September 14, 2015

What we cooked last week:

Monday: Summer pasta with corn and tomatoes
Tuesday: Baba ghanoush with tomato wedges, cucumbers, chips
Wednesday: Tacos al Pastor, Mexican-style grilled corn
Thursday: Toasted Corn Salad, Vegetarian Chili
Friday: Seared Tuna with Avocado, Ginger, Soy and Lime and fresh tomato salsa
Sunday: Roquefort cheese with Honey Crisp Apples, Celery and walnuts

Well, yes, it was an odd week. Busy schedules, with Beez in D.C., and a great wedding (Liz Murray and Edward ?), and a general need to cut back led to a lot of grazing and nibbling instead of full meals in the evening. This is not a bad way to eat, provided you do it sitting down, with silverware, napkins and a good stiff drink. (Don’t get into long-term grazing – from the moment you get home until bedtime. This is not so much advice as a note to myself.)

The keepers of the week were the tacos al pastor that Billy and I had while Barbara was out of town (we worry about her tolerance to hot peppers) and the fresh tomato salsa we had with the seared tuna (a favorite, those of you who read the August 31st notes will remember).

The tacos are ranch-hand food, filling, tasty, made for washing down with beer, and they are better than what the swells up in the hacienda are eating. The salsa is a must at this time year. We finally have a ton of ripe, local tomatoes and unless you are a canner, you need recipes that use lots of them at once. This salsa is as versatile as Josh Harrison or Jung Ho Kang – it’s a great as an appetizer or side dish or lunch or breakfast (on eggs or toast). Also, if you get in from an event late and are still peckish, the tomato salsa is better for you than leftover pizza, chips and sour cream, or Klondike Bars, all of which I had recently, as a healthy midnight snack. (The general rule on chips and dip is that you keep eating until one or the other is gone.)

Here are the basics on the tacos and a recipe for the salsa:

Tacos al Pastor – You need to marinate the meat (a pork tenderloin – one of those skinny-looking things) for 8 hours to get a great result, 4 or 5 hours to get the marinade deeply into the meat. (You can marinate overnight). Slice the pork into ½” pieces. Marinade: About 1 cup of large-diced onion, and 2 slices of pineapple,* juice of two or three oranges, 4 TBS of white vinegar, 4 TBS of guajillo chili powder,** 2 garlic cloves chopped, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp ground cumin. Put all of this into a food processor or blender and puree. Put meat into a plastic bag with puree and refrigerate.

*If you buy one of the tall containers of pineapple at the supermarket, you’ll have the right amount for the whole dish – you’ll need to grill some more slices with the meat.

**It is not difficult to find guajillo chili powder, but you can use all-purpose chili powder with a ½ teaspoon cayenne to bring up the heat-level.

Before cooking, drain the meat but it’s fine if some marinade clings.   Cut remaining pineapple into 1/2” rounds.   Over a hot grill (use a grill pan so they don’t fall into the fire) or in a medium-high hot pan, sear the pork for 3-4 minutes per side, and the pineapple about the same (it’s good to get some char on both). Remove to cutting board and chop pork and pineapple into edible taco pieces and combine.

Before cooking here’s what else you need to prepare:

Onion/cilantro topping. Finely chop half a large onion, add 4 TBS of chopped cilantro and toss in a small serving bowl

Salsa for serving – you can make a nice, hot tomatillo and jalapeno salsa, but try the following for a deep, smoky flavor:

Put on rubber gloves (I use the big floppy kind you need to pull hot pork apart – clumsy, but they do the job) then stem and seed 8 dried guajillo chiles and tear into pieces   If you do this with your bare hands, you will learn a painful but valuable lesson about following directions. Pour 2 cups of hot water over the peppers and soak overnight if possible – minimum of 2 hours. Drain but reserve drained liquid.

Brown one half onion (halve it through the root end so that it holds together, then remove paper) and 3 peeled cloves of garlic in a dry skillet (non-stick works) over medium heat. You want to see some brown spots on the vegetables – about 10 minutes for the onion, maybe 5 for the garlic. Remove root end from onion and blend with garlic, drained chilis, 1 cup of the soaking liquid, 1 chipotle chili and 1 teaspoon of adobo,* cilantro and lime juice and puree. Season with salt. Cover and chill (this can be made ahead and keeps for maybe 5 days in the refrigerator)

*You will find cans of chipotle chilis in adobo in the supermarket, so you’ve got your chili and your extra adobo sauce all together.

Serve: Paint a soft taco with the salsa (I like a good wallop of it), then fill with pork and pineapple mixture and top with onion and cilantro relish. Open a cold beer and enjoy.

Tortillas – You can use corn or wheat, but get thin, smallish tortillas. The thick or large wrap-size are unwieldy and you won’t taste the al pastor, which is, after all, the point. You can heat these up in the microwave for about 25 seconds apiece or char them briefly on the grill or in a hot pan.

Extras:

Mexican Grilled Corn – This is grilled corn rolled in a mixture of sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, lime juice, etc.   Here is a good recipe for the mixture, taken from “Cooking Fresh,” America’s Test Kitchen (2015):

For 6 ears of corn:     1.5 ounces grated Pecorino Romano (about threegood handfuls), 4 TBS mayo, 3 TBS sour cream, 4 Tsp lime juice, 1 clove of garlic minced fine, 1.5 tsp chile powder, pinch of pepper, pinch of cayenne, 4 tsp vegetable oil, pinch of salt. Combine in large bowl or casserole dish – room to roll the corn. You want to just coat the corn – no globs of the dressing. This is really tasty. [Note: Grilling corn takes about 10 minutes, you want to get some browning and charring on the corn]

Fresh Tomato Salsa

There are a zillion ways to make this. Here’s a good one, from the magazine mentioned above. Take two ripe, large tomatoes, core and cut into 1/2” dice.   Place tomatoes in a colander set over a large bowl and drain for 30 minutes (you can drain longer if you’ve got other stuff to do). As the tomatoes drain, top them with 3/4 C – 1C of finely diced red onion, 5 TBS of chopped cilantro, 1.5 – 2 jalapenos stemmed, seeded and minced (add the seeds if you want more heat), clove of garlic minced.

To assemble, dump drained tomato juice and wipe out bowl, then put tomato and vegetables into the owl and toss to combine. Add 2 tsp of lime juice (I just squeeze two halves of lime into the mixture) and season with salt (add more lime juice to taste). Serve as a side dish, or with chips.

And one more thing: Honey-crisp apples. You can get these at Patty’s Farm Market in Aspinwall. They are as big as small pumpkins and it is hard to believe that they can maintain such crispness and tart sweetness. They are great with Roquefort or a very sharp cheddar

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