…Where 'La Gourmandise' is not a sin!

Monthly Archives: July 2006

Some weeks ago, when we had Normita’s friends over, I made a nice seafood salad. There was some fresh cooked crab and shrimps leftover from that meal, and I had frozen them that afternoon. Since that day I had a craving for some nice crab and shrimps cakes. I never got around to making them and when I decided to take a day off from work last Saturday the craving came back. Since the idea had been hovering around the back of my mind for some weeks, and I was feeling like having something a tad more adventurous than my regular crab cakes I started looking around what I had in hand to prepare a nice meal. I did not feel like going out shopping so my primary goal was to spruce up the crab cakes with whatever I could find in the refrigerator.

What I came up with was some crab and shrimps latkes (potato pancakes). I assembled what I had leftover from the past week cooking and came up with a very tasty, if rich, treat. The potatoes had some texture to the crab cakes and the variety of spices bring out the flavor, contrasting the sweetness of the leftover sweetened coconut cream from the other week. It will definitely be a recipe that I will repeat, and if cooking for a crowd I would prepare them just before they arrive, and either refrigerate them, or keep them warm in a low oven, depending on how much time there is before we eat. A nice tangy salad would be an ideal side dish, to cut through the exotic taste of those rich crab and potato cakes.

Ingredients

1/2 pound cooked crab meat
1/2 pound cooked small cold water shrimps
1 large baking potato, shredded with a box grinder
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup sweetened coconut cream
3 large eggs
12 fresh shiitake mushrooms cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 limes, juiced
3 large green onions, finely chopped
1 inch of fresh ginger, pealed and finely chopped
3 tbs fresh parmesan, grated
2 tbs curry powder
1 tbs cumin
2 tsp chile piquin powder
1 tsp sweet and sour paprika
2 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. In a large bowl place the flour, the panko, and a pinch of salt, and mix well
2. Add the cream, the sweetened coconut cream, and the eggs and mix until you get a very thick batter
3. Add the chile piquin, the curry powder, the cumin, and paprika and mix again
4. Add the shiitakes, the ginger, the grated parmesan, and mix again
5. Fold in the grated potatoes
6. Fold in the crab meat and the shrimps
7. Add the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and mix into a heavy batter
8. In a large frying pan melt the butter and add the olive oil
9. Pour large soup spoons of the batter in the pan and cook until browned on one side, then carefully flip over with a wide spatula and brown the other side
10. Place the cooked latkes on a cookie sheet and keep warm in a low oven until they are all cooked

Lucito

When we started going regularly to the Jamaica market some months back, we used to take breakfast before leaving. Of course this is not a good idea because most of the merchants give you samples of food to taste, so you ended up having breakfast twice. It is kind of like going to those large surface mega-stores at lunch time where at the beginning of every aisle stands somebody preparing some form of frozen food, but with fresh fruits and food.

The corn season started early this year, and some weeks ago we noticed that the cooked corn sellers had started to sell their wares in quantity. This is not the kind of sweet corn that I am familiar from Canada, but elote the large grain corn with white kernels that is popular here. It is very tasty, but without the extreme sweetness that I am used to. At the market they normally sell it cooked in 3 different ways. The simplest form is simply boiled, and normally they stick a sharpened wood stick in the widest end, and slather it up with lots of mayonnaise, lime juice, grated cheese, and chili piquin powder. I tend to stay away from that stuff as the thought of mayonnaise on corm kind of revolts me. Another way that is it prepared, and that I love a lot, is esquite mainly boiled corn kernels with butter, red chili jalapeño, epazote (a local herb with a peculiar taste and a slightly spicy flavor), and salt. Prepared properly it is great tasting and also a nice side dish. I think that next week I will buy some to accompany some nice large scallops that I have in the freezer.

My favorite way of eating this corn is simply grilled over charcoals. They start it in the husk then open the husk to caramelize the kernels until they have a nice blackened appearance. The texture of the kernels gets very chewy from the process, and since the kernels are large they can develop a nice sticky blackened crust and still be nice and chewy underneath. Those are normally sold in the husk with lime juice and chili piquin powder on them.

A few weeks ago we started our new market breakfast ritual. On our weekly trip to the market we have a small portion of yogurt before leaving, so that our stomachs are not empty, and then enjoy some fresh fruits samples from our regular fruit merchant which we normally visit first. Today she gave us some tasty manila mango, some tuna (the fruit of the nopal cactus, not the fish), some melon, and some grapes. The perfect start to the breakfast of champions! After buying the fruits for the week, we bought vegetables, and then stopped at the corn merchant on our way back to the car. We each picked 2 small ears of grilled corn, roasted the way we like them best, and had them prepared with a lot of lime juice and some salt and chili powder, and climbed back up to the roof of the market where we park the car. We then sit in the car with the doors open, and enjoy our tasty corn before leaving to complete our other shopping chores. There is no better way to start your day…

Lucito

I have just completed a redesign of my personal blog ‘The Sassquatch’s Lair’. Please have a look and let me know what you think of the new digs. Later this weekend I will start serializing some science fiction and fantasy stories I wrote ages ago, so if you are interested in that type of writing go peek at the Lair.

Lucito

A few week’s back I was trying to find something to cook with what I had at hand, and I decided to prepare a shrimp curry based on an old recipe I had in my archives for ages. The curry had a coconut milk base, and I thought I had picked up a can recently. I remembered that it was impossible to find locally and thought that it was now available until I found out, after opening the can, that it was sweetened coconut water used to make drinks like piña colada. When I noticed that, I decided to change the recipe a bit to accommodate the extremely sweet goop that was in the can.

The recipe called for curry powder and I substituted for an entire box of Japanese hot curry in cake form. The box has one large chocolate-bar-shaped cake of curry paste, divided into 5 parts, and I started with 3 of them, and finally decided to use the entire box to cut through the sweetness with a bit of heat. It turned out surprisingly tasty, even though the leftover frozen uncooked shrimps were not very good. You could easily substitute some nice cubed chicken breast instead to make an easy and cheap meal out of it.

Ingredients

1 pound raw shrimps, shelled, deveined, and cut in 1/2" pieces
1 package hot Japanese curry
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup sweetened coconut milk
1 cucumber peeled, seeded, and diced
1 small red onion finely diced
1 tbs butter
2 limes, juiced
1" piece of fresh ginger peeled and finely diced
Salt to taste

Preparation

1. Sauté the onion in the butter until the onions starts to take color
2. Add the ginger and salt and stir in for a minute
3. Add the chicken stock and the curry cakes and dissolve while stirring, simmer for 10 minutes
4. Add the sweetened coconut milk and the lime juice and bring to boil
5. Add the shrimps and the cucumber and simmer until the shrimps are cooked, around 3-5 minutes
6. Serve over a bed of steamed rice

Lucito

I am a bit sad today, as all the efforts to prepare the picnic for Normita’s birthday were for nothing. First, we could not find a decent place to have it, as there are not too many real picnic areas around town where you can actually cook food, and the ones I had found are supposedly not too safe and somewhat full of garbage. Some people told us about many potentially nice places, but we did not find anybody that went there in the last 4-5 years, so it is difficult to know if they are still nice or not.

Normita found a natural preserve in the woods south of the city, and she called them, but you need to get there early in the morning to reserve a place for your picnic and they charge from $20 to $100 for a covered picnic spot. Before paying to go on a picnic I want to see the place, and I did not want to arrive early on Saturday morning with all the food, without being sure if we will have a place or not. We will investigate and see if there is a way of reserving ahead of time, and maybe do it there on another occasion. There is always the ‘trajineras’ in Xochimilco, but this also gets expensive to rent, and we went there last weekend. Maybe we can find some nice area out of the city one of these days, or simply do a cold picnic on a blanket somewhere in a park like we used to do.

The second reason we are not going is that this week was my mother in law’s birthday, and at the last minute the family decided to go out to a restaurant to celebrate her on Sunday. We had planned to relax on that day, as I am completely exhausted from work, and since the day was gone, and I still need the rest, we decided to postpone the picnic so that we can have a day off, and also time to investigate where to have it.

Instead I will probably prepare a nice meal for Normita on Thursday after work, and that will be a total surprise on what I will prepare.

Lucito

I have been wondering about something since last night, and that makes me reflect a lot on many things, to the point of making me somewhat unproductive today. I know that I am not chronologically young anymore, but I still feel like I am young deep down inside me, even though some morning my body reminds me that I am not still in my teens. I have been wondering all day if experience still counts for something in today’s society…

This thought was triggered by watching some cooking show on TV last night. There was not much of anything decent on TV and I was zapping through the channels trying to find something interesting to watch. I came across a cooking show that I had seen advertised on one of the Latin American cooking channels we get on cable, but never actually watched. It was a restaurant based reality show where some young chef, that showed his lack of experience in the way he was running the place and also the attitude of a spoiled kid, was confronted with running a busy restaurant short on staff. This attitude is not entirely related to age, as I know people much older than me that exhibit the same personality traits. What came next is what really floored me when this kid in his mid 20’s, who could not be out of cooking school that long, came on camera and boasted "When I was a young chef". I could not help commenting to Normita that I probably have socks older than that kid, and how long could he have been cooking professionally to say something like that. If while in his mid 20’s he is considering himself an ‘Old Timer’ what will he consider himself to be in 20-30 years?

This led me to do some serious thinking about what my outlook on life was when I was that age. I clearly remember that, like most people that age, I thought that I knew better than most people my own age, and a lot of older people, but I also remember that I had, and still have a lot of respect for the opinion of people who had done something longer than I had and accumulated a lot of experience. It all comes down to one of my pet peeves of all time, my long-standing lamenting that the old apprentice system of yore is gone, and there is no way for people to learn a trade that takes years to master, as most people want results now without the need to learn it the old fashioned way. I have worked with my hands all of my life, and I know that many skills are beyond what I can do with the time I have to practice them. I also know that if you want to be good at something you have to have some talent, but the most important thing is practice, and practice, and practice, and some more practice.

Back to the cooking world where somebody used to apprentice for years before moving up in the kitchen hierarchy, we now have kids that goes for a few weeks to a few months in a famous kitchen, and move on to another one to improve their resumé, and that they want to be cooking stars a few short years after they get interested in the trade. This lead to what I saw yesterday on TV when a 25 year old ‘Old Timer’ has is own cooking show on TV, plainly shows that he cannot handle the job at hand, that of running a restaurant’s kitchen, and even worse does not even demonstrate good manual skill at the basic prep work for the dishes he demonstrates. The later is a trait that you see often nowadays on cooking show, and I assume that they do not teach basic techniques in cooking school anymore, or worse that they do, but most people do not bother learning and practicing them properly.

I guess that I am ranting again and boring you all, and that what was supposed to be a very short post is turning into a long one, but I firmly believe that experience and basic skills takes time to learn, and that there are no shortcuts to attain them both. I noticed the same trend in my professional life as a programmer, is that there are so many new things to learn that people are more interested in the technology itself, than in making thing actually do something very well, without the need of the latest technology.

A word of advise to anybody passing by here from an ‘Old Timer’ at many things including life, no matter what your goals are in life, no matter what subject you really feel deeply interested in, please take some time developing the basic skills to achieve your goals. It both takes time and a lot of practice, but when you finally grow up and are finally getting a bit of real life experience under your collar, you will learn to appreciate the fact that you actually KNOW a lot more about the subject at hand than a lot of your contemporaries, and one day you will also learn to be proud of that in itself. By the way, this also applies to people my age, as we are never too old to learn anything new, and experience, no matter how old you are to start with, takes a long time to accumulate. As they would say today, knowledge and experience rules!

Lucito

On the July 27 will be Normita’s birthday and since on the first time we met, when she visited Canada back in 1998, I brought her on a picnic, I decided to make a nice picnic for her and a few of her friends next Saturday. I am somewhat a traditionalist when it comes to picnics. In my book a picnic should be made with some nice cold food, some nice wines, and preferably served by your staff from a huge wicker basket from the back of your Rolls, but since we have neither staff nor a Rolls Royce, we will have to settle for doing it ourselves out of a cooler and a big plastic bin, from the back of our little VW Lupo.

In the past we normally stuck to two types of picnics, the active ones where we either drove somewhere with all the stuff, or cycled somewhere with a more restricted lunch and no wine, or drove somewhere with the ATV with a decent spread. The other type, and some of my favorites, was the lazy ones we did on our pontoon boat on the lake. We only had to bring whatever we wanted from the house down to the boat, and then lazily putter around the lake for hours at the slowest speed the boat could manage, while listening to nice music on the boat’s stereo, and enjoying the view.

On the more active picnics we normally brought a more restricted menu, normally either sandwiches, or cold cuts, some nice fruits and cheeses, with some nice bread. Of course, depending on how we got to the picnic site, we would bring some wine or juices. One of our favorite ways of doing those types of picnics was the cycling picnics. When we were living in the mountains in Québec, we used to cycle regularly from late spring to early fall. There is a stunningly beautiful bicycle track that they built on a reclaimed train track. It goes from Montréal to Mont-Laurier a few hundred kilometers north. During the week we normally drove to the track where it passed near the village we lived, and cycled to the next village and back. On weekends we would drive to St-Jovite and park there, then cycle either towards Mont-Tremblant, or towards St-Faustin. The ride to St-Faustin was our favorite for picnics, as it was uphill all the way, but we stopped before arriving at the village at a nice ‘pisciculture’ where they raised various species of trout. They had a great picnic area with nice tables in the shade under huge pine trees, and after a hearty meal we could race back downhill to the car without having to exert ourselves too much. We normally brought lighter stuff, from a simple sandwich to some sushi from the supermarket, whatever could conveniently fit in our handlebar bags.

The boat picnics were normally more involved and fancy. We would prepare quite a spread with some nice caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon, small cold water shrimps from Matane, some cheeses from a runny Epoisse to a nice piece of Stilton, assorted cold cuts, and whatever else we fancied. Of course we would probably have a nice cold glass of Fino Sherry like my favorite La Ina, then follow up with some champagne or some other variety of sparkling wine, and maybe a robust red or a port for the end of the meal. The usual peasant fare…

Last weekend we went to Xochimilco, the famous floating gardens at the south of the city, and it reminded me a lot of the days living at the lake. The ‘trajineras’, the long flat bottomed boats that evolved from the traditional indigenous wooden canoes used to navigate the canals, are designed with a long table down the middle, and you can bring your food for a picnic, and also buy food from various sellers in other ‘trajineras’. We did not eat there last weekend, but we plan to go back eventually and bring a nice picnic spread with us. Some pictures of our day in Xochimilco are posted at The Sassquatch’s Lair.

I will not go into the exact menu for next weekend’s picnic as I want to keep it somewhat of a surprise (don’t worry I will post the recipes next week), but I will go a bit into the planning of it.
This time I might forego my normal traditionalist ways and make a hot course for the picnic, as Normita gave me a nice little portable gas grill for my birthday last year, and I have not had a chance of really using it.

The first step was to find a place to have the picnic. Although there are some places with picnic areas in various parks throughout the city, and we can also have a picnic anywhere we can put a blanket down, I felt that we should go a bit more toward the periphery of the city, even if it is just to get a bit of fresh air as a relief to the pollution. I looked around a bit and found a few promising places, and we might just go to some national park at the south of the city called ‘El Ajusco’. It is in and around a mountain peak that towers over the valley, and abounds with hiking trails and picnic areas. Hopefully the place will be worth it, and if the pollution level is down, the views should be stunning.

Next on the list is what to bring with us. In Canada we have a nice wicker picnic basket with all the basics we needed for picnics. Of course it is in storage over there with the rest of our things, so it is not of much help to us now. Yesterday, while we were doing our groceries, we had decided to pick up paper plates and plastic cutlery and glasses, but we both never liked eating out of those. We were looking around the store and we came across some nice very cheap plastic dinnerware sets for 4, and cheap cutlery sets. The total cost was not very much more than a few sets of the disposable stuff, so we splurged and invested in a 4 place setting with cutlery and picked up a few plastic glasses and a serving tray. We also picked up a big plastic bin with a locking lid where we can store everything, and we already cleaned and packed it up with our new stuff. Other essentials we will add are some clothe napkins, a roll of paper towels, salt and pepper shakers, some wine glasses wrapped in dish clothes, a tablecloth, a blanket, some serving tools, a carving knife, a paring knife, and let’s not forget the most important a champagne bottle stopper and a corkscrew.

Since I planned the meal to be a little more formal than the typical picnic, I decided to plan it like a regular meal, with some starters including some paté and salad, followed by a cold soup. The main course will be cooked on the spot, but the side dishes will be prepared ahead and reheated to simplify my life. The main goal is to make it as easy to prepare and to eat, with most food already cut into pieces so that you can easily hold your plate in one hand and eat with the other. I also want to bring some dessert, but I have not had any inspiration yet on something that would be nice and easily served at a picnic. I am sure that the week will bring some inspiration.

Lucito

Last weekend, when we received Normita’s young friends for lunch, I prepared a foolproof meal that I can assemble quickly as work has been so busy in the last few months that I did not have time to prepare anything to involved. All of the recipes can easily be done with a an hour or two of prep time total depending on how quick you are with a knife. We started with a very easy first course, a seafood salad that I put together for the first time more than 25 years ago. I used to do it regularly as a last minute first course when I did not have time to prepare anything else. It can be done with a variety of seafood, but my old standby is to make it with small cooked shrimps and with nice chunks of cooked crab meat. Luckily when we went to the Jamaica market early Saturday morning our fish merchant was unpacking some nice fresh shrimps and some nice crab meat that he had just picked up. The quality was stunning and it made a great first course.

For the main course I had some frozen turkey breast and I prepared it as Sweet and Sour Turkey Cheng Tu style, as recipe I already posted some time ago for chicken http://www.igourmand.com/index.php/archives/recipes/40 . The dessert, at Normita’s request, was the bread pudding which I posted the recipe recently http://www.igourmand.com/index.php/archives/recipes/102 .

The seafood salad is best prepared just prior to serving, but it can be done a few hours ahead and refrigerated until time to serve. I have always like it and I plan to do it more often as seafood is great and cheap around here, and I had not done it in ages and I really do not know why as I like it a lot. To see some pictures of the celebrations from last Saturday, have a look at our new blog.

Ingredients

1 pound small cooked shrimps
1/2 pound cooked crab meat
1/2 cup golden raisins soaked at least an hour in 4 tbs brandy
2 medium stalks celery chopped in fine cubes
1 apple cored and cut into small cubes
3-4 tbs mayonnaise
Juice of 2 small limes
6 large leaves of Boston lettuce
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Place the seafood, apple cubes, raisins with brandy, and celery cubes in a large bowl and toss together
2. Season with salt and pepper and the lime juice
3. Add the mayonnaise and mix with a large spoon until the ingredients are well blended
4. Serve portions on the lettuce leaves

Lucito

We spent most of the afternoon running around and taking care of some loose ends that we urgently needed to take care of, and when we returned home we did the same here before settling down a bit. Once that was done I finally found some time to install a copy of the new version of WordPress on the server and configure it for the new blog. The URL is at http://www.sassquatch.org/ and the site is live as of about 15 minutes ago. I will start posting there later in the week and also make it a little bit more stylish when I have a few minutes to program a theme for it. Enjoy this new blog, and I will make sure to keep posting here the recipes and related content that you are used to.

Lucito

We had some of Normita’s younger friends visiting yesterday for lunch and as usual I prepared them a nice meal. Everybody was having fun and Normita took a lot of pictures, and lots of silliness ensued, and overnight I suddenly realized that I felt about writing about events such as these but not from the food and wine point of view, but more from the human side of the stories. I also realized that there are a lot of other subjects that I would like to write about, but the format of this little corner of the web is somewhat restrictive for that, and that I do not want to change this blog’s format because I am comfortable with what it is right now. I have lots of plans for this blog that might take a while to bring about because of the lack of time on my part, but writing is not something I can stop doing, and I need an outlet for all the other stuff that comes through my mind, and I need an outlet for that creativity.

A while back, when we first brought our web server in-house, it was done purely for software testing and for my work in the IT world. I had registered a domain, and plopped a few hastily designed pages in it as a bookmark for things to come and I suddenly realized last week, when the domain name needed to be re-registered, that it had been sitting there unattended for ages. This morning we got up very late and while I was in bed I was thinking that what I was planning to write did not fit this blog, and that I should have another outlet that could be used for all of the other stuff I want to talk about. The other site was name ‘The Sassquatch’s Lair’ and I had intended to use it as an outlet for stories about my life since I moved here to Mexico City. Those of you who know me personally can relate to the term Sassquatch as it is both a description of my imposing hairy body shape and of my wide feet, and it is also a nickname that the Padrino gave me after we met the first time, in what seems to be another life. He used to be known, in those days, as Duck Vader and thus the dynamic duo of the Sassquatch and Duck Vader was born.

Hopefully later today I will install another copy of WordPress on the server and configure it for that other site and a new blog, ‘The Sassquatch’s Lair’, will be born. I will post a notice and a link whenever I am done with the technical side of the installation and the blog goes live. At first I will post there on subjects that do not fit this format, and also things like silly pictures from yesterday’s party. Eventually I also plan to self-publish and serialize a Fantasy novel I wrote more that 15 years ago, and that I had planned to write a sequel and never had the time for it. It might even give me the outlet to start writing fiction again on a regular schedule and to post short stories and more creative work.

I will also need to discuss with the Padrino our plans, simmering for the last few years, for publishing a comic strip about an unlikely duo of superheroes. The characters are set and fleshed out in our minds, but we still have to write the stories and give them life. The new blog would be a perfect outlet for all that silliness. What do you think dear Ducky?

As soon as I have something up and working I will post about how to get to the new blog, and I hope that some of you will follow me there.

Lucito

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