Foodie Tuesday: Been There, Eaten That

Travel: good. Travel while eating delicious foods along the way: fabulous. Puerto Rico last week: a joy.

We went there for a specific reason, to attend the wedding of loved friends. But if one, well, has to go to an island paradise for any reason, one might as well enjoy as many other  aspects of said island as possible during the visit. So we did that, too. Good excuse to try out a few of the classic traditional foods of the place, enjoy a few modern additions, and relish the marvelous atmosphere that makes it all taste so wonderful.

Photo: Bacalaítos

Bacalaítos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacala%C3%ADto) are a delicious small bite, fried seasoned salt cod that is often served with a dipping sauce to complement it—for example, here, a buttery garlic sauce; elsewhere, a sweet-bright guava sauce. When beautifully made, as tender and light as the most fabulous fish cakes or fish-and-chips cod anywhere.

Photo: Kitty Cat Fried Eggs

While we did sample our way through the trip, we couldn’t manage to eat *everything* on offer. I was left wondering what precisely this menu item was, if not eggs produced and cooked by felines, but it amused me to ponder on it all the same.

Photo: In Lieu of Ginger Ale

If what’s requested isn’t available, sometimes what you get might be even more fitting for the occasion. No ginger ale? Coconut soda suits a casual meal of Puerto Rican treats just fine!

Photo: Fried Pork Luncheon

A delicious lunch of fried pork, beans and rice, and tostones goes down ever so nicely and makes perfect fuel for a busy afternoon of exploration in San Juan Viejo, especially when eaten with a massive side order of mofongo.

Photo: The Apotheosis of Limeade

The current crisis of the Mexican lime crop notwithstanding, the fabulously refreshing limeade at Cueva del Mar is jammed with both limes and flavor.

Photo: Egg-Battered Shrimp

Seafood reigns supreme in island culture, and with good reason. The egg-battered prawns my spouse ordered were fresh and sweet and tender. Better yet, they were plentiful enough he was willing to share some with me. Hurray for seafood!

Photo: Conch Empanadillas

I, meanwhile, opted to get my first taste of conch. Also tender and flavorful! Diced up and seasoned as they were, they reminded me a little of something about halfway between ham and clams. And all the way delicious.

Photo: Yummy Little Fried Pies

I started with shrimp and mahi-mahi empanadillas, because despite the server’s assurance that my initial choices of conch and crab were her two favorite varieties, the kitchen was entirely out of them at the moment. Turns out they were *all* tasty little fried hand pies.

Photo: Mamposteao

One of the clear favorites in the dish derby of our trip was Mamposteao, the glorious beans-and-rice concoction originating as leftover bean stew mixed with rice and cooked in a hot pan until it develops a crisp crust around its tender and succulent insides. (https://www.google.com/search?q=mamposteao&client=safari&rls=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=z16BU7r7GdWVqAakwYLgBQ&ved=0CEEQsAQ&biw=1328&bih=763). We ordered it more than once, and I think I could eat it more than once a *week* if given the chance.

Photo: Madame St. Germain

A lovely drink, the Madame St. Germain; simply add a splash of St. Germain (elderflower) liqueur to a flute of Prosecco, and splish-splash, you have a sparkling glass of sunlight at any time of day or evening.

Photo: Chocolate Grilled Cheese

As it happens, the Madame St. Germain goes beautifully with the chocolate grilled cheese sandwiches at the magical Casa Cortés ChocoBar, made of brioche, cheddar and cocoa-blended butter and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar just in case you didn’t feel delightedly decadent enough already.

Photo: Swiss Pastries

Even with my seemingly boundless appetite, sometimes there were actual items I couldn’t quite manage to eat. It didn’t stop my wandering, food-lustful eyes from enjoying every bit, though, as in the Swiss bakery where we went with our friends to pick up a birthday cake. Because having a big wedding celebration for his sister and the opening of his new brewpub wasn’t quite enough celebrating for one fantastic man.

Photo: the Wedding Cake

There *was* a glamorous and deliciously moist wedding cake, should you wonder, and I assume it came from that same phantasmagorical bakery. So beautiful, so happily massacred by the hungry after-wedding crowd.

Photo: Pork, and All the Trimmings

But first there was the buffet of roasted pork with all of the trimmings: an unfussy and freshly crisp salad, more delicious rice and beans, what I believe were pasteles (a sort of tamale cousin—http://www.theawl.com/2012/11/puerto-rican-pasteles) and, oh yes, more pork.

Photo: The Pig in All Its Glory

All of the wedding feast was magnificent, but the star is and was, as it should be, the roasted pig in all its shiny, juicy, crackling-skinned glory.

What, you want more? Of course there was more, and plenty of it, beginning with a scrumptious party at the bride’s brother’s brewery (try saying that trifecta after a couple of glasses of his spectacularly creamy Scotch Porter style beer, infused with just a touch of Puerto Rican rum!) with all kinds of pizza made on the spot, my favorite of which was bacon and sweet plantains. We succeeded in eating more than was necessary, but not more than was enjoyable, on every single day of our visit, not counting having to get up at 4:30 on the last one to get to the airport on time. And I will certainly get right on board, fork in hand, with the opportunity to revisit the island and all of its culinary kindnesses any time I get the chance. You probably should, too.

Foodie Tuesday: There’s No Substitute for a Smart Substitution

Nearly every time I get in the mood to bake something I’m missing one or more of the necessary ingredients. This happens often enough when I’m making non-baked goods, but it’s almost a given with baking, because I simply don’t bake all that often: too much wheat flour and sugar makes this sweets-addict too likely to get tummy aches or just plain to overindulge. And the fact that I don’t bake terribly often means that, in that most scientific of culinary skills, I’m the least a genius about getting the fussy proportions and timings and temperatures correct. But I still do like to bake once in a while.

Though I feel pretty safe making all sorts of substitutions in cooked and raw dishes, simply finding analogous items–ingredients that have plenty of similar qualities and can therefore be expected to fill similar roles in the combination–I know less about what the ingredients used in baking are supposed to do, unless you’re talking about spices and flavorings, and so have always been more timid about fooling around with the recipes for baked goods. But lately, I’ve come to be more of a believer that life’s too short not to have a little kitchen adventure more often, and that if I’m not using outrageously expensive ingredients the worst that can happen is that a batch of something goes so far awry that it’s just plain a failed experiment. That’s what trash bins are made for, no? I’ll bet few scientists ever made their paradigm-shifting discoveries without a few boneheaded false starts and cock-ups and misdirections and outright failures along the way either, and, well, brownies are not exactly rocket science.

So I give you:photo

Texican Brownies

Ingredients: Plain ‘classic’ brownies call for the following ingredients and proportions:

4 squares (4 ounces/113 grams) Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate–I substituted semisweet baking chocolate. It’s what I had in the cupboard.

3/4 cup  butter–while baking recipes almost always specify unsalted butter, I almost always use salted butter anyway unless there’s a lot of additional salt in the recipe; salt heightens sweetness and intensifies other flavors as well. And I love salt.

2 cups sugar–I substituted dark brown sugar for a deeper flavor.
3   eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour–I substituted instant masa flour (a fine corn flour usually used for tortilla- and tamale-making)

Then I added a few ingredients of my own to make a darker-chocolate brownie and give it a slight Mexican twist:

1/2 tsp baking soda–since the masa flour wouldn’t have gluten like the wheat flour to make the brownies rise a little, I figured they should have a boost in leavening. Look at me, being all fake-scientist-like!

1/2 tsp salt plus 1/8-1/4 tsp ground black pepper–again, wanting to intensify the spicy chocolate of the brownies–plus 1 large tablespoon Dutch processed cocoa–yet more chocolate boosting–plus 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350°F–mine runs hot, so I heated it to 325°.

Line a 13×9-inch pan with an oversized piece of baking parchment, folding it at the corners to fit and cover the sides as well as the bottom. One piece, no leaks.

Microwave the chocolate and butter together in a large microwaveable bowl on high until the butter is melted. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely combined with the butter. Blend in the eggs and vanilla. In another bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Add them gradually to the wet mix, stirring until everything melds, and pour the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it into the folded parchment corners to fill them.

Bake 30 – 35 minutes (again, with my super-hot oven, I baked mine for more like 20-23 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs. Better to under-bake these than the opposite–fudgy, chewy brownies are good; dry, not.

The parchment will let you easily pop the whole sheet of brownies right out of the pan.

Makes 24 brownies. Mine were still a little too baked, thanks to the hot-hot oven, so I quite happily compensated for the slight dryness by frosting the ones that weren’t immediately devoured. (A number of them were. Clearly, the over-baking didn’t destroy them so badly that the members of this household wouldn’t cheerfully destroy them in another way.)

Thus, we have:photoRustic Red Frosting

No, I’m no fussy decorator. But I loves me some tasty frosting. And I wanted something that was earthy and yet juicy, something that would stand up to the depth of the spiced brownies and still have a little homey heartfelt quality to it, even if it wasn’t very frilly. I chose strawberry frosting; after all, las fresas are a fantastic favorite fruit treat in some of the Latin-American cuisine I’ve had the pleasure of inhaling eating. And this is just an easy take on buttercream icing.

Grind about one cup of freeze-dried strawberries to a coarse powder. I did mine in the blender, but if they’re dry enough you could even crush them with a wooden spoon in a heavy bowl–leaving some bits rough gives a little burst of berry flavor in the finished frosting and reminds us there are real berries involved. Add to the berry powder about a cup of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a cup of soft butter, and a tablespoon or two of heavy cream. Blend them together well, adding more sugar and/or cream as needed for flavor and texture. Apply liberally to the brownies, cake, cookies, tongue, etc, as needed for improved state of bliss.

I sprinkled them with some edible glitter just for good measure. A little extra pizzazz never really hurt anything. But you could just sprinkle yours with the stardust of your affection and it’d be just as glamorous and grand.

This whole brownie-baking urge of mine was motivated in large part because I felt like making a sort of Valentine’s Day treat; since we’ll be in the car on a work-related jaunt much of the actual Valentine’s Day, I figured today was a reasonable substitution for the occasion. Since both my husband and I love chocolate and baked treats but do better with less wheat flour, I figured substituting corn flour could be a decent and respectable enough Tex-Mex way of dealing with that part of the equation. And since neither of us is a stickler for celebrating only on the official or ‘correct’ dates for anything, we’re both quite willing to celebrate the American holiday of love-and-romance any old time we can. Because for love, there really is no acceptable substitute.

photo

XOXOXO!

If It’s Wednesday, This Must be Foodie Tuesday Deja Vu

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Why, yes, if you are a fresh berry. Those sweet little nuggets of juicy goodness are the very epitome of summertime’s joys, and the longer we can extend the berry adventure by means of preserved, frozen or baked goods, the merrier. I’ve already rhapsodized about my mother’s justly famed raspberry pie (the mystic quality of her ethereal pie crusts a deservedly notable part of the equation, in the interest of full disclosure), and she made many a jar of equally brilliant raspberry jam over her wildly productive years of canning and preserving. I will never be her equal in either of these arts.photo

I do, however, have enough fondness for some berries that I will gladly binge on them while their season lasts, and far beyond, in whatever forms are available, because I can practically feel the vitamins rushing into my cells when I do, and more importantly, because they taste so fabulous and are such great utility players on Team Food. On their own, they are magnificent and refreshing. In salads, a divine break from any leanings toward excess of greens. Think, for example, of a marvelous mix of butter lettuce, Romaine, toasted sliced almonds, shavings of fine Reggiano cheese and a generous handful of raspberries all happily commingling with a light creamy fresh thyme dressing. Transcendent! Fruit salad melanges practically insist on having a handful of berries gracing them when the season is right. And I’m told by those who eat blueberries that no berry surpasses them for muffin or pancake making. Me, I’ll gladly stick with Swedish pancakes piled up with whipped cream and fresh strawberries when it comes to the breakfast berry-ations. And of course there are endless possibilities in the universe of fruit smoothies when it comes to berries, whether you’re in the camp that must strain out the seeds or among those who appreciate the fiber therein.

And don’t get me started about desserts! The natural affinity fruit has for sweet foods is showcased wonderfully in so many after-dinner or coffee-time treats that a mere post could hardly suffice to even skim the list. But some goodies do come immediately to mind: strawberries dipped in chocolate; cloudberry cream, as I learned to love it when prepared in the seconds-long fresh season by my brother-in-law’s late mother; blackberry tapioca pudding. Pies, tarts, and crumbles, oh my. A heap of berries and a gentle sluicing of vanilla custard atop a slice of toasted pound cake. Honestly, few ways to go awry.

Still, the berry, with its pristine, bright, zingy flavor, and the hints of sweetness underlying it, makes a superb foil for savory dishes too, not least of all meats and seafoods. One of those ways to slip berry-liciousness into the main dish is to pool any of the multitude of possible berry-enhanced sauces and purees under, over or alongside a portion of entrée. I’m fond of Beurres Rouges ou Blancs made with wine, butter and berries cooked down to dense, flavorful stupendousness. Hard to argue with, say, a blackberry-Cabernet sauce served with lamb or duck, and I can only imagine that a dry, red-fruity Rosé would pair gracefully in such a sauce with raspberries or, dare I say it, salmonberries, to accompany a roasted filet of salmon or breast of pheasant or grilled chicken. Champagne Beurre Blanc is hard to resist with shellfish; why not top that with roasted strawberries and a quick grind of black pepper?

As you can see, what happens when I get the mere image of a berry into my tiny brain is that it plants the seeds for extensive food fantasizing. And that is hardly a bad thing, my friends. Bury me in berries. I could do much worse.

photo