Friday March 7, 2014
One of the most enjoyable parties for a host or hostess is letting the guests do the work themselves. Who doesn't love tacos? Fillings for tacos range from vegetables to fish and seafood to any variety of meat and poultry. Toppings can be just about anything: guacamole, salsa, crunchy romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced jalapenos, refried beans or black beans or cheese -- whatever your chefly imagination dreams up, it can pretty much be stuffed into a taco.
I'm not a fan of those pre-fabricated, pre-fried taco shells, which remind me too much of extra large Fritos Corn Chips, and no matter if you use one of those taco holders from the 1970s, the shells crack apart. Corn or flour tortillas, gently steamed or warmed in the microwave, are the easiest and best way to serve tacos.
Here are three of my favorite recipes for taco fillings, which can also be used for burritos as well. Cook up a batch, then put toppings in individual bowls and the warmed tortillas on a plate, and you've got a taco party. What could be simpler than that?
Monday March 3, 2014
In French cooking, a roux (pronounced "roo") -- cooked flour and butter -- is used as the base for classic sauces, like bechamel, and when it's cooked a little longer to a light brown, it can be transformed into demi-glace. In New Orleans, of course, life is a bit spicier, and a roux is stirred and stirred until it's a luscious chocolate brown. A Cajun roux is the base for a true gumbo -- it's just not gumbo without it.
Naturally everybody in New Orleans has their own recipe for gumbo, so once you've made the roux, there's no reason why you can't be inventive, adding (or not) shrimp, chicken, sausage or okra. If you've never attempted to cook a roux before, do take care. It's not at all difficult, but that magical concoction of flour and oil is boiling hot, so stir slowly and patiently, and your efforts will be richly rewarded.
Monday February 24, 2014
One of the easiest meals for a chilly night (pun intended) is a hot and spicy bowl of chili. Chilis are made with almost any kind of meat -- or no meat, too -- and an essential step is browning the meat properly. I've never been a fan of bottled chile powder; it usually has too much cumin for my taste (and I like cumin). It's easy to make your own. You can find dried chiles in practically every supermarket, and a combination of pasilla, ancho and chipotle chiles will give you a spicy but full-rounded flavor. You simply toast them in a skillet for a few minutes, then pulse them into powder with a few other spices (garlic, oregano, paprika, a touch of cinnamon) in a coffee grinder or blender.
For the two chile recipes I'm posting today, I've omitted the dried chipotle chile from the powder mix, but added canned chipotles and adobo sauce to the chili pot. You can adjust the heat level by adding more or fewer chipotles. Served with the usual condiments of cheese, green onions, cilantro and a dash of sour cream, chili is a warming bowl of comfort.
Saturday February 22, 2014
Back in the day when Hollywood stars dined at Chasen's or The Brown Derby, a favorite menu item was Veal Oscar, a relatively easy yet glamorous dish of sautéed veal cutlet, King crab meat, asparagus tips and sauce Bearnaise.
With the pernicious nouvelle cuisine fad, such rich eating fell out of favor. Yes, this is certainly not a recipe you would eat every day without risking artery clogging, but as Julia Child preached, in moderation, you can eat anything you wish.
Veal Oscar is definitely for a special occasion -- birthdays, anniversaries -- and although it was named after Sweden's King Oscar II, who apparently couldn't get enough crab, veal and Bearnaise, this recipe would be appropriate for celebrating (or mocking) the annual Academy Awards. Chasen's and the Derby are long gone, but you can still dine like a star at home.