There is always something left to love.
~Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Perhaps the latest entry here should have included words such as el amor or amorda instead of los amigos. Hopefully, no utterances there hastened his demise although he “did not care about glory, or money, or old age, because (he) was sure (he) was going to die very young, and in the street.” Thank you for fooling us, our magus of magical realism — Gabriel García Márquez — who died yesterday at a ripe age, exalted and monied enough, at his Mexico City home.

Márquez’s work is flat mesmerizing, conjuring up images of his inventive vision, mythologizing the human condition, meandering into so many dreamscapes, and interlacing epic tales of memory and love. There was a Proustian tone to his prose, but his style also stood on its own among such literary luminaries as Joyce, Faulkner, Kafka, Borges and the like. His stories voiced superb power yet were rife with delicious comedy, oozing humanity throughout.

A native of Colombia, born and raised in the remote Caribbean town of Aracataca, Márquez would draw on his experiences there to later pen the imaginary town of Macando in One Hundred Years of Solitude. In this classic novel, Macando becomes a place where the phenomenal and hideous mingle and where the borders between the real world and fantasy eloquently collide — a lost village where ghosts roam, exotic flowers fall from the sky, a galleon with dirty rags for sails lies listless in the jungle, a child is born with the tail of a pig. A transcendent tale which cast a spell upon this reader.

In Love in the Time of Cholera, Márquez aptly, yet eeriely, remarked about unrequited love: “…they no longer felt like newlyweds, and even less like belated lovers. It was if they had leapt over the arduous calvary of conjugal life and gone straight to the heart of love. They were together in silence like an old married couple wary of life, beyond the pitfalls of passion, beyond the brutal mockery of hope and the phantoms of disillusion; beyond love. For they had lived together long enough to know that love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.” Time for another re-read. There are other spellbinding works, of course.

Márquez’s craft is adroitly honed, vibrant, evocative, deft, and humorous. See you later, el maestro, Gabo — you have spoken to us all.

Dr. Juvenal Urbino in Love in the Time of Cholera had an affinity for asparagus due to the aftereffect aromas (speaking of Proust), so it seemed à propos

ASPARAGUS WITH SAFFRON BEURRE BLANC

Saffron Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Pinch saffron

12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Boil wine, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, and saffron in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a lighter hollandaise. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, so the sauce does not separate.

Asparagus
Cold water
Sea salt
1+ lb medium asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off

In the meantime, bring a large pot with cold water to a boil. Add the sea salt and then asparagus and cook until crisp, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and divide the spears evenly among smaller plates or platters. Tent loosely with foil, then remove and drizzle with the saffron beurre blanc.

Serve promptly and then just wait until the next morning. Dr. Urbino would be pleased.

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Ad Hominy

October 6, 2011

Nunca falta un pelo en la sopa (There’s always a fly in the soup).
~Mexican proverb

Served both whole and ground, hominy is simply corn kernels without the germ. In a process called nixtamalización, dried field corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution (often slaked lime) until the outer layers can be hulled. This yields slightly altered flavor and a different texture with enhanced aromas and tenderness. With Mesoamerican roots dating to circa 1500-1200 BCE, hominy is just another culinary extension of the maize culture that was birthed and flourished there.

The English “hominy” is derived from the word maize in the now extinct Powhatan tongue, a subgroup of Algonquin languages. A confederation of tribes, Powhatans lived in tidewater Virginia during pre-colonial days. As became the habit, white colonists rendered the native dialect dormant as well as nearly eradicating the tributary peoples. Eugenics at work.

When whole, hominy can be found in heavenly menudo (hominy and tripe soup) or pozole. It can also be ground coarsely to make hominy grits, or even finer into a dough to make masa for tortillas, tamales, empanadas, arepas y amigos.

Pozole is a classic pork stew with hominy and dried red chiles. A hearty, rich feast which bathes the senses. This recipe has an admitted shortcut. While using canned hominy may not be preferable—the time and effort that need be allotted to preparing the lime mixture, then cooking, cleaning, hulling, washing and deflowering the corn can be a touch daunting. My apologies to purists.

POZOLE ROJO

6 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
8 C water
3 C chicken broth
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
3 lbs pork neck bones
1/2 t dried cumin seed, toasted, then ground
1 t dried oregano, crumbled

2 1/2 qts canned white hominy, well rinsed and drained

4 large dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and deveined
4 large dried guajillo chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined
2 C water

1 T sea salt

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

Garnishes
Cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
White onion, finely chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Lime wedges

Corn tortillas
Canola or vegetable oil

In a large heavy kettle or Dutch oven bring water and broth just to a boil with sliced garlic and pork shoulder and neck bones. Skim surface and add oregano. Gently simmer pork, uncovered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the hominy during the last 45 minutes.

While the pork is simmering, tear the chiles into larger pieces and toast in a heavy large skillet over medium heat, pressing them against the surface some. Once they blister turn and repeat. Boil in water, then soak for about 30 minutes. Drain, place in a blender or food processor and puree, slowly adding some water, until a paste forms. Strain and add to the simmering soup, stirring for awhile until incorporated. Season with salt.

Now while the pozole is simmering, work on the tortillas. First, stack and cut into wedges. Then, spread into a single layer, and cover lightly with a dry towel to keep from curling. Allow to dry or they will be greasy. In a heavy medium non-stick skillet heat 3/4″ oil until hot but not smoking and fry in batches, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer tortilla wedges with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Once drained, carefully place in a bowl.

Remove the neck bones and shoulder from the broth. When cool enough, remove the meat from the neck bones and roughly shred all the meat from the shoulder. Return the meat to the pot. Again season with salt to taste.

Ladle the stew into large bowls and top with the garnishes of choice. Serve with the tortillas.

Deep Blue Tacos

January 4, 2010

In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.
~Albert Camus

Gazing out the window at shivering naked trees, grey skies, white blanketed roofs and frigid readings, I cannot help but pine for warmer climes, gentle ocean breezes, radiant sun, scimpier attire and sand between my toes. Food is my ferry…and who needs clothes with central heating?

Many gastronomes posit that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with tortillas and traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born. Damn brilliant. Rumor has it that modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in one of two Bajan fishing villages, Ensenada (on the Pacific) or San Felipe (on the Sea of Cortez). An ongoing rivalry has ensued, with both cities claiming to be the true “home” of the fish taco…sold from quaint stands by street vendors who produce simple, venerated comida rápida.

The hottest chile grown in central America or the Caribbean (10 on a scale of 10), the habanero is named after Havana, where it is believed to have originated. Later introduced to the Yucatan peninsula, the habanero is the most intensely spicy chile of the Capsicum genus. Unripe habaneros are green, but the color at maturity varies varies from orange to red—with white, brown, and pink ones occasionally seen.

Most habaneros rate 200,000 to 300,000 SHUs (Scoville Heat Units), which is some 30 to 50 times hotter than its cousin, the jalapeño. In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, developed the first systematic laboratory approach used to measure a chile’s pungency. Named the Scoville Organoleptic Test, human subjects taste a chile sample and evaluate how many parts of sugar water it takes to neutralize the heat of the chile so that its pungency is no longer noticeable.

Flat with a shiny green color, the jalapeño is a small to medium sized chile that is prized for the hot, burning sensation that it produces on the back end. It is a sweet, medium heat (5 on a scale of 10), so the chile is used in sweet dishes such as well as savory ones. Jalapeños can be found fresh, roasted, pickled or smoked (when it is called a chipotle). The heat level varies from mild to somewhat hot depending on the methods of growth and preparation. It is named after Jalapa, the capital of the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Please use a sustainable fish species to help restore our oceans.

FISH TACOS

Juice from two freshly squeezed limes
1/2 C yogurt
1/2 C crema (Mexican sour cream)
1 habanero chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced
1/2 t dried oregano
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Alaskan Pacific cod or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2″ strips
Canola oil, for frying

1 C all purpose flour
2 t salt
1 lager beer

10-12 flour tortillas

Red cabbage, thinly sliced
Radishes, thinly sliced

Cilantro leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped, for garnish
Salsa verde (see Red, White & Green Flautas, November 14, 2009)

Make a white sauce by mixing the first nine ingredients, aiming for a slightly runny consistency. Set aside.

Make a batter by combining flour and salt, and then whisking in beer.

Heat canola oil in a heavy high edged skillet or Dutch oven 2″ deep over medium high. Using a thermometer, heat oil to 375 F. Dip fish pieces in the beer batter and carefully slip into hot oil. Fry unto fish turns golden, turning once so it browns evenly. Then remove to paper towels to drain.

Before filling the tacos, heat the griddle or large, heavy skillet to medium low heat and cook for about a minute until bubbles start to form and they become pliable. Alternatively, place several wrapped in aluminum foil in an oven preheated to 400 F for about 8-10 minutes.

Place the freshly fried fish, cabbage and radishes inside the tortillas and drizzle with white sauce. Top with a light drizzling of salsa verde and chopped cilantro. Fold and devour.

I could have a roomful of awards and it wouldn’t mean beans.
~Bobby Darin

Sometimes called turtle beans, black beans (Phaselous vulgaris) derived from a common legume ancestor that originated in Peru. From there, these hard, shiny, ovoid beans were spread throughout South and Central America by migrating indigeneous peoples. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish explorers, returning from New World voyages, introduced these beans to Europe. They were subsequently strewn throughout Africa and Asia by Spanish and Portuguese traders and are now savory staples in cuisines throughout the world.

Like other legumes, black beans abound in dietary fiber and are rich in antioxidant compounds. They are also a fine source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

BLACK BEAN SOUP

16 ozs black beans, washed and picked over for stones. debris and damaged beans
2 qts water

2 T canola oil
1 T bacon drippings or duck fat
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
4 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 t lightly toasted cumin seeds
2 t chipotle chili powder

Sea salt, to taste
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, seeded and finely chopped

Lime juice, from 1 lime

6 green onions, chopped
Plain yogurt or queso fresca
1/2 C chopped cilantro

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Then rinse well with clean water. Grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder or coffee grinder assigned that kitchen function.

Heat the oil and bacon drippings or duck fat over medium high heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, until hot and then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about three minutes, and add the garlic, cumin and chipotle powder. Continue cooking, until fragrant, about one minute, then add the beans and soaking water. The beans should be covered by about two inches of water. Add more water as needed, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and skim off any foam that rises. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt and chipotles. Continue to simmer another hour or so, until the beans are soft, and the broth is thick and fragrant.

Scoop out two cups of whole cooked beans with a straining spoon, then partially purée the remaining mixture using an immersion blender, or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Return the purée and whole cooked beans to the pot or Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice. Ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with green onion, yogurt or queso fresco, and cilantro. Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Pourboire: To shorten the prep time, skip the overnight soak and boil the beans for two minutes. Remove the pan off the heat, cover and allow to stand for two hours.

Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolates.
~Fernando Pessoa

Records of chocolate use date back to the pre-Columbian Olmec culture, with evidence of the oldest known cultivation of cacao having been discovered at a site in the Honduras, dating from about 1100 to 1400 BC. Cacao beans from this tree native to lowland, tropical South America were used by the Aztecs to prepare a hot beverage with purported stimulant and restorative properties—with the white pulp around the cacao beans likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink. Chocolate was commonly reserved for the upper crust, such as warriors, nobility and priests for its reputed ability to confer wisdom and vitality. Offered as a drink, this chocolate concoction called xocoatl was also served during religious rites, and the sacred concoction was associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. Not surprisingly then, legend has it that each day emperor Montezuma II drank 50 golden goblets of frothy, sometimes bitter xocoatl. (Later, the nuns of a Mexican convent quietly made the bitter drink more palatable with the addition of vanilla and sugar.)

The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, had lavishly praised chocolate in a letter to Charles V of Spain, and brought an ample supply home in his galleons after the cruel conquest and colonization of the Aztec nation which was completed in 1521. He also established a cocoa plantation in honor of the king, and as he explored other tropical lands and islands, he planted cocoa beans in their native soils. It should be said that Cortés was far from a truly romantic hero, noble explorer or munificent soul—rather, he has been roundly accused of open brutality and heinous violence towards the Indians by many historians.

About a century after the Iberian iniation, the Spanish enthusiasm for chocolate was passed to the French court with the marriage of Marie Thérèse, a chocoholic of the first order, to Louis IV in 1660. Here, the drink was considered an aphrodisiac and happily imbibed by the court and members of the wealthy classes. The popular drink was also spread throughout Europe when the Spanish friars carried the beverage with them from monastery to monastery. Originally, the Europeans mixed their chocolate with water, coffee, wine and a number of fermented drinks, as well as with pepper and other spices. Remember, chocolate was only served as a beverage or used as a pastry ingredient until the 19th century, when the bar was invented.

Recent research has linked flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. Besides improvements on certain memory tests, researchers also found increased memory function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, and the entorhinal cortex, which is often impaired in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

These chocolate gems known as “truffles” are meant to mimic the highly prized edible fungi found in France and Italy which fetch such exhorbitant prices. Once the truffles are formed, they are often rolled in cocoa powder to simulate the “dirt” found on the real truffles.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

6 oz quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
2 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
2 T heavy whipping cream
1 t strong coffee
1/3 stick butter, cut into small bits

1 t brandy, Grand Marnier, kirsch, rum (optional)

Coatings: quality cocoa powder, confectioners’ sugar, toasted coconut flakes

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler—a medium size bowl set over a large saucepan with simmering water. Remove bowl from heat, but allow the saucepan to continue to simmer. Add the egg yolks to the melted chocolate, slowly and constantly whisking for a few seconds to avoid curdling. Add the the cream, coffee (and alcohol), then place back over the simmering water for a few seconds until smooth, while constantly whisking. Remove the bowl from the heat again and add the butter bit by bit, whisking after each addition. Once all the butter has been fully assumed, whisk for 3 minutes or so to aerate the mixture. With a rubber spatula, spoon into another medium sized bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for approximately 6 hours.

Place your chosen coatings for the truffles on a plate. Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator, and using a spoon, divide the mixture evenly to make small balls. With your hands, form the chocolate into rounds about 1″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. Immediately roll the truffle in the coating and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Carefully cover and place in the refrigerator until firm.