When I created this summer salad, I was envisioning the corn on the cob sold by our neighborhood Mexican elote street vendors. “Elote” simply means “corn on the cob” in Spanish. The vendors traditionally serve the cobs coal-roasted with a squeeze of lime juice, slathered with (imitation) butter and mayonnaise, rolled in Cotija cheese and sprinkled with Ancho chile powder or cilantro. Sounds like overkill, but when done properly, they’re utterly addictive.
For my salad version, I originally envisioned closely following the traditional list of ingredients, but since I was making this side dish for a sweltering June afternoon barbecue, I decided sunbaked mayonnaise may not be the best choice for a food-poisoning free day. My consternation then turned to cilantro. While I love the bright-green herb (especially on sandwiches and in salads), I realize there are many cilantro-haters out there, claiming it tastes like soap (others even asserting “cilantro allergies,” but color me doubtful.) Accordingly, I opted for the less-divisive dried Mexico oregano. The final recipe resembles nothing of Mexican street elote, but, nevertheless, it’s quite tasty and perfect for a summer backyard barbecue.
July 4th in her city – there’s nothing safe nor sane about it. It starts early in the morning with fire crackers, cherry bombs and M80s and increases throughout the day to a crescendo of sky rockets and mortars with skyward explosions akin to a war zone, putting Disneyland’s nightly display to shame. By 10 p.m., a sulfuric haze has blanketed the city and she’s thankful her roof hasn’t caught fire.
Her dog-owning neighbors hate this time of year. She, on the other hand, delights in it, lucky to be owned by two unruffled felines. This one night, her city is alive and decidedly lawless. She celebrates with a backyard party each year – more anarchistic that patriotic, except for her choice of dessert.
Coconut in the crust, and coconut milk and shredded coconut in the pastry cream ensures coconut lovers won’t be disappointed.
Coconut Pastry Crème
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons corn starch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Graham Cracker Crust
7.5 oz. Graham crackers (2 cups crumbs)
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
Assorted fresh berries
¼ cup apricot jam
Sweetened whipped cream
Make coconut pastry crème: In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, and sugar. Whisk in eggs, then milk, coconut milk, and shredded coconut. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until custard is very thick, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat, and whisk in butter and vanilla extract. Scrape into bowl, press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard, and chill in refrigerator for several hours until cool.
Make graham cracker crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse graham crackers, coconut and salt until ground into crumbs. Add butter and pulse until combined and beginning to clump together. Press in the bottom and up sides of a 9” tart pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned. Cool.
To assemble: Pour pastry crème into crust and smooth. Cover with fresh berries. Heat apricot jam for 1 minute in microwave and strain. Brush berries with jam, decorate with whipped cream and toasted coconut. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For July 4th, we had a casual Mexican fiesta dinner on the backyard patio. My guests brought guacamole and various salads. I braised a pork shoulder for deshebrada tacos and created two flavors of gelato –Toasted Almond Joy was my personal favorite. I’m chagrined to confess that I polished off the remainder yesterday. Sidetracked by the festivities, I forgot to take photos to share with you.
Today, I used the leftover dibs and dabs secreted in the corners of refrigerator to create my version of Chilaquiles.
Chilaquiles with Ancho sauce
3 Ancho chili pods (dried pasilla)
1 fresh pasilla chili (roasted, skinned and seeded)
4 roasted garlic cloves
4 roasted tomatillos
2 small handfuls of cilantro
Salt to taste
9 corn tortillas cut into eighths, preferably stale
Corn oil for frying
½ chopped onion
Handful of queso fresco
Soak ancho chilies in hot water for 15 minutes. Seed and stem chilies. Blend both kinds of chilies, garlic, tomatillos and cilantro in a blender until smooth. Add ancho soaking liquid as needed if sauce is too thick. Add salt to taste. Set aside.
Fry tortillas in oil, in batches, until almost crisp. Drain on paper towel and salt lightly. Remove most of the oil from the pan and sauté onion until soft and beginning to brown. Add sauce to pan and simmer until warm. Add tortillas and cover with sauce. Cook about 3-5 minutes until tortillas begin to soften but aren’t mushy. Top with queso fresco. Remove from heat. To gild the lily, top with a fried egg with runny yolk. Serves 4.
I’m a planner, by trade as much as by nature. I’ve been in planning mode for my imminent Europe trip. After a plane change and two train rides, I’ll find myself in Northern Italy for a week of pasta school. School is followed by a week solo in Prague for exploring and, finally, one afternoon in Milan before heading home. I’ve created a few different guide maps for the trip – maps of the can’t-miss tourist sites, the must-visit restaurants, and, of course, maps of the local artigianale gelato shops, at least while I’m in Italy. My Italian gelato class in 2013 has converted me into a gelato elitist. This wait has become a countdown to exceptional gelato as much as a pasta school countdown. Let the trip begin.
In the interim, I’m trying to behave:
Summer Gazpacho and Bean Salad
Various colored tomatoes (heirloom preferred)
Yellow bell pepper
1 14.5 oz. can
Great Northern beans
Red wine vinegar
Hot pepper sauce
Cut tomatoes into wedges and cut wedges in half crosswise. Thinly slice celery and green onions. Dice cucumber and bell pepper. Drain and rinse beans. In a large bowl, combine beans and vegetables. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Slowly whisk in olive oil until combined. Pour dressing over vegetables, stir well and let marinate at least 30 minutes before serving.
I capitalized on the 4th of July holiday to party-host and try out of few of my potential menu items on my family. My desired outcome was some honest, usable feedback that would guide me towards improving my recipes. My relations are people of opinions – strong opinions. Saturday, I came to understand that they are people of conflicting opinions. Nine conflicting opinions, to be exact.
We began the afternoon with my appetizers of eggplant and lamb meatballs in a garlic-walnut dipping sauce served with a few different flatbreads. My sister, S., thought the meatballs were a bit greasy and she has determined they would be better if baked. My sister-in-law’s brother-in-law (no joke) and my brother decided they needed more binder (egg or breadcrumb). S. said the binder was fine, but the dipping sauce was too garlicky (my brother, B., disagreed). I served three kinds of flatbread. Before the party, I had already settled on the Moroccan “pita-style” flatbread for my menu. Well, S. thought the traditional, cracker-style flatbread was better.
The main dish was Tamarind-glaze baby back ribs. Everyone (surprisingly) liked them and told me not to change a thing. Sister-in-law’s brother-in-law thought they would be undercooked (I baked them at 350 for 90 minutes), but had to take it back as they were perfect. The main course was “opinion intermission”.
I finished the evening with two desserts. The first was a pile of sticky honey-glazed yeast fritters dotted with crystallized ginger and golden raisins. S. didn’t think they sounded good when I described them to her, but changed her mind once she took a bite of their sticky and crunchy goodness, although, she kept trying to convince me to dust them with chopped walnuts. She also thought they needed to be smaller and encouraged more ginger. My brother, B., said they needed more raisins. I also served a tart with sucree crust, fig and sesame layer, topped with an orange-cardamom pastry cream, and finally decorated with Chantilly cream and sesame brittle. My sister is the pastry expert. She thought the crust was undercooked (I would agree) and we both agreed that the pastry cream was too “floury”. She also didn’t like the texture of the sesame brittle. My sister-in-law, T, loved the sesame brittle. My brother’s mother-in-law said “10” on both.