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Robin Williams,
Thank you for lightening our hearts with your unique and phenomenal sense of humor. Your incredible sense of humanity will always shine through. You'll be with us forever! I hope you are greeted up there with a joke!

Huaraches

June 30, 2014

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I cannot recall whether ever I’ve seen these in my Central Texas area of Austin and San Antonio.  They are more likely to be found in a small family owned restaurant with close ties to Mexico. They are a popular snack or meal in Mexico where they can be found in restaurants or as street food.  The base for these is nothing more than corn tortilla dough pressed and shaped like a huarache (sandal) and then cooked very much like a tortilla.  They are thicker and so a little more substantial than the flexible tortilla. You can top them with whatever you desire. Taco, mollete, or chalupa fillings are several points of departure.  I’m opting for refried black beans, pan roasted nopal (cactus), and a homemade salsa.  Epazote,  which I used in the beans and as garnish worked well with the other flavors.  Recipes will follow.

Huaraches are more of a street or rustic, almost messy affair in its presentation.  You usually won’t see much of a garnish on the plate.  It’s hard to translate that in my kitchen with  foods sometimes.  I didn’t even try to recreate that feel.  But this is how I would probably serve them for guests or friends in my home.  It’s one thing for a street vendor or restaurant to have all the ingredients on hand at all times,  putting together plate after plate of food.  It’s another for a home cook to make this as a special meal for family and friends.

Another version of huaraches is one where black refried beans are stuffed in a egg-shaped portion of dough. It is then pressed into the oblong shape like this simpler version. I don’t know which style came first.

very highly recommend using fresh prepared masa from your local tortilleria, or international supermarket. If you must, use masa harina  which comes dry and requires the addition of water.  Two brands are “Quaker” and “Maseca”.  The huaraches taste much better if made from prepared masa.  No matter how much I tweaked the dry counterpart , it never could measure up to those made with the fresh masa.  When done cooking,  the huaraches have a thin crispy exterior and a softer interior. At least that is how I prefer them.  It is a wonderful texture and in fact I enjoy eating without the toppings and adding perhaps a drizzle of fresh salsa or olive oil.

If buying fresh masa from your tortilleria, 2 pounds will be plenty.  A supermarket may sell it in 5 pound sizes.

You can make them any size you wish.  I remember seeing them large enough to fill an entire plate.  Small ones make great appetizers.  Let your culinary imagination go wild.

Have your toppings all ready before you start making the huaraches.  It can be as simple as guacamole or refried beans with pico de gallo or as elaborate as you wish.  Once again I’m going vegetarian and vegan.  Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned cheese until now?

 

If using fresh masa,  determine if it is moist enough.  The masas will differ slightly in moisture depending on the tortilleria.  You will very likely need to add water to soften it up.  Take a small portion in your hand and flatten it or use a press if you have one.  The edges should remain smooth. Mix in water as is necessary to get it to this texture. A tiny bit of cracking at the extreme edges should be okay. Once again, experience is the best teacher here.  Don’t forget to season it with salt before you start mixing the water in.  For 1 pound of masa, I estimated I added about 1 teaspoon.

If using masa harina, follow the directions for making tortillas as recommended.  You will probably have to add more water to get it to the right consistency.  Add a little salt for seasoning, about a heaping 1/2 teaspoon per 2 cups.  Cover and let sit for about an hour so that the water properly absorbs into the harina.  Hopefully you will not have to make some final adjustments.

 

Let’s start making the huaraches!

If forming the huaraches by hand, you will need two pieces of plastic wrap.  If using a tortilla press, use plastic wrap or preferably parchment paper.

It’s important to keep your masa covered at all times to prevent it from drying.

Heat up your cast iron pan or comal to medium. Dab a little bit of vegetable shortening to evenly coat.

By hand: Take a portion of dough and form it into a cylinder.  My 2 ounce portions were 4 inches by 1/2 inch in size.  Place it on a piece of plastic wrap.  Cover it with the other piece and press it into an oblong sandal shape with your fingers.  They don’t have to be perfect.  Just try to get them about 1/4 ” thick.  Carefully remove the top plastic. With the bottom plastic still clinging, pick up the dough, flip it over onto your free hand, and carefully remove the second piece of plastic. Place the dough on your hot pan. It should sizzle as it makes contact.  Leave it undisturbed for about 3 minutes, then flip it over.  There should be some nice golden spots.  You might not avoid a few darker spots. If the huaraches seem like they are browning too quickly, lower the heat. Cook the other side another 3 or so minutes.  Flip it again and go another minute or so.  It is ready to be topped with your favorite ingredients. If it seems dry throughout, either the dough was not properly moistened or it cooked too long.

With a tortilla press: Form a portion into a cylinder as above, and place it on a tortilla press that has been lined with parchment paper.  Cover the dough with another piece of parchment and press to a 1/4 inch thickness.  Proceed as above,  carefully removing the dough from the parchment paper.

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With this tortilla press I had to rotate the dough 180 degrees after a first press, then pressed again to get it to an even thickness.

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Huaraches are best eaten right away when still hot.  I don’t understand why they are not more popular here since they are easier to make than corn tortillas.  Corn tortillas are rarely home made nowadays.  It’s convenient to pick them up at the store or tortilla factory.  Huaraches are not available pre-made.  Maybe that’s why they haven’t caught on. They haven’t been seen that much this side of the border.

I’m kind of excited about this post. I hope my friends are just as excited.  I’ll share this with my blogger friends at The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday.

 

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Sourdough starter

June 27, 2014

Several readers have expressed a curiosity about sourdough starters.  So this post will be dedicated to cultivating a natural yeast.   When I decided to get into sourdough baking,  it seemed like a very daunting task.   I thought, if it works,  great,  but I’m not putting my hopes too high for my first tries.  I was ready for at least several false starts.  The three times I’ve made this starter have been successful.  My conclusion is that it must not be hard to make a sourdough starter if someone like me, a first timer can make it happen.   You’ll be rewarded with making some memorable loaves of bread or other baked goods.   If you are thinking about getting into sourdough baking,  I encourage you to go in fearlessly.    There is very, and I mean very little actual work involved in making your starter.   “The waiting is the hardest part.”

This recipe is from Maggie Glezer’s  “Artisan Baking”,  previously printed as “Artisan Baking Across America”,  a favorite book which I frequently enjoy looking through.  It has many beautiful photographs,  and many great looking recipes from top bakeries in the U.S. This classic book is a must have in my opinion.  All three starters I’ve made use this recipe.  Curiously enough,  there were no photos of the sourdough starter making process.

She calls this a “French-style sourdough starter” though I’m not sure what makes it one.  This is a firm starter as opposed to a batter type.  It starts out firm and softens up and becomes sticky as it ferments.  Because it will quadruple in size in about 8 hours,  it’s easy to determine when it is ready to use in a recipe.

This makes about 4 ounces/100 grams sourdough starter.  It will take 7-14 days to make with only about 10 minutes active work.

The first day-mixing the first starter

Lukewarm water  1/2 cup (3.5 ounces or 100grams)

Whole rye flour 3/4 cup (3.5 ounces or 100 grams)

In a non-reactive bowl mix the water and rye flour and cover it tightly with plastic.  Preferably store it in a sealed plastic or glass container.  Let it sit about 2 days. ” It should bubble up,  smell,  and look awful,  and then subside”.  It is now ready to refresh.

The third day-mixing the second starter

Unbleached all-purpose flour     2/3 cup (3.5 ounces or 100 grams)

Fermented first starter     all

Mix the flour into all the fermented first starter to make a firm dough.  Store it as before in a well sealed, clean non-reactive container.  Let it ferment for 1 or 2 days. “When it is very sticky and riddled with tiny bubbles,  it is ready to refresh.  It will have very little aroma and will not rise very much,  if at all.”

The fifth day-mixing the third starter

Fermented starter  1/4 cup (2 ounces or 60 grams)

Lukewarm water  3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces or 45 grams)

Unbleached bread flour  2/3 cup (3 ounces or 90 grams)

Measure out the fermented starter and discard the rest.  Dissolve it in the water,  add the flour, and mix.  It will become a fairly firm dough. Tightly seal it and “let the dough ferment until it is sticky and slightly expanded,  1 to 2 days.”  After a day, it will not look like it’s doing much. “But if you smell it,  it will smell very sour,  and if you pull it it with floured fingers,  it will be gooey,  extensible,  and riddled with tiny air bubbles.”

 The sixth or seventh day

Make a fourth starter just like you did for the third one.  Cover again and “let the dough ferment until it has risen slightly, is full of tiny holes,  and has become very gooey,  18 to 24 hours.”  It will look as unpromising as the third one.

 The remaining days

Continue to refresh the starter exactly as the third and fourth starter. Wait until it has it has fully risen and is starting to fall,  until it is able to quadruple in 8 hours or less and has a “sharp and very pleasant smell”.  This could take 3 or 4 more refreshments,  each taking a little less time than before.  The starter is now ready to use.

To refresh a completed sourdough starter

Fermented sourdough starter   1 1/2 teaspoons  (0.4 ounces or 10 grams)

Lukewarm water   1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (0.9 ounces or 25 grams)

Unbleached bread flour   1/3 cup (1.6 ounces or 45 grams)

Measure out the starter you need and discard the rest unless you want to use some to make a dough.  Dissolve the starter in the water,  add the flour, and mix it into a fairly firm dough.  Cover tightly in your  container and let it ferment for 8 to 12 hours.  You should have about 1/3 cup (2.9 ounces or 80 grams) of the dough.  In 8 hours or less, it should rise to 1 1/3 cups, at least to its crown.

“Use this refreshment formula to make a sourdough starter that only needs to be refreshed every 12 hours (professionals refresh their sourdough starters every 8 hours). The final starter should be very  firm,  to buffer its pH,  preventing it from dropping too low,  and to give it enough fuel to last until next refreshment.”

The starter can be stored in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.  Maggie Glezer writes she has kept one in there for 4 months and then was able to revive it to full strength.  Old starters will turn grey and exude “hooch”, a clear liquid,  but that is normal.  To get it back to normal strength,  refresh the starter,  as directed above every 12 hours 3 to 4 times over, until it is again quadrupling in volume in 8 hours or less.  It is now ready to use.

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Second day–first starter after 1 day activity

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Third day–First starter after 2 days

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Fifth day–Second starter after 2 days of activity

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Sixth day–Third starter after 1 day

 

On the subsequent days I continued to refresh as a third starter.

After a couple of daily refreshments it began to rise and fall predictably.

 

I then began to refresh for a “completed sourdough starter.”

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“Completed sourdough starter” refreshed about 12 hours before

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Top view “completed sourdough starter” refreshed about 12 hours before

 

I hope that I have written and presented this in a clear manner.  If you are not sure let me know.

A tip I learned the hard way- When discarding starter, use a disposable container, do not throw it down your kitchen drain.  The starter will harden and clog up your drain!

The temperature of your kitchen will affect the activity of the yeast.  Warmer temperatures will result in faster activity.

After I established the starter, I got into a routine of refreshing once a day,  not every 12 hours as the recipe suggests.  It has worked just fine the past couple of years.

You will find many different recipes for making a starter.  Some use ingredients like pineapple juice or grapes to help jumpstart the process.  These are not required for success.

It seems that every baker has a different nomenclature for the process.  It can be very confusing when comparing recipes.

Whole rye flour  is used at the very beginning to provide the right nutrients and amount of sugars.

During the first week, I use bottled water,  since chlorinated water can slow down the activity.

In the beginning,  all-purpose flour is used because it has more starch and thus more nutrients than higher gluten flour.

It’s surprising how noisy sourdough cultures can be.  Put your ear to it every once in while and listen to the feast that is going on in there!

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Success!  Crumb of first bread made with this starter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cilantro and serrano pepper flour tortillas

June 23, 2014

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When I started thinking about making these tortillas,  I didn’t quite imagine how much flavor the cilantro would add to them. I thought the cilantro taste would dissipate and not serve much purpose. These came out as a very pleasant surprise.  I’m not sure if it’s because  the cilantro is just lightly cooked, or that it’s juxtaposed with just one or two other ingredients,  but its green herbal flavor comes out in a way that I’ve never tasted before.  It’s fully present in this tortilla. I use Serrano pepper for a little added heat.  This recipe will also give you soft flexible tortillas.

One of the tricky parts in making flour tortillas is adding the correct amount of water.  Start with 3/8 cup lukewarm water and add by teaspoon until it is the right consistency.  If you squeeze  a small portion between your thumb and fingers, it should give easily, but not be too wet. If it’s too dry, it will feel harder and perhaps show little cracks. You just have to try it yourself.  In my opinion,  making consistently good tortillas is just as difficult as being comfortable with making a complex loaf of bread. I’m still working on both!

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For 10 medium size tortillas

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 scant teaspoon of table salt

2 ounces vegetable shortening

3/4 loosely packed cup chopped cilantro (I include some stem)

1 large Serrano  pepper diced

3/8 cup lukewarm water plus several teaspoons as needed

 

Put the flour,  baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and mix well.   Add the vegetable shortening and using your fingertips, disperse it evenly into the mix.  Add the Serrano pepper and cilantro and incorporate.  Now add the 3/8 cup of water and begin to form the dough.  Add more little by little as needed to make a somewhat moist dough. As a tip,  I add a little less water than I think will be necessary because kneading seems to draw out moisture from the pepper and or cilantro.  Knead for about 5 minutes, adding water as is required until the dough becomes smooth.  I don’t take it to the elastic stage. I also want to point out that if you are sensitive to hot peppers,  kneading the dough may bring you in too much contact with them.

Using a pastry cutter or knife, divide into 9 or 10 portions.  Form them into balls much like you would if you were shaping bread rolls.  Cover them with plastic and let them rest for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Heat your heavy skillet, cast iron pan,  or comal to medium.  Begin rolling out the balls of dough into rounds.  You may need to very lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin.  Roll them out thin. As you roll them one by one,  put them on the pan,  and let cook for about 30 to 45 seconds.  Turn them over and cook an equal amount of time.  Flip it over once more and cook just a little longer.  You should see a few golden brown spots.  Remove when done.  Keep them warm in your tortilla holder, or put them in a kitchen cloth and store them in a plastic bag.

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Vegan tacos made of olive oil roasted potato, teardrop cherry tomatoes, habanero pepper, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice made a filling meal.

 

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I think I’ll contribute this to  Angie’s (aka”The Novice Gardener”)  weekly Fiesta Friday,  where many chefs and storytellers share their fabulous creations.  You might want to see what’s going on over there.

Sourdough bread w/wild mushrooms and herbs

May 24, 2014

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When I made my “Wild Mushroom Bread” almost a year ago to the day,  I was determined to adapt it to a sourdough version. It just seemed like a natural fit,  the earthy flavor of the mushrooms mingling with the fuller flavor and texture of a natural yeast leavened bread.  The experience of struggling with the mushrooms  last time was helpful in baking this sourdough.   It was  trial and error trying to get a good mushroom flavor and managing a dough that didn’t want to stop getting wetter from the mushrooms that were releasing their liquid.   It worked out in the end though and made for a smoother process this time around.  The value of taking notes can’t be underestimated.  I’m adding the herbs so I can qualify for the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday Challenge #1 of making something using yeast and herbs.  Her idea of using herbs really enhances this bread.  It’s been interesting to see all the different breads some of my blogger friends have been making.  I’m amazed at some who have only been working with yeast a very short time, cranking out great looking breads like if they have been doing it for years!

The liquid from rehydrating the dried mushrooms adds great flavor and color to the crumb.  Porcinis seem to have the most flavor but I went with a blend.   Dried mushrooms can be expensive,  but you don’t need to buy much.  Some of the ones I used this time kept well preserved from last year. I add the Portabellos to give the crumb some pockets of meaty mushroom bite. The herbs are in the background so next time I may add a couple more teaspoons of each.  One other note is that the crumb is a bit moister than usual,  most likely due to the mushrooms in the dough.  I am very satisfied with how it all came out.

Special equipment I used are bannetons, a peel, a baking stone,  and water sprayer.   I’ve found these very helpful,  almost indispensable in making bread,  especially sourdoughs.

I’m a self-taught bread maker,  learning through mistakes,  trial and error, and reading books by the masters.  My sourdough baking is continually being developed based on methods from Chad Robertson’s “Tartine Bread” and from Maggie Glezer’s “Artisan Baking Across America”.  As I’ve mentioned before,  get these books if you want more elaborate explanation of the process.

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For 3 medium size loaves

The levain

3/4 tablespoon sourdough starter(refreshed about 8 hours before)

100 grams water (78 degrees)

100 grams bread flour

The dried mushrooms:

3 cups blend of dried mushrooms

6 cups water

The fresh mushrooms:

2  pounds Portabellos (after removing the stems)

Several tablespoons olive oil to sauté with

The final dough:

All the levain

650 grams of mushroom liquid

650 grams bread flour

350 grams whole wheat flour

20 grams salt w/50 grams mushroom liquid

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh chopped sage

All the rehydrated dried mushrooms

All the sautéed Portabello mushrooms

For the levain:

The night before you make the bread dissolve the sourdough starter in the 100 grams water in a small bowl.  Add the 100 grams bread flour and mix until all the flour is moistened.  Cover with plastic and let it sit overnight at room temperature.  It should take about 7 to 8 hours to ferment properly.  To determine if it’s ready,  put a spoonful in a small amount of water.  If it floats it is ready to be used.

It’s also recommended that the dried and fresh mushrooms are prepared the day before.

For the dried mushrooms:

Heat the 6 cups of water in a pot until very hot.  Put the dry mushrooms in,  remove from heat and let them soak at least 1 hour.  When they have softened,  drain them, saving the liquid.  Try squeezing out some of the juices from rehydrated mushrooms,  again saving the juice.  Store the mushrooms and liquid overnight covered in the refrigerator.

For the Portabello mushrooms:

Remove the stems and lightly rinse the mushrooms.  Scrape off the underside if you desire, especially if it seems gritty.  Slice the mushrooms thin and into about 1 inch pieces.  Put a little olive oil in a medium hot sauté pan and cook until the pieces have softened.  Try to use as little oil as possible.  Lay them on a dish or paper towel to soak excess oil.  Put in a covered container in a refrigerator overnight.

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On the day of baking:

Remove the mushrooms and liquid from the refrigerator to get to room temperature.

In a large bowl,  dissolve the levain in the 650 grams of mushroom liquid.  There should be enough from the night before.  If not,  add water to compensate.  In a separate bowl,  stir together the bread flour and whole wheat flour.  Add it to levain-mushroom liquid mixture and incorporate well until it is all moistened.  Cover with a moist towel and let it autolyse for about 30 to 40 minutes.  This period allows the gluten to begin to develop.  You’ll notice a radical change in the dough.  Dissolve the salt in the 50 grams mushroom liquid and add to the dough by squeezing it in.

Put the dough in your stand mixer and mix for 5-6 minutes or until it has become smooth and elastic.  It should stick to bottom of the bowl. During the last minute add the herbs.  Remove from the bowl and put it on a work surface.  Add the rehydrated and Portabello mushrooms by gently folding in.  It will take some patience to get them all in!  If the dough is getting too wet,  add more bread or whole wheat flour and knead.  The dough should still be sticky at the end of the process.  I ended up adding almost 200 grams of flour,  so I might cut back on mushroom liquid next time.

Put the dough in a lightly oiled container,  oil the top,  and cover.  I like to put it in a transparent container to see the development. After 30 minutes,  grab the lower portion of the dough and stretch it over the top.  Repeat this motion a couple more times.  This is called a “turn”.  Wait another 30 minutes and give it another turn.  Repeat this one more time for a total of 3 turns.  Let the dough continue fermenting for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more.  The dough should rise about 20 to 30 percent in volume.  If you put it in a transparent container, you’ll notice little air pockets.  The timing depends much on the temperature of your kitchen.  You must make the call as to when the dough fermented properly.

When it is ready,  carefully take it out of the container.  Try not to disturb it too much so that the air pockets are maintained.  Divide the dough into 3 equal portions.  Using a pastry scraper,  shape each into a ball.  Try to create surface tension by tucking in around the underside.  Very lightly flour the tops and cover with plastic.  Let them rest for 30 minutes.  Take one of the balls and turn it upside down.  Imagine an east, west, south and north side of the dough.  Take 1/3 of the east side,  stretch it, and put it over the middle.  Repeat with the west,  south ,  and north.  Flip the dough over back so that the folded side is on the bottom.  Repeat with the other portions.

Line your bannetons with a clean light kitchen cloth and dust with flour.  Place the portions of dough in them upside down,  lightly spray with oil,  and then cover with plastic.   Cover with the overhanging cloth.  Let them ferment 3 to 4 hours.  It depends on the ambient temperature.  The warmer it is,  the faster it will ferment.  They will rise somewhat,  maybe 30 per cent.

You should have your oven preheating to 500 degrees with a stone in place a good 30 minutes in advance of baking time.

Cut out 3 pieces of parchment paper large enough to hold each of the risen dough.   Uncover them, removing the plastic and place the parchment paper on them.  Put your peel on top and turn upside down.  Remove the banneton and cloth to expose the dough.   Slash  as desired and with the help of the peel, put it in the oven.  Place however many will comfortably fit on your stone,  lower the oven temp to 425 and bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reads 200 degrees.  During the first 10 minutes I spritz the oven with water to mimic a professional steam injected oven.  Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack before slicing.  If you have to bake in two rounds because of oven space, remember to readjust the temperature.

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My sourdough breads have a bit of “tang” but it is always a very mild pleasant sourness,  never assertive.  Once I fermented a dough overnight and then longer at room temperature.  It came out too tangy for my taste.  The kitchen temperature this time around was about 5 to 6 degrees warmer than usual.  I noticed the dough rose faster and higher than normal for the same amount of time.  I also noticed that the bread had slightly more tang to it.  That slight amount of temperature difference made a significant change in the behavior of the dough.

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Sopa de Fideo (Vermicelli Soup)

May 21, 2014

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The fideo,  or vermicelli I grew up with was more of a Tex-Mex version my mom and grandma prepared for us.  It is served as a side along with frijoles and whatever the meat of the day was, whether it be picadillo, carne guisada, or tacos.  It is simple delicious  food, fideo being the pasta of choice for us when we want to stay in our “comfort” zone.  Our family’s version, called sopa seca de fideo, is on my list to make for a post.  Another way is to make it more of a soup.  The basic traditional method is to brown the vermicelli in oil and add a puree of raw tomatoes, onions, and garlic.  It is then simmered in broth with desired spices until the vermicelli is done.  Meat or vegetables may be added as an option.  For this version,  I’m adapting techniques for making salsas.  It is well worth the extra effort in roasting the tomato,  garlic,  and dried chiles to get that extra depth of flavor.  Since I’ve been keeping on a vegetarian path,  I’m adding  additional roasted vegetables to make it more of a complete meal.  Vegetarian Tex-Mex is something of an oxymoron isn’t it?

As I was working on this, Sonal from simplyvegetarian777 posted the very tasty looking Savory Vermicelli/Namkeen Jawe ,  her comfort food version of vermicelli.  It was an eye-opener for me to see it flavored with Indian spices!

 

This recipe makes about 5-6 cups of soup.

2# Tomatoes

1 small onion (about 8 ounces)

3 medium unpeeled garlic cloves

1 small bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 ancho chile

1/2 (dry)chipotle chile

8 cups vegetable stock (or water with vegetable bouillon)

5 ounces fideo (vermicelli)

salt to taste

 

Optional vegetables:

eggplant

Mexican squash (or other favorite squash)

ear of corn

carrots

 

Optional fresh herbs to garnish:

Cilantro

Oregano

Epazote

 

Roast the vegetables:

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and put them cut side up on a lightly oiled baking pan.  Roast them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. They should lose some volume and turn a slightly darker color.  Remove and let cool.

Slice the onion  lengthwise in 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick pieces.  Place them on a heavy skillet or comal that is heated over a low-medium fire.  Let them slowly pan roast, turning them from time to time.  They should soften and perhaps slightly char in some spots.  Remove and let cool.  Do the same with the garlic cloves.  They will also soften up.  Peel them when they are cool enough to handle.

Remove the seeds from the dried peppers.  Put them on the heavy skillet and press  down with a metal spatula to toast them. With a hot skillet it should take only seconds. Turn them over to toast the other side.

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Place the tomatoes,  onion,  and garlic in a blender.  Pour enough of the vegetable broth to cover the vegetables.  Puree,  adding more broth as  necessary to make a smooth mixture.  Pour it into deep pan,  add the rest of the broth,  and bring to a boil.  Immediately lower to a simmer.  Add the bay leaf and dried oregano and continue to simmer until it reduces by about 1/3.  It should still have enough liquid to boil the pasta.

While the soup is simmering,   heat a pan over medium heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil.  Lightly brown the fideo and remove from the pan. Drain if necessary. You may have to work in 2 batches.

At this point you can also roast the optional vegetables.  The vegetables in my list are just suggestions.  You may have other ideas.  Cut them into small dice and toss with olive oil,  salt and pepper.   Lay them on a baking pan and roast in a 400 degree oven until done.  You may also choose to simply sauté the vegetables in a pan.  If using corn,  roast with the husk on until done. Don’t let it overcook to the point of wrinkling.  Slice the kernels from the cob.

Put the cooled down vermicelli into the readied soup and simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente,  about 15-20  minutes.  If the soup is too thick, you can add more broth. Season with salt.

To serve, ladle the soup in an individual bowl,  add the roasted vegetables and garnish with chopped cilantro,  oregano,  or epazote.   Crumbled Mexican cheese is optional but I’m keeping this vegan.  Serve with Mexican bread rolls,  French bread or a similar nice crusty loaf.

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Epazote is a distinctive pungent herb that is used in Mexican cooking.  It is often used for example in black bean or tortilla soups.  Many like to simmer it in the soups.  I like the pungency of the fresh epazote  and so use it as garnish.  Look for it in a Latin supermarket.   It is an herb that readily grows wild,  but I have yet to see it in my  neighborhood.  There is no substitute for its flavor.

Even though there are only a few ingredients,  the method of cooking brings out a very rich and hearty flavor.  This is a warm and satisfying soup.

If you prefer to spice it up differently,  you can use comino,  chile powder, jalapeno pepper or other types of dried chile.  Those 2 peppers I included gave it a good amount of heat.

Be sure to use a nice well balanced vegetable stock.  Sometimes I will add a vegetable bouillon cube or two if necessary.

A nice thing about this sopa is that it is well suited for individual interpretations, depending on what you have on hand.

I think I’ll be joining the nice folks at the Fiesta Friday hosted by  Angie (aka The Novice Gardener), who is really not a novice at gardening or cooking.

 

 

 

Tomatillo and tomato salsa w/guajillo pepper

May 6, 2014

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It’s Cinco de Mayo weekend, with a  festival celebration going on near my neighborhood. They will be having food booths selling traditional Tex-Mex fare including gorditas, tacos,  chalupas, enchiladas. Usually someone will be offering refrescos, the fruit juices Mexico is famous for.  Typical salsas on hand are salsa verdes, ranchero, some kind of chipotle, pico de gallo. I didn’t attend this year,  but to keep in the spirit of the holiday, I’m making this salsa that combines the tartness of the tomatillo with the mellower tasting, slightly sweet tomato. The beautiful rustic flavor of guajillo peppers gives it a distinctive taste more reminiscent of Mexico than Texas.

 

This will make about 2 quarts of salsa. Halve the recipe if needed.

3 pounds tomatillos

1 pound ripe tomatoes

25 dried guajillo peppers

12 medium peeled garlic cloves

1 medium onion (about 10 ounces)

salt to taste (salsas generally take well to salt, so be generous)

 

Place the tomatillos on a lightly oiled baking pan.  Set the tomatillos about 6-8 inches from your oven  broiler that has been set to high.  Let them go for about 10 to 15 minutes.  They should start to get blotchy or slightly charring. If not, let them keep going.  Turn them over with some metal tongs to lightly char the other side.  There is no need to completely blacken them. Also, do not let them overcook to where they disintegrate.  Be sure to save whatever juice comes out. Remove and let cool. Do the same with the tomatoes.  Let them cool as well when done.

While the tomatillos are broiling, you can start pan roasting the onion and garlic.  Set an iron skillet, a comal, or heavy sauce pan over medium heat. Slice the onion into 1/4 inch rings, separate them and cook them on the skillet(no oil necessary). Turn them from time to time to cook evenly.  They should soften and char  in some places. Remove and let cool.  Cook the garlic cloves on the skillet until you get dark brown or black spots.  The garlic should also soften up a bit.

Remove the stems from the guajillo chiles and shake to remove the seeds.  One by one, place them on the hot skillet and press down with a metal spatula to lightly toast.  The chile will get a little blistery and  turn a lighter color. Do not overcook or they will become bitter.  You can tell its ready when a light wisp of smoke emanates from the chile. Turn the chile over and repeat with the other side.

Place the tomatillos and tomatoes in a blender and puree.  Add the pan roasted onions and garlic and continue.  Crumble up the toasted guajllo peppers and add several at a time until all the ingredients pureed.  You may use the tomatillo and tomato liquid that might have resulted from broiling to adjust the consistency.  Pour the salsa into a serving bowl and season well with salt.

This salsa is not very spicy.  In fact you might be disappointed.  If so add a fiery pepper or two to the blend like serrano, jalapeno, or pequin.  You can experiment and add or substitute with other chiles like chipotle, ancho, or pasilla peppers.  I just wanted to highlight the flavor of the guajillo.

I’m going to take this to Fiesta Friday hosted by The Novice Gardener and see what great food some of my blogger buddies have to offer.

 

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Mesquite flour sourdough bread w/figs and pecans

April 7, 2014

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This sourdough bread was inspired my  5 foot tall,  4 year old fig tree which showed it’s first signs of green last week.  Central Texas had a more than usual number of sub-freezing temperature days this past winter.  I had resigned myself to expecting the tree had suffered severe damage.   It had already sprouted a few buds when another cold spell hit and froze them. I was very relieved to see new buds begin to open a week ago.  Fig trees do thrive well here in Austin,  but the unusual weather had me worried for this young one.   I can now look forward to grackles,  mockingbirds,  sparrows,  cardinals, and other fine-feathered visitors helping themselves to the figs.   They always get to the fruit before it’s fully ripened,  and then they will almost always leave half-eaten figs on the tree.  Last year I was able to salvage one glorious fig.

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Fig and walnut sourdough bread seems to be one of the popular kinds to make in the fruit and nut repertoire.  Locally abundant pecans sub for walnuts while mesquite flour, which I still have from my mesquite flour muffin making last summer add a wonderful distinct flavor.  Go to my recipe to see more about the muffins which came out very well.  The aroma of the flour reminds me a little of toasted coconut,  caramel,  or even chocolate.  It is made by drying and grinding the pods of the tree.  In this recipe I only put in 15% of the total flour so that it doesn’t dominate the overall flavor of the bread.  If you can’t find it in your specialty or organic supermarket,  a quick Amazon check will give you some options.  Two brands I’ve used can be found at http://www.zocalogourmet.com  and http://www.casademesquite.com .

A couple of notes: I used dried mission figs, which are still fairly soft and plump. If you use drier figs, you may want to lightly reconstitute them in water or maybe even a liquor.

My dough is very wet and sticky. I prefer it that way so that bread can turn out much lighter and airier.  If you’d rather not manage a wet and sticky dough,  start with 500 grams water and add more according to your desire.

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For 2 large or 3 medium loaves.

The levain:

3/4 tablespoon sourdough starter refreshed about 8 hours before

100 grams water (78 degrees F.)

50 grams bread flour

50 grams whole wheat flour

The final dough:

all the levain

700 grams water at 80 degrees F.

550 grams bread flour

300 grams whole wheat flour

150 grams mesquite flour

20 grams salt plus 50 grams water

1 1/2 heaping cups sliced dried figs

3/4 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans

 

The night before baking the bread make the levain.  In a small bowl dissolve the starter in the water.  Add the bread flour and whole wheat flour and mix until it is all moistened.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight to ferment.  In a 75 degree F. ambient temperature it will take about 9 hours.  Check the next morning by dropping a spoonful in a small bowl of water. The levain is ready if it floats.

Toast the chopped pecans by roasting them in a 325 degree F. oven for a few minutes.  They will become slightly aromatic.  Let them cool.

To make the dough begin by dissolving the levain with the 700 grams water in a large bowl that will fit the rest of the ingredients.  Add the bread flour, whole wheat flour and mesquite flour. Mix well until there it is all moistened.  Cover with plastic and let it autolyse for about one hour.  Autolyse is the process where the flour begins to form gluten.   Because salt hinders the process it is left out at this point.  The dough will become easier to manage more quickly.

Dissolve the salt in the 50 grams of water as best you can and then add it to the dough by squeezing it in.  Put the dough in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix for about 5 minutes.  It will become smooth but still be quite sticky.  Remove it from the bowl and place it in a very lightly oiled bowl or container.  Lightly oil the top of the dough then cover the bowl with plastic.  After 30 minutes, uncover and give it a “turn”.  This is done by reaching and grabbing the bottom of the dough,  pulling it up,  and stretching it over the top part.  Do this one more time.  “Turn” the dough at 30 minute intervals for a total of 3 times.  After 1 1/2 hours you should have turned the dough 3 times.  Now let the dough ferment for about 1 1/2 to 2 more hours.  It will seem airier,  a little less sticky,  and increased in volume by about 20-25%.  The amount of time it ferments will depend on the temperature of your kitchen.  At 72-75 degrees F. ambient temperature,  my dough takes about 4 hours from the beginning of the turning phase to the beginning of the final shaping.

When the dough is ready for shaping, take it out of the container or bowl and put it on your work surface.  I find that a marble board works best.  Since this is a sticky dough, you can use all the help you can get.  Divide it into 2 large or 3 medium portions.  One by one,  form the portions into a nice round shape.  Use a pastry scraper for this,  as the sticky dough will be very hard to manage.  Try to create surface tension by tucking in the dough.  The surface tension you create will help in the oven spring while the dough is baking.  Lightly dust with flour and cover with plastic.  Let them rest about 20 minutes.

You are now ready to do the final shaping.  Take one of the portions and turn it upside down.  Grab the right third of dough and stretch it a bit to your right, then fold it over the middle third.  Next grab the left side, stretch it to your left and fold it over the middle.  Now take the third closest to you, stretch it toward you and fold it over the middle. Finally, do the same with the third farthest from you and fold it over the middle.  Turn the dough over once again so that the top section with the folds is now the bottom in contact with the work surface.  Repeat with the other portion(s).

If you made a dough that is fairly stiff and tacky you can place each of the portions on a piece of parchment paper.  They will hold their shape for their final proof.  If however your dough is very sticky you’ll need to set them in small bowls or baskets to help hold their shape.   Bannetons are the specially made proofing baskets used for breads.  If you are using them or makeshift baskets,  line them with a clean kitchen cloth,  then dust with flour.  Place the dough portions upside down in the banneton.  Lightly flour the top with flour and place plastic wrap on top.  Fold the overhanging kitchen cloth over the top.  Repeat with the other portions.  The final proofing should last about 4-5 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.  The dough should increase in volume by about 20-30% and feel airy to the touch.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. about 45 minutes before you plan to bake.  Use a baking stone if you have one.

If you are not using bannetons,  place the dough in the oven by sliding them in with a peel.  The parchment paper really helps.  Lower the oven temperature to 425.  Spritz the oven with water carefully with a plant mister.  Bake until  the internal temperature of the bread reads 200 degrees.  Set the loaves on a wire rack to completely cool down.  If using bannetons,  uncover the dough, removing the plastic.  Place a piece of parchment paper a little wider than the size of the banneton.  Place your peel on top and flip it over carefully.  Remove the banneton and gently remove the cloth you used to line with.  Prepare all the portions of dough in that manner and then slide them into your oven.  Continue as described above,  lowering the oven and spritzing.  Bake until they read 200 degrees.

I’m taking this bread to The Novice Gardener’s weekly Fiesta Friday.  You can always find many inspiring chefs,  storytellers,  and photographers there.

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I enjoyed this bread as toast with ganache and cajeta.  I’ll try to update with photos soon.

 

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The first fig of the season?

 

 

 

 

 

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