Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day a la Thomas Keller

I am so full.  Full to the brim!  I've polished off my last glass of vino, cleaned the counters, loaded the dishwasher, and put my son to bed.  For Memorial Day this year we went very low key-had our friends and their daughter to dinner, just the six of us in total.  Of course we planned a BBQ but then the Ad Hoc cookbook landed in my lap.  Oh Mr. Keller, you have such a way with, well....everything!

I'd avoided buying this book for a while.  After spending three days cooking one recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook I kind of swore off the Thomas Keller books.  I kept hearing Ad Hoc was great-accessible recipes for the home cook.  The kind of food you want to make for Sunday supper.  The final straw for me was my cookbook club.  Ad Hoc is our next book so I figured it was time.  I bought it last week and was hooked in an instant.

Of course the fried chicken is already legendary.  Served every other Monday at the restaurant, or so I hear, you can even buy the mix for it at Williams Sonoma.  Was it that good?  Actually, it was.  A 12-hour brine and a double dip in seasoned flour (w/buttermilk in between); the coating was ragged, crunchy, and super flavorful.  The chicken, even the white meat, stayed so juicy.  It was worth every bit of the clean up, all the oil splattering, and each and every calorie.

On the side I made fresh early-season corn (surprisingly sweet), asparagus (almost time to bid it farewell), the Ad Hoc Iceberg Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Bacon & Brioche Croutons, and the Ad Hoc brownies.  I spread the work over a couple days and honestly it was totally doable without a mad last minute kitchen rush (my pet peeve when I entertain).

Next time you're craving fried chicken, give the Ad Hoc recipe a try.  I can't imagine why you need the mix-the brine is a piece of cake and the breading is made from ingredients you're sure to have in the pantry already.  Give it a shot!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday.  In case you didn't have a chance to read my post earlier this week, I am doing a demo and book signing at the Union Square Williams Sonoma tonight.  Would love to see you there!

In the meantime, here's what I'm reading.

It's Bittman on Burgers in today's NY Times.  These aren't just any burgers-kicked up burgers like Pork-Fennel Burger, Shu Mai-Style Burgers, Curry Spiced Lamb Burgers, and a Beef Tartare Burger.  His secret across the board is grinding your own meat.  While a meat grinder is the preferred tool here, a food process works too.  It allows you total control over the amount of fat that goes in (more fat=more drip-down-your-hand-juiciness but don't go too overboard).  He uses pork and lamb shoulder, with some of the fat, for the pork, shu mai, and lamb burgers and sirloin or chuck for his beef burger. These are traditionally tough cuts but the amount of fat in the meat makes them succulent when cooked just right.  Perfect for burgers.  He also seasons all the meat beyond simple salt and pepper.  Read the recipes then use your creativity to think of what else you might like.  Greek-style lamb burgers with feta and oregano, BBQ Pork burgers with sauce in the meat along with bits of bacon...I'm ready to fire of the grill.


Last night I taught the first week of my six week series called "Basics 1".  We made about 10 recipes, capping it off with a stellar chocolate cake and homemade Philadelphia-Style Vanilla Ice Cream.  What made the ice cream so stunning were the two fresh vanilla beans.  The beans, plump and incredibly fragrant, imparted a vanilla flavor that no extract can provide.  Not only do the seeds fleck the ice cream with their signature dots but the pods, infusing in the ice cream base, give off more of that sweet flavor.  When you're buying beans it is very important to make sure they are not dried out-this means they've been sitting around way too long and have lost their luster.  When you're spending $3-$5 a bean, you want the best you can get!  In today's Washington Post they explore not only the sweet but the savory side of the vanilla bean.  In the recipe for Vanilla Pork Chops With Grilled Peach and Fennel Salad the beans compliment the pork with a hint of sweet and smoke.  Of course they also have a recipe for Bourbon Vanilla Ice Cream with Bourbon Fudge Sauce so if you want to keep your vanilla with dessert, you're still all set.

(photo from Seven Fires by Frances Mallmann)

Sever Fires, by Frances Mallmann, is a book with some serious buzz.  A month or two ago I was eating breakfast at Out the Door and chef/owner Charles Phan had the book and told me he loved it.  A friend of mine, and cooking teacher, who's from Argentina, said she used it with amazing success to create new recipes for a class.  A grilling book at it's heart, the recipes are based on Mallmann's "live fire" cooking, thankfully adapted for a home chef cooking indoors or out.  In today's Chicago Tribune they published an amazing sounding recipe from the book,  Pork tenderloin with Burnt Brown sugar, Orange Confit and Thyme.  Clearly this is more work than throwing a steak on the BBQ but from reading the reviews, it sounds like the recipes from Seven Fires are well worth the effort.  Heck, if it's still pouring or cold where you live you can even cook it inside.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Upcoming Classes and Book Signing

I wanted to let you know about two upcoming events-I'd love to see you at one, or both!

This Wednesday, May 26th, I'll be doing a cooking class (demo style) at the Union Square Williams Sonoma with a book signing to follow.  Class starts at 6:30, you'll be well fed, and then I'll be signing copies of Cooking from the Farmers' Market.  Price is $75, which includes the book-can't beat that!  To sign up, call the store at 415-362-9450.  Dishes I'll be cooking are:
Arugula Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese
Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Chutney
Herb Roasted Potatoes
Strawberry Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

This Sunday, 5/30, I'll be teaching a class at Tante Marie's called "Cooking for the Outdoors".  If you've got the grill mastered but need some help with your apps, sides, and desserts, this is the class for you.  Perfect dishes for al fresco dining or any Spring/Summer dinner party.  This is a hands-on class that runs from 10am-3pm.  Price is $185 and you can register at Tante Marie's website.  Just a few of the many dishes we'll be cooking on Sunday are:
Poached Shrimp with Romesco and Garlic Breadcrumbs
Spicy Cucumber Salad with Roasted Peanuts
English Pea and Ricotta Tart
Strawberry Tarte Tatin

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Last night I finished teaching a six week series called Basics Three.  I loved this group of students and just wanted to give them a shout out for the amazing food they cooked,  especially last night.  Nicely done!  You can check 'em out on my Facebook fan page.

The website for the UK's Guardian & Observer always has stunning food.  Why is it that the British shoot such beautiful food photographs?  When it comes to food media, I'm a sucker for their magazines, recipes, and television shows.  In today's food section there is an article by Nigel Slater for 10 Simple Summer Recipes.  I'm not entirely sure where to begin because each one looks exactly like I want to cook every day the sun is shining.  The peaches, above, are baked with maple syrup and vanilla.  There is also Baked Bass with Rosemary and Capers, Smoked Salmon with Steamed Potato Salad with Lemon and Toasted Parmesan, and a show-stopping Green Panzanella made with peas, favas (aka Broad Beans), and fennel.  If you plan to cook nothing from this article you should still take a look.  I can almost guarantee that the under-10 ingredient recipes and the mouth watering photos will send you straight to the farmers' market.


Who doesn't love crispy fried chicken?  A crunchy crust that, when shattered with your teeth, reveals moist and juicy chicken inside.  It's not an every day project but when summer rolls around and you set your sites on eating al fresco, you need a good fried chicken recipe. In today's LA Times they've published a recipe with a lot of the hallmarks of the fried chicken I love.  First there is a dry rub that sits on the bird over night.  Heavy on the salt it acts much like a brine, keeping the meat moist  and seasoning at the same time.  Next comes the buttermilk-always necessary for juicy chicken. The acid from buttermilk is helps the meat stay nice and tender.  These two steps take some planning ahead-first a rest overnight then another 4-6 hour bath in buttermilk.  No work but definitely time you want to set aside.  Finally, the coating for the chicken is a mixture of flour and cornstarch to create that extra-crispy crust you will love.  You can't get around the oil part-this is fried chicken after all.  If you have an electric frying pan (does anyone have those any more?), you can plug it in outside and fry there.  This is what my dad always did and I've gotta say, no smell and no mess.

 So when you're frying up that chicken, you want to think about a cool side dish to serve with it.  I'm loving this Chickpea, Cuke, Tomato, and Avocado Salad.  It's made with things I have in my pantry all the time (well, tomatoes start arriving when the season kicks in-very soon).  Look for an English Cucumber instead of the waxed variety.  This way the skin is totally edible plus I find them much less bitter than conventional cucumbers.  Because the dressing for this salad has lots of acid from lemon juice it'll keep your avocado from immediately turning brown, which is nice if you want to make it in advance.  If you really want to crunch-it-up, I'd add some pita chips just before serving or even crumbled feta cheese.  Either way, this looks like my new go-to summer salad.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!


Monday, May 17, 2010

A Mexican Hangover Remedy Becomes Family DInner

Being hungover in Mexico has some serious advantages.

Pozole and Chilaquiles, of course.  Two of my favorite Mexican dishes, both claiming to be remedies for those nights when you hit the tequila just a bit too hard.

I absolutely love pozole.  This Mexican soup, rich with chiles and hominy, is satisfying down to the soul.  It's an ideal mixture of tastes and textures with its crunchy garnishes and rich, tender pieces of meat (usually pork, sometimes chicken).  The hominy itself are dried corn kernels that have been treated with alkali and de-germinated-they look a bit like Corn Nuts (legendary Rick Bayless would probably kill me for saying that).   They are best when bought dried from a Mexican market but the canned version works just fine in a pinch, and it is available and most supermarkets.  If it isn't with the Latin foods look for it near the canned corn.

Another key ingredient in pozole is the chile puree.  This is a mixture of dried chiles, onions, and garlic.  In the recipe I use, the chiles are seeded and gently toasted in a cast iron skillet with the onions and garlic.  I take the chiles out when they just soften then rehydrate them in a dish by covering them with boiling water.  The water, like the water you use to soak dried porcinis, becomes part of the puree which in turn becomes the flavor base for your broth.

This is a recipe to do in steps.  Don't tackle it all at once.  If you make the elements in advance, it is a perfect weeknight dinner.  My base recipe came from this article in the SF Chronicle as well as tips from Rick's book.  I use canned hominy and chicken, which makes for a preparation that is really straight-forward.  I like what I came up with, I might even say I loved it.  It may not be 100% authentic but it was mighty tasty. 

Red Pozole

6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
4 cups chicken stock
2 dried Ancho chiles, seeded and stemmed
1 white onion, half cut in four wedges and the other half thinly sliced 
1 garlic clove, peeled
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 large carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 tsp dried oregano (preferably Mexican), plus extra for garnish
1 29-ounce can hominy, drained and rinsed
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
2 large radishes, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced (seeded if desired)
1-2 cups tortilla chips
1 lime, cut into wedges

Remove any excess fat from the chicken thighs and place them in a medium pot.  Add the chicken broth along with four cups of water.  Bring the mixture to a boil then immediately turn it to a low simmer.  Let cook, skimming off any 'scum' that rises to the top, until the chicken is very tender (almost falling off the bone), 1-2 hours.  This can be done the day before and refrigerated.  Store the chicken in it's broth then skim the fat off the top when you remove it from the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, place the anchos, the wedges of onion, and the garlic clove on a grill pan or in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat.  When the anchos begin to soften, about 5 minutes, remove them from the pan.  Place them in a bowl and cover with very hot water.  Let the onions and garlic continue to cook, turning occasionally until they are soft and lightly browned, 10-15 minutes more.  Remove the anchos from the water, reserving the liquid.  Transfer them to a blender along with the onions and garlic.  Add 1/2 cup of the ancho soaking liquid and a generous pinch of salt.  Puree until the mixture is very smooth and set it aside.  Puree can be made the day before and refrigerated.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the thighs from the broth.  Take the meat off the bones and shred it into bite sized pieces.  Skim the fat from the broth.

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions, carrots, oregano, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetable begin to soften, 6-7 minutes.  Add the broth, hominy, shredded chicken, and half of the chili puree (taste the puree for heat level-if it's not hot, you can add more, if it's very hot, you can add less-reserving the rest for garnish).  Bring the mixture to a boil the reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer to bring the flavors together, about 20 minutes. 

Make a garnish plate for the table, keeping the ingredients separate so people can add as much or as little of each one as they like.  Also serve the remaining chili puree on the side.  Ladle soup into warm bowls and top with desired garnishes.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Still recovering from yesterday's Star Wars Cookies.  The force was definitely not with me...may it be back today.

I saw this recipe in the Sunday New York Times magazine and knew it was a keeper.  I've probably been overloading you with asparagus recipes these past weeks but when something this good is in season right here and now, I love finding new ways to cook it.  Amanda Hesser does her recipe redux on Mimi Sheraton's 1977 recipe for Asparagus alla Fontina.  The original recipe, while titled "alla Fontina" actually called for Gruyere instead-too funny (although Fontina would be great here).  It's essentially a frittata-baked eggs with asparagus and cheese.  The recipe has you pre-cook the spears but I prefer Amanda's idea of letting them cook with the eggs for a more al dente texture.  I think this would be a fun brunch dish or each vegetarian supper (sans the prosciutto) with a simple mixed salad.  For the modern redux, she asked Carlo Mirarchi (of Roberta’s in Brooklyn) to modernize the dish.  He created a simple yet equally as elegant (maybe even more so) plate by spooning softly scrambled eggs over spears of asparagus and slices of prosciutto.  Remember, like meat, scrambled eggs keep cooking after you take them off the heat so if you tackle this dish and like your eggs nice and tender, don't cook them too long.  

I hate to diss the good ol' fashioned BLT.  You know the one, toasted white bread, a slather of mayo, unripe tomatoes, iceberg, and a couple flimsy slices of bacon.  It has its place (maybe in diner history) but when I saw this recipe in today's Washington Post I knew the BLT had grown up, in Italy none the less.  Hello dinner!!  Italian country bread (look for Pugliese) is grilled or toasted and topped with a lightly dressed arugula and tomato salad.  The acidity in the dressing balances some of the richness from the pancetta and cheese, nice idea.  Grilled (or broiled) pancetta covers the greens and it's all topped with melting mozzarella.  Oh my...I'm not sure what else to say.  I think I need a moment.

In addition to being asparagus crazy, spring makes me rhubarb crazy too.  I happen to love the stuff and all its stringy goodness.  It goes back to my grandparents-my grandpa used to grow rhubarb is his urban Seattle "pea patch" and he'd bring it home to my grandma who'd transform it into the best strawberry rhubarb compote that we'd inhale by the bowl full.  The leaves of a rhubarb plant are toxic (hence they're often detached when you buy the stalks at the market).  The stalks themselves can be tart, which makes them a great for balancing ingredients like sweet berries or desserts.  Believe it or not I've even shaved it paper thin and put it, raw, in a salad.  The Rhubarb Crumble Cake in today's Boston Globe caught my eye for a few reasons.  I adore anything with the word "crumble" in it and I love cakes baked with a layer of fruit because they say incredibly moist.  Serve this for breakfast as a coffee cake or after dinner as dessert.  Better yet, serve it both times!   

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking! 

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Star Wars Cookie Cutters Anyone??

Mother's Day was great!  Woke up to an hour of extra sleep, a pot of coffee next to my bed, and the paper on the other side.  A leisurely morning, breakfast made by my boys, an adorable homemade card, and two presents.  The first was an Ebelskiver pan/mix.  We'd made these in Tahoe this winter with our friend's pan and they were a huge hit.  We're a big pancake family so this will be well used.  Next was the present my son couldn't wait for me to open...Star Wars Cookie Cutters.  Who knew even Wiliams Sonoma was making deals with Lucas these days?  Here is a photo from the WS website-cute, eh?
You can guess who was most excited about the gift.  He promptly told me he wanted to bring the cookies to school for his birthday tomorrow.  Now I always make something homemade when it's my turn to bring treats.  No store bought Crisco frosted cupcakes for me!  But decorating cookies is definitely not my thing.  Sure I can make the actual cookie taste damn good but I still can't color in the lines on paper, imagine what my cookies look like.  That said, he was so excited and I'd actually learned from a friend recently some great tips on decorating professional style cookies.  I was moderately confident I could pull it off, pulled my butter out to thaw, and made a huge batch of cookies on Monday.  

Now these cookie cutters have a stamp in them.  This means you cut the cookie and while the cutter is on the dough you press the stamp to create an indented design.  Knowing that cookies often loose their shape in the oven I froze mine for about an hour before baking them.  Yoda came out of the oven ok-those wrinkles on his forehead still distinct.  Vader, the Stormtrooper, and Boba Fett all puffed up almost beyond recognition.  Oh well, that's what icing is for, right?

Cut to this morning.  I wake up extra early to make Ebelskivers for breakfast (my son ate the jam out of each one and left the actual pancakes, nice) and fire up a giant batch of royal icing.  After going to three grocery stores to find powdered egg whites yesterday, I was ready.  My mixer worked overtime blending those egg whites with water and 1 1/2 pounds, yes pounds, of powdered sugar.  After about 15 minutes it actually looked just right (a good tip from my friend Jen-you have to beat that icing a lot longer than you think).  

Cookies on a rack, I called in reinforcements in the form of my husband who actually bought the cookie cutters (payback, my sweet husband).  Thank god he's got a bit of artist in him.  He precisely mixed the icing colors for me-from muddy green to dirty blue they were spot on.  Basically I'm trying to tell you everything was stacked in my favor.  Then came the frosting job...

Oh god.  This has never been and will never be the part of cooking I like.  I almost melted down in culinary school the day we had to decorate wedding cakes (who has the patience to pipe pin-head sized pearls all over a cake anyways?).  But, no, I still came back for more.  I wasn't buying those damn cupcakes and these cookies were going to look good.   We did the Stormtroopers first (we because I made my husband stay and help me).  After a couple of Casper look-a-likes we cranked out a few that looked ok.  On to that Yoda, a Gremlin, or the top of a Troll Doll?  Who knows, and at this point who cares?!  Store bought cupcakes are actually looking mighty good..  Boba Fett, my son's favorite bounty hunter, had about six flippin' colors, stripes, details, etc.  Mind you, we're doing this based on ONE picture on the side of the box.  Vader turned out to look like Happy Darth instead of vicious Darth.  In the end, the ones my husband did are recognizable.  The ones I did look like a 1st grade art project.

Did I learn a lesson?  Absolutely!  First off,  being the overachieving mom means buying the store bought cupcakes and using that extra time to exercise or knock back a few cocktails.  Second, when you son (and husband) give you Star Wars cookie cutters for Mothers Day understand this is not really a present for you at all.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  In fact, if you want to give them a try, mine will be on ebay by tomorrow (ha!).

Here's a few pics for your viewing, and giggling, pleasure.  

First, William Sonoma's versions and next the versions by me:

Thank goodness for my talented husband who made many more of them actually look good.  Here are a few of his:

Two words: Over It!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cookbook Club-Insalata's Mediterranean Table

Last night we had one of our always fantastic meetings of my cookbook club. To call it a "meeting" is actually quite funny-it's tons of food, many cooks, and plenty of wine.  We've been getting together for a few years and our goal each time is to cook from a book, new or old,  taste all the recipes, and talk about what worked and what didn't.  Some nights have been incredible-The French Laundry Cookbook was epic.  Rice, Pasta, Couscous was a blast.  A Platter of Figs-check that one out here. Other nights were no where near as overwhelming but completely entertaining none the less.  

Insalata's in a restaurant in San Anselmo, CA (or "Marin" for you SF folks).  A neighborhood mainstay for over 13 years, owner and chef Heidi Insalata Krahling (yes, that's really her name) has created a destination spot that reflects her love for all things Mediterranean.  Last year Heidi published a cookbook with many of the restaurants dishes that I've loved over the years.  Several members of my cookbook club actually worked at Insalata's over the years so it made our dinner all the better.  The book is amazing.  If you live in the area, get over to Insalata's, have a wonderful meal, and buy it!  If not, you can buy it here too.  The recipes range from simple to spectacular but you can be sure each one is "luscious", Heidi's favorite adjective.  This is restaurant food adapted for the home cook so you'll find some dishes built upon other smaller recipes-sauces, spreads, etc.  Many can be made in advance so don't let the steps scare you off. The layers of flavor are what make Heidi's food so damn good.

Being Cinco de Mayo we kicked off our night with yummy's Lynda showing Tori the perfect shaking technique.
Two appetizers from the book followed.  The first, Tirosalata, was the perfect mezze-creamy feta whipped with roasted poblanos and goat's milk yogurt.  We ate it with pita chips but I'd slather it on pretty much anything.  The second was Warm Goat Cheese Bruschetta, a simple but incredibly fresh mixture of goat cheese, fresh herbs, and Meyer lemon zest slathered on toasted Ciabatta bread. 


The dinner spread that followed was stunning.  We put it out family style and ate way too much.  

It would not be an Insalata's dinner without Heidi's signature Fattoush Salad and thankfully our guest Lynda brought a huge bowl of it.  Crunchy romaine is tossed with tomatoes, feta, pita chips, kalamatas, and cucumber and drizzled with a spiced lemon vinaigrette.  Kelly and Bibby tried to count how many of these they made each day at the restaurant-we stopped when the number got too high. One bite of it and you can see why it's such a hot seller.

Next was Asparagus with Manchego Cheese and Prosciutto Gremolata.  Tori roasted the asparagus instead of steaming it, as the recipe called for.  Worked great-this is a fun new way to try the veggie of the season.

 Bibby made two halibut recipes, that overachiever!  First was Halibut with Yellow Tomato Vinaigrette and Picholine Olive Salsa Verde-the vinaigrette was a simple puree of tomato, vinegar, sugar, and olive oil but the balance of ingredients worked so well.  We were dragging everything through it!  The second preparation was the Halibut with Turkish Tarator.  Tarator is a Middle Eastern nut sauce, this version used pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, and sesame seeds (in the form of tahini) along with herbs, spices, and lemon juice.  It was spread over the fish before roasting so it formed a dense crust that had wonderful texture and flavor (in fact, I'm eating the leftovers for lunch right now so I can tell you its even good cold).  The Tarator fish is pictured a few paragraphs down-this is the tomato vinaigrette.
CC went vegetarian and it paid off.  Her dish, known as the "veg plate" in the kitchen of the restaurant and the Middle Eastern Couscous Platter in the book, blew me away.  It's dishes like this that make me realize I should be eating vegetarian a lot more often.  The bowl was full of perfect spiced couscous.  On top were lemony lentils and curried onions with spinach.  Over that was Turkish yogurt, yellowed with a hint of turmeric and spiced with garlic and curry powder.  We served it room temp.  It went so well with everything else but would be a fantastic meal on its own too.

Below is the entire spread before we dove in.  The Tarator fish is in the back and the couscous dish to its right:
Just when we thought we'd hit the wall we remembered dessert.  As the girls know, I always pick dessert if I have a chance.  I was thrilled to make two things from Heidi's book: Chocolate Pecan Toffee and Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp.  The toffee is outrageous, decadent, and actually really easy as long as you have a candy thermometer.  Only change I'd recommend is to put the finely chopped chocolate right on the hot toffee once its poured onto the baking sheet, and letting the residual heat melt it.  The book has you cool the toffee, melt the chocolate, and spread it over-I found it separated from the candy when I cut the pieces (don't get me wrong, it still tasted amazing).  The crisps were baked in individual ramekins and topped with an almond crumble.  The recipe looks like a high crumble:fruit ratio but its just perfect (resist the urge to eat the raw crumble mixture like cookie dough-it is so good!).  Here they are: 

The net?  Buy this book!  We're already thinking about a cookbook club redux in the fall so we can try the recipes that will be seasonal then.  Kudos to Heidi-everything truly was luscious.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  Hope you're celebrating with some Mexican food and Margaritas.  Enjoy your fiesta.

Puerco con Chile Negro (that would be Pork with Dried Pasilla Chile Sauce)...this recipe just moved to the top of my "must cook" list, thank you Los Angeles Times.  Pork Shoulder, also called pork butt, is one tough cut of meat just waiting to have the tenderness coaxed out of it.  It's inexpensive because it needs a lot of love.  Slow cooking over low heat turns the meat juicy and succulent.  Lately it is my favorite cut to cook, I really think the flavor is the best and it takes so well to all kinds of seasonings.  Here its simply braised in water then the liquid it cooked in is combined with toasted pasilla chiles (dried poblanos) to make a second braising liquid.  Yes, the meat is braised twice (can't you just taste how tender that will be?!).  In the end, which I'd make the next day, it's combined with onions, avocado, and cilantro and stuffed into bolillos (Mexican rolls) for what I'm guessing will be one of the best sandwiches/tortas ever.  

If seafood is more your thing, this Shrimp and Crab Campechana from The New York Times will fit the bill in a snap.   A campechana is a Mexican seafood "cocktail" where the fish is tossed with not only lime juice but Clamato too. Unlike ceviche, where raw fish is cooked in citrus juice, the seafood here (crab and shrimp) is cooked before it is added to the dish so its good to go as soon as you mix it together.   Tossed with fresh pico de gallo and lots of chunky avocado, this would be a perfect light dinner or an appetizer with a side of homemade tortilla chips.  We were in Mexico last week and ate tons of ceviche and guacamole.  I think this campechana will bring me right back.

Tostadas are traditionally crisp tortillas topped with beans, meat, and greens-much like our Americanized taco salad (without the gigantic tortilla "bowl" to serve it in).  In the San Francisco Chronicle there is an extensive, but tantalizing recipe for Homemade Tostadas.  The pickled onions as well as the guajillo-chipotle marinade for the chicken can be done well in advance-I'd even marinate my chicken the night before.  Grilling the chicken and building the tostadas takes no time once the other prep is done.  I love the idea of making a big pitcher of margaritas, a pot of Mexican rice, and serving these at an al fresco dinner party, Cinco de Mayo or not. 

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!
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