Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Lessons of Cheryl's Kitchen - Introduction.

Welcome to part one of a multi-part series of indeterminate length whose posts will be about my memories that stem from my mother's cooking. I've often said that if it weren't for my mother that I would have never picked up a mixing spoon for the first time. It's this connection of mine to food that I find to be one of the most fascinating. As I lay them out, I'll try my best to document my mother's stories, recipes, and of course my own incoherent ramblings on the subject. 

Now, I would be remiss if I didn't give a little background info on my mother before we began. So, much to her dismay, let me tell you about one Mrs. Cheryl Coalmer...

My mom was born in the same town as I was, East Liverpool, Ohio, the third of five children. Now, although my grandfather has given me a number of stories about her childhood nicknames, family photos, and other stories, not many of them (other than a noted disliking of vegetable soup) are pertinent to this blog. My mom met my dad in high school and they were married a few years after graduation.

Many of my mom's recipes seem to be borne of this time in my mom's life. Between her adapting to married life, a new home, and the influences of friends and neighbors, my mom often mentions this time as the origin of many of the items she frequently makes. Recently, my mother has given me a number of recipes that she's very fond of. Along with these recipes are the stories that she remembers surrounding the various food items. Obviously, this has become one  of my most cherished gifts. Many of these recipes (much like my own repertoire after moving out of my childhood home) are borne of this time of change in her life. From her many recipes made through the miraculous ease of Bisquick, to learning the ropes of using the first grill that she and my dad purchased, to her friendship with our neighbor (Aunt) Virginia and many others, the love of the kitchen that I've now inherited has its roots planted firmly in this place in time. 

Over the years my mothers food has become pretty popular and considerably more complex. I admire her curiosity and her open mind when it comes to food. She always seems to have the ability to impress at picnics, at dinners, at holidays and many more. I think more than a lot of the ink in my mom's pens have been spilled on 3x5 notecards given to others. I think it's from her willingness to share in her love of these items that I saw the social value that food has in enriching so many lives.

It's because of this passion that so many of my great childhood memories are possible. Although I would love to write about the incalculable number of beaters I've licked, plates of cookies for Santa, times I've nearly burned down her kitchen etc., for now I'll focus on the most fond of my memories surrounding cooking with my mother. Be sure to check the comments sections of these posts to see if she's corrected any of the recipes, facts, stories, etc., or just to see if she's vengefully posted any embarrassing stories about me.

Mom's official response:
Well son all I can say is Thank You very much for recognizing my love of cooking and for carrying on the traditions of my love for feeding friends and family. 

It seemed whenever we had company at the house we always ended up sitting at the kitchen counter... I always felt I had to feed people when they stopped by. Almost every weekend of our married life we had friends over for dinner and to play cards. 

Most of my adult life has been spent in the kitchen. Some people may think that is odd, but I do feel the kitchen is the heart of the home. Cooking has always been my vice... when I am happy, sad, depressed or just bored it has always been what comforts me. I still believe in the sanctity of the family dinner. There is nothing like sitting down to a good meal and good conversation. If this is not something you do on a regular basis with your family, then please give it a try. Get out those recipes you've been wanting to try or log onto Brett's blog and try something new!!!! 

Thanks Mom!

Friday, August 27, 2010

New phone = better photos.

Happy birthday to my real boss, Tonya!
I took the after-work celebration at SoMar wine cellars as an opportunity to test out the capabilities of my new phone's camera, and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Now, I know that wine is perennially a very photogenic subject, and a staple that makes any gathering instantly classier, but the beautiful weather just accentuated the beauty of the wine shop and especially the natural beauty of the wine.
Hopefully this means that I will be able to upload even more mouth watering photos to the blog. Keep your eyes peeled for more temptation.
Posted from my iPhone.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unconventional wake-up call

So, this one is going to be just a quick entry. I'm trying out adding entries by phone, so that I can share more of what I make.

This one though is about these amazing little corn fritters I had a craving for the other morning. I don't know what exactly brought this on, but my tummy is quite content that it did.
Although I like pancakes, I was craving something with a fair amount more flavor. These just fit the bill perfectly.

First, I made a small batch of cornbread batter: (all are approximate)
3/4c masa harina (Corn Flour),
1/4c flour,
1/8t Baking soda,
1/8t kosher salt,
1/2-//3c milk,
1/3c oil,
2 ears corn (remove and blanch the kernels) [Or use 1c Canned Corn Drained and Rinsed]
Mix dry add in wet ingredients, stir till consistent. Add blanched corn.

Then, as many a wonderful recipe entails, I deep fry the batter:
In a deep skillet heat about 3/4" oil to medium-high heat. Scoop batter slow and low into the pan in ice cream scoop amounts. Cook each side 60-90 seconds. Scoop out of the oil and allow to drain to remove the excess oil. Place on a paper towel lined plate.

Last, add some flavor:
Here I made mine with bananas and maple syrup. You could do powdered sugar and strawberry jam, toasted pecans and honey, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A tale of a late dinner.

Sometimes, your best ideas are borne out of necessity and scarcity. Thus was the case for Horacio and my dinner the other night. As it often does, it seems like it took almost no time for us to end up at the crossroads of dwindling daylight, closed grocery stores, not enough ingredients, and (most importantly) two very empty stomachs. A truly critical situation indeed.

So what was the solution to making a satisfying meal that was quick, simple, and tasty? Horacio's answer was Flautas, and I jumped at the opportunity to learn how to make one of my favorite dishes (and add a little of my own invention to boot.

Now, I'm almost embarrassed to say that my experience with Mexican food preparation consists of emptying the contents of a box, stirring everything together, and eating the whole thing on some variation of fried cornmeal. I've been slowly introducing myself to Latin cooking over the course of the last few months, but I've failed to focus on one regional style. Perhaps this was my time to change that... perhaps.

We quickly ran to the closest open store to pick up just a few remaining ingredients, but for the most part we had everything we needed. It never ceases to amaze me that most people need look no further than their own cabinets for the ingredients to make a great meal, and this was no exception. Too often I find myself heading to the store to buy groceries I just don't need, when I have the ingredients I need to make a fantastic meal on hand. I am usually just too lazy to think creatively about it.

The flautas were simple: take chicken breast, boiled in water, salt, and just a bit of olive oil (Horacio's task). wrap them in corn tortillas, and fry in a pan. Now, trust me when I say that you could stop right here. These were so simple yet so delicious that I could have just ate them as they came out of the pan. (I believe I may have even done this with once or twice without Horacio noticing.) Fear not though, this writer hasn't lost his mind. I was ABSOLUTELY NOT content with just the flautas and proceeded, while Horacio was preparing the chicken, to make a smoky, tangy, and most importantly hot-spicy sauce to compliment the delicious little flutes. I adapted my recipe for a chipotle-lime marinade to make a thick mole perfectly adapted to top or dip these finger foods in.

I am a huge proponent in the addition of heat to my cooking, but ONLY if it has flavor. I have little respect for sauces that are hot for the sole purpose of being hot, as they usually numb your tongue and have as much flavor as my gel insoles (when new, of course). But this sauce manages to be fresh and smokey, hot and bold, flavorful and full of a heat that conjures images of the coals of a campfire where the flames have just gone and all that's left are the red hot coals; a slow burn that simply builds and builds without getting in the way of all of the flavors that are present.

The best part is, the whole meal came together in less than an hour because there were two hands on the work, and the result was every bit as good as the meals I've spent days planning. Just remember, if you can't take the heat, stay out of our kitchen.

Chipotle Lime Mole:
1 can of Chipotle Peppers packed in Adobo.
The juice of 2 limes
3T of tequila
1T Water
1/4c Cilantro (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend to desired smoothness.

4 medium chicken breasts
Kosher Salt
Olive oil.
Queso Fresco
Chipotle Lime Mole
Vegetable oil for Frying

In a medium stock pot bring 6-8 cups of water and a healthy amount of salt to a boil (enough to cover the chicken breasts completely.) reduce to a lightly rolling simmer and add the olive oil and chicken to the water. Allow to boil for at least 40 mins until the chicken breast is tender and can easily be shredded with a fork. Remove breasts and shred on a plate. Then, in a deep skillet, add enough canola oil to fill about a 1/4" deep portion of the pan and bring to medium-high heat. Take a small amount of the shredded chicken and spread a thin line of the chicken onto a heated corn tortilla. (horacio proved me wrong that these should be heated in a microwave for about a full minute or so prior to adding the chicken in order for them to be pliable enough. Do so while they are wrapped in a wet paper towel.) Wrap the tortilla tightly around the chicken to create the "flute" and place, flap side down into the oil for about 90 seconds. Flip and continue cooking on the other side for another 60-90 seconds. Remove from oil, tilt to drain excess oil, and place on a paper-towel lined plate.

Plate the flautas on a plate, and top with the queso and the mole. Be sure to enjoy with your fingers, or you'll be missing out on all the fun. Last, be sure to keep a big glass of milk nearby for when the chipotles max out your tolerance.