Friday, March 03, 2006

The Results Are In

If you've been living in anticipation, I bring you not just the results, but the recipes from The Great Brooklyn Cook-Off of 2006! THIS is how the fabulous feast went down . . .

There were six of us, and we arrived at 8pm. We wasted no time, over cold and refreshing cervezas, out came the first course. Megan filled the Sopes with Shrimp Escabeche right in front of us as our mouths began to water. Then, with our small plates that we would enjoy course after course on, we all sat down to eat. This was only the first course and already I had seconds . . . .

This is a made-up recipe, but sopes are traditional masa cakes served in Mexico and Central America. Escabeche is basically Central American cole slaw--it doesn't usually have shrimp in it. But the combo is fresh-tasting and delicious. Make the escabeche first, as the sopes are best when they're piping hot.

12 cooked, peeled shrimp, diced
1/2 cup cabbage, julienned
1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 bulb fennel, diced
1/4 small jalapeno, minced
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lime
splash of sherry vinegar
tablespoon oregano
tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced
2 tablespoons Mexican crema (or sour cream)
1/2 avocado, cubed, for garnish

Mix all ingredients (except avocado) and refrigerate to let the flavors blend while you make the sopes.

2 cups masa harina
3 tbs all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup of water (adjust as necessary)

Stir up the masa dough--you should be able to form a firm ball, but it should be relatively soft. Shouldn't crack easily.

Heat an inch of oil in a saucepan for frying.

Roll the masa dough into golfball-size orbs (it made me cringe to rep 'balls' there), and then press them into little cups with your fingers, pinch-pot style. It's okay if these are 'rustic', but they should be uniform in size. This much dough makes about 12 sopes.

Carefully sit the sopes in the oil, open-side-down, and turn over after about 30 seconds. You'll have to work fast so they don't burn-you only want them to be golden brown on the top and bottom. They'll be whitish on the sides.

Fill with escabeche and top with a little piece of avocado. Serve right away.
Soon after, we washed the sopes down with some more cerveza and moved on to the soup and salad. Brad made a delicious salad of mixed greens, shaved apple, almond slivers and crumbled Stilton Bleu cheese, topped with this tasty vinagrette:

1.4 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole grain dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 cup olive oil

whisk together all ingredients

Then, Megan served her second dish, Tarascan chicken-bean soup. As she describes it, This soup comes from a tribe of Indians in northern Mexico, traditionally it's not made with chicken, but it tastes better this way. It's a very rich and smoky soup, and it'll be even richer and yummier if you smoke the chicken before adding it to the soup (a stove-top smoker is perfect for this). If you're strapped for time, though, it still turns out delicious if the chicken is not smoked. Without the smoked chicken, it certainly was just fine. After tasting it, I believe Christine used the phrase, "seriously yum".

1 can chicken stock
1 can beef stock
1 can pinto beans
1 16 oz can fire-roasted diced tomotoes (or roast your own--don't use non-roasted tomatoes though)
1 dried ancho chile
3 poblano peppers
2 tbs dried chipotle flakes
2 zucchinis
2 ears corn
3 cloves garlic
half a large onion
salt to taste
1 whole bone-in chicken breast
queso fresco and cilantro for garnish


In a large stock pot, gently simmer the chicken and beef stock with the garlic (diced), chipotle flakes, and chicken breast (either already smoked or raw--it'll cook through as the soup boils). Meanwhile, chop the zucchini into thin half-rounds, the onion into inch-long slivers, and cut the corn off the cob. put on a baking sheet with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the broiler, pulling it out and stirring every five minutes to insure even browning, and to make sure nothing gets too dry. This should take about 15 minutes. Toast the ancho chile in a dry frying pan till it's crispy and toasty smelling (it's already dark, so the color won't change much), then soak it for 15 minutes in hot water. While your ancho is soaking, put the 3 poblanos on a baking sheet (cut 3-4 slits into each of them so they don't explode) and roast them in the broiler till blackened. Leave them on the baking sheet to cool.

Add the pinto beans, half a cup of water, 1 tsp salt, and the ancho chile to a blender. Puree until smooth. At this point, the chicken will be cooked through, so you can cut it off the bone (and discard the bone) and add the bean mixture, the zucchini/corn mixture, and the can of tomatoes to the simmering chicken soup.

Once the poblanos are room temp, gently remove the blackened skin and the seedy core. Do NOT rinse or you'll lose all the nice sweet peppery oils. With your fingers, separate the poblanos into long strips and add to the soup. The soup's now finished, although it tastes better if you have time to let it rest for an hour or so for the flavors to mingle.

Garnish with the queso fresco and cilantro and serve.

At this point we all needed a break, or at least another cerveza. The perfect warm up for Christine's Sweet Potato Enchiladas.

Enchilada Sauce:
Roughly 8-12 dried ancho chilies, plus other chilies if you like your sauce hot
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cups chicken broth (depending on how "saucy" you want it)
1 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs cinnamon
salt & pepper to taste

Sweet potatoes or yams chopped into quarter-inch cubes
2-3 Tbs olive oil
salt & pepper to taste


De-seed peppers and brown them in a hot skillet, let soak in hot water for one hour. Preheat oven to 400. Toss sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt & pepper. Roast in oven until soft and slightly caramelized (brown at the edges). While roasting, saute garlic and onions in pot, once translucent add chilies and chicken broth. Bring mixture to a boil, turn heat down and let simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, let cool slightly. Puree mixture in blender, then bring back to simmer. Add nutmeg, cinnamon, salt & pepper. Coat warmed corn tortillas in enchilada sauce, fill with sweet potatoes and small amount of cotija, roll and lay seam against bottom of baking sheet. Repeat until pan is full. Top with more enchilada sauce and sprinkle of cotija. Bake in oven until cheese is slightly browned. Serve hot.

These scrumptious enchiladas were served with a side of Ensalada de Nopalitos (salad of nopal cactus pieces), that Christine also cooked up from Dianna Kennedy's "The Essential Cuisines of Mexico". I might add at this point that she was not alone in the kitchen, but aided by her new, H-O-T man friend, Sean. Delicious! (The salad that is)

The Salad:
2 c nopal cactus pieces, cooked (see bottom of recipe for instructions)
2 Tbs olive oil
4 tsp mild vinegar or fresh lime juice
1/2 Tbs finely chopped Mexican Oregano
white onion
Salt to taste
1/4 c roughly chopped cilantro

To Serve:
Lettuce leaves
Strips of Jalapeno chiles en escabeche
4 oz queso fresco, crumbled
1 small purple onion, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Mix all the salad ingredients well and set aside to season for about 1
hour. Line the dish with lettuce leaves, put the salad on top, and top
with the rest of the ingredients.

*Cooking the nopals: Nopales al Vapor Estilo Otumba (steamed cactus
paddles Otumba)

2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound nopales (scrape off tiny thorns and cut into little cubes),
should be about 3.5 c raw
1 large scallion, finely chopped
2 jalapeno chiles or any hot, fresh green chiles (seeds and veins left
in), thinly sliced
1 Tsp salt, or to taste
2 large sprigs epazote, roughly chopped

Heat oil in large, heavy saucepan and fry the garlic, without
browning, for a few seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients, except
the epazote. Cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring the
mixture from time to time, until the nopales are almost tender; their
viscous juice will exude (gross! seriously). Remove the lid from the
pan and continue cooking over slightly higher heat until all sticky
liquid from the nopales has dried up (almost 20 minutes, depending on
how tender the nopales are). Stir in the epazote 3 minutes before the
end of the cooking time.

Christine's notes:
I did not include the epazote because I didn't have any. In the salad I substituted cotija for queso fresco, 'cause I like cojita better. I would recommend serving this with as a salsa with enchiladas; it's a really nice flavor combination (especially the next day when the salad's flavor has developed a bit more.

After the round, it was unclear whether we all had the strength to go on, but soldier we did. As we at around expressing our enjoyment of all the food before us, out came a bottle of yummy red wine that had traveled back from the 2006 Winter Olympics, courtesy of Sean - a flattering accompaniment to my Ancho and Coffee Braised Short Ribs, that by this time were perfectly falling off the bone . . .

The Ribs:
4 dried ancho chillies, stemmed, seeded, and ribs discarded
2 cups boiling water
1 medium onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves
3 chipotles in adobo sauce, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon salt
6 lbs beef short ribs
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Soak chiles in boiling water until softened (about 20 minutes) and strain, reserving liquid. Transfer chilis plus onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, maple syrup, lime juice and 1 teaspoon salt to blender and purée.

Pat ribs dry and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet and brown the ribs in 3 batches, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. Transfer browned ribs to a roasting pan large enough to hold them in one layer.

Add chili purée to remaining fat and cook over moderate to low heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add reserved chili soaking liquid and coffee and bring to a boil. Pour the liquid over the ribs and cover roasting pan tightly with foil. Braise ribs until very tender, about 3 to 3.5 hours. Skim fat from pan juices and serve juices with ribs.

Notes: when the ribs were tender, I removed them from the roasting pan and boiled down the pan juices to a thicker, sauce-like consistency. I then returned the ribs to the pan, tossed to coat, recovered and returned the ribs to the oven on a low, warming temperature until ready to serve.

Tender just begins to describe the quality of these ribs.

At this point in the evening more than two hours of eating had passed, and you may think things were coming to an end - but not without dessert. We moved on to coffee as Josh served up his amazing Burnt Orange Ice Cream, that was outta this world, creamy and delicious.

(The orange in this custard-based ice cream isn’t really “burnt”–it’s caramelized in a pan along with sugar)

Ice Cream:
1.5 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (from 3 large navel oranges)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup strained fresh orange juice
6 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cream, milk, and zest in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove pan from heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup sugar and orange juice in another 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally, until syrup becomes a deep golden caramel. Remove pan from heat, carefully add 1/2 cup cream mixture (mixture will bubble and steam), and whisk until smooth. Add remaining cream mixture in a steady stream, whisking. Cook caramel mixture over very low heat, whisking, until caramel has dissolved and mixture is hot. Remove from heat.

Whisk together yolks, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a medium metal bowl. Add hot caramel mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard is thick enough to coat back of spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow custard to cool to room temperature, then place in refrigerator and cool for three hours. Freeze chilled custard in an ice cream maker, then transfer to a container, cover, and place in freezer until solid.

When all was said and eaten, lips licked and bellies full, the jury voted on my ribs as the evening chart topper. However, I think the scales were tipped because the ribs had a bit of a glory seat, served up as the final entrée. The food, plate after plate of it, was so satisfying that I think even an impartial panel (which we were not) would have a hard time choosing a favorite.

I hope you enjoy these recipes. I lot of love went into the food we cooked and ate last saturday night, and I am looking forward to enjoying these dishes again and again.

No comments: