Monday, August 30, 2004

Huevos MotuleƱos

When I was a kid, probably about five, a friend of my father's came over one sunday and made breakfast for us. I just remember this guy showing up with a big brown grocery bag stacked in a cast-iron skillet. For some reason that meal, huevos motuleƱos, stuck with me. I finally decided to try to make it for myself.

The dish, literally "eggs in the style of Motul," consists of fried corn tortillas topped with mashed black beans, a Yucatan-style tomato sauce, eggs, peas, ham, fried plantains and farmer's cheese. The recipe I used was from Poore's 1,000 Mexican Recipes, as I couldn't find it in my Bayless book.

All in all, it's a pretty simple dish. It's just a matter of making the various components. I cheated and used canned black beans instead of starting with dried ones. I think I made up for that by actually managing to find the Mexican herb epazote. The local health food store had it, go figure. I'm guessing it was a special order for someone who didn't need all of it. Anyway, the canned black beans were added to sauted onion and garlic with dried oregano, epazote and a bay leaf. The mixture was simmered and then mashed coarsely.

The tomato sauce consists of broiled whole tomatoes, pureed in a blender with chopped serranos. This mixture is then added to a pan of sauted onions and simmered for about 20 minutes.

The plantains were left to ripen in a brown paper bag until their skins were nearly all black. They were sliced and fried in a thin layer of vegetable oil until they carmelized.

The one component I wasn't completely happy about was the corn tortillas. I don't do much frying at home, and really, this recipe required me to fry more stuff before noon than I usually do in a month. Anyway, the fried corn tortillas were a little tough because I didn't get the oil temp quite right. Still, they were crisp, and that was good enough.

With all of these things ready, all that was left to do was scramble the eggs and prep the ham and peas. There were about seven people over, so I figured two eggs per person. Another first, along with all the frying, was scrambling 14 eggs. I had my doubts at first, since the eggs didn't form curds too readily, but by the end, they actually formed very nice, very large curds, which I really enjoyed. The recipe calls for fried eggs, but I don't eat eggs that way due to an allergy. I gave everyone the option of making some sunny-side-up eggs for themselves, but they all seemed fine with scrambled eggs--more pragmatists than purists, my friends.

So, with the eggs done, I warmed up the peas, diced the ham, and set out the farmer's cheese. All that was left to do was stack it up.

I'm pretty happy with the way it came out. It made a very satisfying breakfast. I don't know when I'll do it again, though. Probably right after I make another batch of breakfast risotto.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Lamb and Rice Formula

No, this post actually isn't about dog food. Last night, we made a few middle eastern dishes. I guess the impetus for this was an episode of Good Eats about grilled lamb. Along with the lamb, we--Matthew, Liz and I--made dolma, or stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and a cucumber and yogurt soup.

As Matthew injured his hand--in a non-kitchen-related incident--it was left up to me to debone and butterfly the leg of lamb. Sometimes butchers sell either the shank or sirloin end of a leg of lamb, but no, we got a whole leg. No matter, I seen 'em do it on that TV. I'd never butchered lamb before, but I had done similar things with other cuts of meat--unrolling bone-in pork loin roasts and such.

Staring down the lamb.

It was pretty easy to see where the bone ran from one end of the leg to the other, it was just a matter of getting in there and working around it. I don't have a boning knife, but a sharp paring seemed to do the job just fine.

Here you can see that the bone, in my left hand, is about two thirds of the way out.

After it was removed completely, I made a few more butterflying cuts to even the meat out. Here's the nearly finished product.

I say nearly finished because at this stage, we decided that it would probably cut down on cooking time if we split the leg into two smaller pieces. After this, the lamb was returned to the fridge to wait until everything else was ready.

[Obviously those are my hands in the previous photos, so I wasn't taking any pictures at that point. The rest of the photos are mine.]

The next thing we prepared were the dolma. I'm not sure on the plural and singular forms of dolma, so I'm just going to say dolma. Dolma'nd if I do. So, this is where the lamb and rice formula comes in. The grape leaves were stuffed with a simple filling of sauted onion, garlic, ground lamb, spices, mint, parsley, lemon juice and rice.

Before being stuffed, however, the leaves needed to be conditioned a bit. Like the hojas or corn husks for tamales, the leaves benefited from a bath in some hot water. This helped to make them a bit more pliable, rinse away some of their brining liquid, and make them easier to separate. It was the latter that seemed the most important, as the leaves appeared to have been jammed into that jar with a boot.

Leaves ready to be rolled.

Since all of our skilled hands were busy during the rolling process, there are no step-by-step pictures. Basically a large spoonful of filling is spread onto a leaf, which, ideally, should be slightly smaller than your hand. The leaf is then folded over the filling and then rolled into what looks like a very short cigar. The little packages are then placed in a leaf-lined sheet pan and then covered with lemon slices, a small amount of butter and chicken stock and finally another layer of leaves. The entire tray is then covered with another weighted sheet pan and baked at 250 for roughly an hour. I think. I was out getting the coals ready.

As I was loading Renee's hardwood charcoal into the trusty charcoal chimney, Matthew was inside preparing the lamb. Each butterflied piece was spread with a mixture of garlic, mint, mustard, brown sugar, olive oil, salt and pepper. The pieces were then rolled up and trussed with butcher's twine.

I don't know why I find this funny, but I do. They usually just give me a handful of twine.

When the coals were ready, I dumped them into the grill and spread them to opposite sides in order to make the heat a little less direct. As it turned out, it was a little too indirect, and another load of coals had to be added about 20 minutes into the grilling. After about 45 to 55 minutes though, our lamb was done.

I know, I know, it doesn't look too pretty, but I shot that one with a flash.

Here it is after being carved.

And here are the dolma.

I know I also mentioned a cucumber and yogurt soup as well as hummus. Neither of these were too photogenic. Basically, the soup was a puree of yogurt, cucumber, garlic, and tomato paste, served chilled. The hummus of course was chick peas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, parsley and lemon juice.

The table, complete with some hand holdin' and a salad.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Blue-Green Sea Algae

It's what's for breakfast. What do you mean, 'what do you mean?'

Friday, August 20, 2004


I learned to make fesenjoon the other night. Essentially a pomegranate and walnut stew, the version I learned was made with chicken thighs:

Chop two medium onions sweat them in oil for a few minutes, next add skin-on chicken thighs and allow to brown. When the chicken has browned a bit, add pomegranate syrup (not grenadine), ground, toasted walnuts and sugar or honey. Thin the mixture with water and allow to simmer until chicken falls off the bone. The pom syrup is quite tart, so check up on it throughout, and adjust with more sugar or honey. Serve over rice.

All in all, it was a very simple stew to make. It could have been cacciatore had we used red wine and tomatoes, but instead, it became middle eastern comfort food. Exotic? Maybe. Difficult? Not at all. Something that I learned early on about cooking is that most of the things that I enjoyed, or wanted to learn to cook were, essentially, peasant food. With that in mind, how hard can they really be? That's not to say there's a lower level of care taken in preparation, but just because something is unfamiliar and tasty, it doesn't have to be difficult. Most recipes--baking aside--don't intimidate me because I figure I've made something like it at some point, even if the ingredients are totally different.

Spanish Limes, Genips, Quenepas, Mamoncillos

Call them what you will, I brought lots back from Key West. It seems like mamoncillo is the most common name. At least it turned up the most results on google. Apparently they're related to lychees, which isn't too hard to believe, since they have a similarly leathery skin, soft, slimy flesh and large seed. Unlike lychees, the meat is a peachy color and the seed is round. I've been trying to think of ways to prepare them other than just eating them straight. I found one website that suggested soaking them in white rum and sugar for extended periods of time. I might try that. I've also made drinks from them in the past, with good results. If anybody has any other ideas, please let me know.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Very Inphomative

Of course, the egullet people were quick to jump on my question about pho meatballs, which, I learned, are made in the kitchen and not in the cow. The texture apparently comes from the inclusion of things like tendon and various starches. The most recent and informative response to my egullet post came from a woman named Andrea, who hosts a website on Vietnamese cooking. I look forward to trying some of the recipes on there, as they'll give me a way to use up some more of the lemongrass in the garden.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

It's What's Pho Dinner

Last night Renee and I went to Miss Saigon on 301. I hadn't had good pho since Nha Trang closed last year. I guess that's my fault since Miss Saigon has been in business for quite a while. I just never made it in there.

Their pho was very satisfying: the broth was rich with star anise and the cuts of meat were very delicate, even the tendon. I passed on the pho with tripe, but I realized afterwards that what I'd had at Nha Trang was probably tripe as well, just not the type of tripe I'm used to. I'm guessing that dishes like menudo use the tripe from one cow stomach and pho tripe comes from another. What I remember in Nha Trang's pho was something that almost resembled some sort of sea fan--long, pale and feathery. I'll have to try the pho with everything next time. I'm also curious about the little meatballs in there. Maybe the folks on egullet would know about those.

Along with this soup-that-eats-like-a-meal, I had a soda with salt-preserved lime. It was interesting, bracing even, at first. About half way down the large fountain glass, however, the drink became too briney for me to handle. Maybe next time I'll try the preserved plum soda.

Here's a link to an amazing pho restaurant. Well, the name is amazing at least. Ok, at least to me it is. Far better than the pun at the beginning of this post. Nearly a pho-pas. Nearly. Anyway, the post also has a link to an entire pho blog. Talk about having a focused project. Note my restraint there.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Fizzy Fruit

Here's another one to chalk up in the "people messing with fruit" column. I'd heard of fizzy fruit a few years ago as sort of a backyard mistake that turned into some sort of entrepreneurship. Looks like it's gotten the attention of some others. Much like the grapple, I'm not sure I approve of this, but I sure would like to try it.

Breakfast by Flashlight

Well, the power was only out for about an hour, but it was a hungry hour between six and seven a.m. So, it was bacon and hash browns cooked by flashlight. It's still pretty windy down here, but it would appear that things aren't going to get much worse. Here's a picture taken at around 5:30 a.m., from the second floor of our house. Hopefully there'll be a few more pictures later.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Hurricanes and Dog Food

I'm still in Key West, and as luck would have it, there's a hurricane slated to pass through here in the next few days. So, while we go about gathering supplies and considering what sort of non-perishable items we'll be stocking our larder with, our dog Willie (aka Wilbur, aka Wil da Beast, aka WillieBurgers or, just plain Burger (if you're nasty)) will be dining on his new Innovative Veterinary Diets brand Venison and Potato formula dog food. He has allergies apparently. Curious and to some degree jealous that the dog gets to eat game every night and I don't, I checked out the ingredient listing in hopes of consoling myself. The list begins as follows: "potatoes, water sufficient for processing, venison by-products[um, yeah, I feel a little less cheated already], venison, canola oil,...natural venison flavor[have to put that on the next grocery list]." What follows these distinguishable ingredients is a list of various vitamins, minerals and preservatives such as "manganous proteinate" and "menadione sodium bisulfate complex (source of vitamin K activity)." This list of various unpronounceables is capped off by, of all things, "rosemary." So yeah, the dog is eating like a hunter. He is part jack russell. I suppose he'll want some brown bread, chantrelles and red wine to go with it. Sorry Wilbur.

For those of you who haven't seen the dog, I apologize, there will be no pictures. Oh I have pictures, but if I posted them, I'd move into the category of those other people, the ones that post pet pictures online. Somehow writing about him seems more defensible to me.

At any rate, there may be some posts in the near future dealing with cooking in the dark and opening the fridge very sparingly, but hopefully not.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Some Menu

Have a look at the menu of Shopsin's in NYC.

A few of my favorites items are the "ho cakes" and "slutty cakes," and the "cowboy" french toast (with sausage) and the "nowboy" (with vegan sausage).

I'd heard of this place via a Calvin Trillin article in the New Yorker a few years ago. I only recently discovered their online menu, thanks to a post on

Saturday, August 07, 2004

New Links

I've put up some new links in the past few days. Most are food-related and pretty self-explanatory. I've also included a link to the newly resuscitated Green Parrot Bar Blog, brought back to life by none other than the damn pater familias.

Note: Upon spell checking this entry, I learned that the word "blog" is not in blogger's spell checker.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Dinner for Twelve

I don't think I've ever intentionally prepared food for this many people before. All in all, everthing came out pretty well. I shopped for everything the day before, so that helped.

The menu:

Olive and Carrot Salad

-Tuscan Chicken Liver Pate
-Mashed Cannelini Beans with Sage
-Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers (I think this one might be classified as bruschetta, due to the peppers rather than a spread like the previous two.)

Ziti with Red Wine and Tomato Gravy

Underblade Roast Braised in Red Wine and Aromatic Vegetables

String Bean and Oregano Salad

Strawberry Tart (I take no credit for the tart. Tik brought it.)

If I could do anything over, I would have put the pasta up a little later. I boiled it a little early and it got a bit gummy waiting to be eaten. Other than that, everything went according to plan.

I hadn't made the pate in a while, but it seems to have been better than the previous attempt last year. I think I might have used a little more pancetta and tomato paste. Essentially, the pate begins by rendering the fat out of some minced pancetta (Italian style bacon). This fat is then used to saute slivered shallots and torn sage leaves. Once the shallots are soft, chopped chicken livers are added, along with capers and anchovy fillets. The livers are cooked until they reach a putty like color, at which point red wine and black pepper are added. The mixture then simmers for five to ten minutes. A bay leaf is added and the livers are taken off the heat. After about 20 minutes, the bay leaf is removed and the mixture is transfered to a food processor where it is blended with tomato paste. Were it not for the final addition of the tomato paste, the pate would have a rather unpleasant dark gray color. With the paste, the mixture takes on a rusty, autumnal tone.

The other crostini topping is simply canned beans mashed with sage infused olive oil. I also had to use a little water to thin the final mash out a bit. The result was a lot like a firm hummus, but tasting of sage rather than, um, hummus.

The roast was quite standard: meat browned thoroughly in vegetable oil; carrot, celery, garlic, onion, lemon zest sauted in meat renderings; tomato paste added, red wine added, beef stock added, roast simmered for a few hours. Simple.

It was really nice to have a few new people over for dinner. Not really new I guess, but not people that normally come over .

The next big group meal should be in a couple of weeks. So far Tic and I have prepared food. The next meal may be Guapo or Matthew. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Early this summer I sent a review to McSweeney's new food review section. It finally got published. They've titled it "Grapples (a reprise)," as it was not the only Grapple review on there. Clearly, we can see which is the better of the two.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


These plums from Good Earth aren't the most flavorful I've had, but they sure looked pretty. I guess that counts for something. The red plums have been pretty good lately, actually ripe when I get them from the store. I was eating a pluot the other day, and it occured to me that, while it did taste good, it didn't really taste natural. I guess there's a good reason for that. I've always liked the pluots, or "dinosaur egg plums," but it sort of occured to me that it didn't really taste like any sort of real fruit. Oh well.

I was under the impression that dinosaur egg plums were the same as elephant heart plums, but this article on says otherwise. Thank you slow food. As you may have noticed, there is now a link for Slow Food to your right.

I've seen a few other varieties of plums in the store lately. They've had names like "fruit punch" or "flavor explosion" or something like that. I tried the fruit punch a while ago. It just tasted like a red plum. Just some marketing I guess.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Dinner at Alameda

So this was supposed to be a potluck. Really it was just Tik cooking a four course Chinese meal and me bringing a cucumber salad. The dishes were stir fried cabbage with dried shrimp, scrambled eggs in a tomato sauce, cod in a soy ginger pine nut sauce, and ma po tofu. The latter was especially impressive to me, mainly because of the slow heat that a lot of Chinese food seems to have. I learned that one way to do this is to use dried chiles and also to cook them in more oil, as that results in a more delayed, back of the throat sort of heat. I wish I could describe the dishes better, but I wasn't there for the cooking. I merely sat down and ate. More later.