over medium-high heat and wait until the juice comes to a roaring boil. Take the saucepan off the stove immediately.


  • Strain the lime juice through a fine-mesh strainer (to catch any seeds and pulp) into a clean bowl and let cool to room temperature.



  • While waiting for the juice to cool down completely, this would be the perfect time to clean the saucepan.


    
  • Pour the juice into a measuring cup (simply for ease of pouring) and then carefully fill your glass bottle.  Put the cap on the bottle and store it in the fridge.



See the "like", "send" and "share" buttons below? If you liked my post, please share it! You can also leave comments, and let me know what you think! I'll be thrilled to hear from you! Love, Susy :)






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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pollo a la Brasa Day



Did you know that Peruvian gastronomy is considered one of the most varied and original worldwide? Peru holds the Guinness record for the greatest variety and diversity of dishes in the world—with 491 typical dishes, to be more exact. We have and immense array of culinary delights: more than 360 fish and seafood dishes, around 2,000 different soups, just in the coastal region, more than 250 traditional desserts, to only mention a few things! And, in 2006, Lima (Peru’s capital) was declared the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” by Madrid Fusion, the World Cup of gourmet cuisine.

During this past decade, several important dates have been added to Peru’s food event calendar: Pisco Day, Pisco Sour Day (which I wrote about in my post “Pucker up . . . It’s Pisco Sour Day: http://myeclecticfavorites.blogspot.com/2010/02/pucker-up-its-pisco-sour-day.html), Peruvian Rum Day, Ceviche Day (Ceviche is a dish typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice), Día Nacional del Chicharrón de Cerdo Peruano (National Deep-Fried Peruvian Pork Day), and the latest one, Pollo a la Brasa Day, which is to be celebrated every third Sunday of July. As with the other events, the official declaration was published in El Peruano, the official gazette.

But . . . what exactly is “Pollo a la Brasa” and why is it so important to deserve a special day? Also known as “Peruvian Style Chicken”, “Charcoal Chicken” or “Rotisserie Chicken”, it just happens that “Pollo a la Brasa” was declared (in 2004) as a “Peruvian Culinary Specialty” by the National Institute of Culture (INC) and, thus, has turned into another flag-dish. According to Peru’s Minister of Agriculture, as of the second half of the 20th century, “Pollo a la Brasa” has become one of the most consumed gastronomic dishes in Peru across all social strata. The Minister is speculating that Peruvians will consume close to 2 million chickens this Sunday, with consumption rising anywhere from 15% to 20%. The Ministry’s department of Agrarian Competitiveness stated that Peru presently has an important production of chicken, with some 45 million units per month, or a 1.5 million per day. The average annual consumption per capita of the bird comes to some 32 kg (about 70 lbs), one of the highest in South America! I personally love anything chicken and usually buy Peruvian style rotisserie chicken once a month! :)

Let me now tell you a little bit about how “Pollo a la Brasa” came to be . . .


After the Second World War, in the early 50s, Roger Schuler—a Swiss citizen—arrives in Peru to establish a chicken farm business in the town of Santa Clara, in the district of Ate, Lima. Among other things, chickens bring the nuisance of flies along with them. Apparently, an American friend of Schuler told him that there was one color (blue) which was good to keep flies away and—never one to miss a trick—Schuler painted the whole farm in blue! Soon, people around were commenting: “Hey, that crazy guy painted his farm blue! Later on, a bad situation turned into a successful business. The chicken farm went bankrupt, so Schuler put a visible sign on the highway: “All the chicken you can eat for 5 Soles”. It was an instant boom! People started flocking in to “La Granja Azul” (The Blue Farm), the restaurant that he improvised in his own hacienda! However, the restaurant was always so crowded, that it started slowing down service because of the way they were preparing the chicken, in a small grill.



So Roger Schuler decides to contact a friend, another Swiss, Franz Ulrich, who owned and operated a metal mechanics shop and asks him to build an oven to cook the chicken. Thus, the “rotombo” oven—also known as “planetario” or “spiedo”—was invented and the patent registered! This oven had six metal rods and each rod could hold eight baby chickens of less than one kilogram each. The metal rods spin clockwise and, independently, around their own axis, at a very high temperature (generally between between 300 and 370 degrees F) cooking the chicken uniformly, sealing-in the juices and giving it a delicious, slightly charred flavor.





People from all over Lima made their way to La Granja Azul to devour the tender “Pollo a la Brasa”. Back then, La Granja Azul became the only restaurant where the aristocracy of Lima allowed themselves to eat using their hands, and to indulge their appetites, often competing to see who could eat the most chicken in a single lunch. The bill was free for those who could break successive records, and their names and pictures were hung in a special spot in the main salon. Originally (during the 50s and until the early 70s) the consumption of “Pollo a la Brasa” was specific to just the high socioeconomic classes; however, its consumption later came to include the middle and low socioeconomic classes, as well. Its popularity became massive sometime during the 70s.

The success of La Granja Azul was such that other “Pollerías” (restaurants where “Pollo a la Brasa” is served) started opening along the years: The first one was “El Rancho”, which opened in 1957. The owner, Isidoro Steinmann, was also a Swiss citizen and Ulrich’s same machine was installed there. Then came “Pío-Pío”, “Norky’s”, “La Caravana”, “El Cortijo”, “Pardo’s Chicken” (which is my favorite one), just to mention a few. Due to its price, “Pollo a la Brasa” was a dish only for elites and became a lunch delicacy, on Saturdays in particular.

After 60 years, the recipe remains the same: the chicken is seasoned with just salt—cooked over carob tree firewood for the best flavor—served with large French fries, and traditionally eaten with the fingers, without cutlery.

Nowadays, La Granja Azul, can accommodate 450 guests at the same time and, naturally, now “all the chicken you can eat” will cost you just under 60 soles (some US$22).





When we were growing up (this was late 60s-early 70s), I remember that every Saturday evening we would go to Chucuito (a small fishermen bay-town between the Province of Callao and the district of La Punta), to a “Pollería” called “Se Salió el Pollo” (something along the lines of “The Chicken Popped Out”) and buy “Pollo a la Brasa” to go. After some 40 years, this “Pollería” still exists!

There are hundreds of recipes for preparing “Pollo a la Brasa” and every restaurant brags about having their own “secret family recipe”. But, aside from the different touches each one gives to their particular recipe, most people agree that the basic marinade has cerveza negra (dark beer), ají panca (a dark red, mild pepper with a smoky, fruity taste), soy sauce, rosemary, cumin, salt and pepper, among other ingredients. “Pollo a la Brasa” is always served with French fries (never with rice) and with a simple salad of lettuce and tomato, along with different sauces or condiments. I particularly love the “mayonesa de leche” (milk mayonnaise) served at “Pardo’s Chicken” and “La Granja Azul”!

Even though in Peru we traditionally eat everything with rice, the story behind why “Pollo a la Brasa” is always served with French fries is quite simple: Schuler hated rice, hence, he would always serve the chicken with French fries!  :)

If you feel like attempting to prepare “Pollo a la Brasa” but don’t have a special oven, you can cook it in a gas or electric rotisserie oven or on a grill that has a rotisserie set up. If you don’t have any of these, you can also roast the chicken in a regular oven on 350 degrees F or grill it—just keep it at least 12 inches away from the flame over low to medium heat.



“Pollo a la Brasa Recipe”

Ingredients:
  • 1 whole chicken without giblets (about 2-3 1/2 lbs—do not use a Kosher chicken since it is already salted)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp aji panca paste (found in Latin markets)
  • 3 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp huacatay (black mint) paste (found in Latin markets)
  • 1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dark beer
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
Preparation:

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Mix the rest of the ingredients thoroughly to form a paste, adding more beer if you would like it thinner.  Taste the paste and adjust seasoning as needed. Rub it on the chicken inside and out, under the skin if possible, making sure it does not get cut or broken.  Place chicken in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before cooking it.  Serve with French fries, salad and condiments or sauces (see recipes for three sauces below).  Serves 4.

And here are some sauces for your "Pollo a la Brasa":



Creamy cheese sauce:
  • 1-12oz package queso fresco (“farmers cheese”, found in Latin markets, but may be substituted with feta or ricotta cheese)
  • 1/4 red onion sautéed (with very little oil)
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (cook the turmeric in 2 tablespoon hot oil, for 3 seconds)
  • 1 aji amarillo chili (found in Latin markets)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
Blend queso fresco, red onion, oil, milk, turmeric, aji amarillo, salt and pepper, and lime juice in a blender until it becomes creamy.


Aji sauce:
  • 1 cup of cream of aji (6 to 9 ajies in the blender with salt, 1 clove of garlic, ground black pepper, and 1/2 cup oil)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
Mix cream of aji, olive oil, green onions, and lime juice in a medium bowl.


Milk mayonnaise:
  • 1/3 cup very cold evaporated milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • About 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt to taste
Combine the milk, lemon juice, garlic, and pepper in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Using a handheld blender (or a blender), buzz on high for 30 seconds until frothy. With the motor running on high, slowly pour in the oil a few drops at a time, and gradually increase this to a fine thread, moving the blender up and down, until the mixture thickens lusciously and resembles a soft mayonnaise. You may need more or less oil. Season with salt to taste. The mayonnaise will last up to 1 week in the fridge.

Photo credits:  All the photos (except for the first one and the two last ones) posted here come from La Granja Azul's page on Facebook.

See the "like", "send" and "share" buttons below?  If you liked my post, please share it!  You can also leave comments, and let me know what you think!   I'll be thrilled to hear from you!  Love, Susy  :)






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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Case of the Lost-and-Found Recipe


The first time I ever heard of a “Sweet Potato Pie” was in Lima, when I was in my early 20s. After so many years I can’t recall where I got the recipe from, but I’m guessing it had to be from an American magazine, since the copy I jotted down on a piece of paper was in English . . . so, I’m guessing the magazine wasn’t mine either! What I do clearly remember is that every time I prepared this pie it was just delicious and got rave reviews from everyone! I even remember that sometimes I would bake several pies at the same time so I could leave a couple at home and take one to the office! Even though I made this recipe innumerable times and knew the ingredients and preparation by heart, every single time I whipped it up, I would have my well-used, batter-splashed copy of the recipe in front of me. Eventually, I just got tired of preparing the same dessert, put the recipe away somewhere, and moved on to try other recipes.

In my late 20s I decided to move out of my house and share an apartment with a couple of roommates . . . something unheard of back then, specially in Lima. However, three years later, it made smart economic sense to move back in with my parents. You know how packing and organizing are among the trivial parts of moving, yet, when unpacking time comes, certain things inevitably get lost or misplaced . . . and I think that’s how my recipe for the sweet potato pie simply disappeared! Fortunately, my mom—for some reason I will never know, but I’m glad for—had her own copy of the recipe, translated by her into Spanish. That’s how I got back the recipe in my hands and brought it with me when I moved to the States.

Two weeks ago, when I wrote my posting “Before It’s Too Late”, I started scouring through my extensive collection of recipe clippings (four file storage boxes) for my sweet potato pie recipe, all to no avail! I got sad and thought that, once again, I had lost the recipe for good! Earlier today I ended up throwing away around two full garbage bins of paper that was taking up room in my filing cabinets and then, all of a sudden, I got across a folder with old recipe clippings . . . and wouldn’t you know it . . . the famous pie recipe was right there! :)

During all these years I constantly remembered about the recipe (and, obviously, didn’t remember where I put it!) and so, every now and then, I would look up on the Internet for sweet potato pie recipes, trying to find one similar to mine. Yes, I know there are hundreds of recipes for sweet potato pies on the Internet . . . but the one I used to prepare called for grating the raw sweet potatoes, as opposed to all the recipes I’ve seen so far, which use cooked and mashed sweet potatoes!

So . . . after some years the case of the lost-and-found sweet potato pie recipe is finally solved. Of course, I had to translate it back into English! I’m posting a provisional photo from the Internet for this pie—since I don’t have the ingredients to prepare it right now—but I promise I will bake it some time soon and will post my own photos! :)

Sweet Potato Pie (Pie de Camote)

Ingredients:

For the crust
• 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold
• 5 tablespoons warm water
• 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling
• 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
• 1 cup evaporated milk
• 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
• 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
• 2-3 medium size sweet potatoes, grated

Preparation:

Mix the sugar into the flour, and then add the butter. If you have a pastry cutter, great, but if not, two dinner knives work just as well. Cut the butter into small pieces, sliding the knife blades across each other to catch all the pieces. The pieces don’t all have to be completely mixed into the flour, but they should be roughly the same size and you should end up with a crumbly texture. Add water and vanilla and mix with your hands to form a ball. Roll out to fit a 9” pie dish. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool down. Start preparing the filling in the meantime.

Mix together all ingredients and pour mixture into the pie crust. Place pie dish in the oven, centered on the middle rack. Bake at 325 degrees F for 50 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve as is, or with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!


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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Before it's too late . . .

Yep . . . I know my last post was a little bit over four months ago, but I went through a lot of issues during this time, including knee surgery, and kinda lost my "mojo".  I was finally able to come out of my "black cloud" and decided that it was about time to start writing again!  :)

During these months, however, I thought of different things I wanted to write about.  There was this one article, though, that I read in the March issue of "Bon Appétit" and that got stuck in my headSave Your Recipes Before It's Too Late, by Monica Bhide.

I always tell everyone how I got my inspiration for cooking from my mom (Mami Amparo) and my paternal grandmother (Mama Sultana).  Reading this article brought back memories of the times when, as a kid, I watched my mom cooking, or when, later on, we used to cook together, or of those times when I would call her long distance (after I moved to the States) to ask her about a certain recipe.  I still keep some old note pads in my mom's handwriting with recipes she wrote down while watching cooking tv shows (there weren't that many back then) or notes from a cooking class she attended.  Unfortunately, I don't have any of her own recipes written anywhere!  I wish I would have thought of doing this while she was still around!  She was such a good cook and could whip up a delicious meal in no time at all!

Mama Sultana, curiously enough, didn't know how to read or write, but she would bake the most amazing things!  I clearly remember (when I was in my teens) one Saturday she was staying home with us and I asked her if she would share some of her recipes with me.  Armed with pen and paper, I sat down by her side on the couch in the living room and, listening to all her fascinating stories, I started writing down all of her detailed explanations.  Later, I gathered all my recipes and put them together in a plastic folder.  That same year, on the last day of school, I had the most unfortunate idea:  I took my plastic folder with me to school to show it to some of my classmates.  One girl asked to borrow it and promised to return it soon.  Hesitantly, I agreed.  To make a long story short, that was the last time I saw this girl and my folder with my treasured recipes!  :(

I know that if I read certain cookbooks or look into other people's cooking sites on the Internet, I would probably be able to recreate some of Mami Amparo's or Mama Sultana's recipes . . . but it's never going to be the same!  So, if you happen to read this posting and you are lucky enough to have your mom or your grandmother alive and enjoy their food, do yourself a huge favor:  ask for the recipes and save them before it's too late!

This is exactly one of the reasons why I started my blog:  to preserve memories.  So, I decided to post a very old but simple recipe that I used to prepare at home whenever there was a birthday party or any other gathering and we had guests.  I think I have kept this recipe for some 30 years now!  :)

Jamón del Diablo (Deviled Ham Spread)

Odd enough, this recipe doesn't have any ham or hot sauce in its ingredients!  Also, back in the day, I would prepare it in a blender, but you may use a food processor, as well.


Ingredients:
  • 1 chicken breast, cooked and cut into small chunks (reserve the stock* resulting from cooking the chicken)
  • 4 hot dogs, boiled and cut into slices (any kind you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • few drops of red food coloring
  • 1/2 Knorr chicken bouillon cube
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preparation:

Combine all ingredients (start with a little amount of the chicken stock) in a blender or food processor and blend/process until smooth.  Add more chicken stock, if needed, to bind ingredients.  Pour mixture in a mold and refrigerate for, at least, three hours or over night, until it sets.  Unmold and serve with crackers, bread or toasts.


*  Cook the chicken breast with bone and skin in enough water to cover it.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.  Also, if you want, you can add vegetables and herbs to the stock to make it more flavorful (carrots, onion, celery, parsley, bay leaf, etc.).  Once the chicken is cooked (it takes anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes), strain the stock and discard solids.  Also, discard bone and skin before cutting chicken breast into chunks.


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