Friday, October 12, 2007

Regina Schrambling's Salpicón

This was one of those confusing weather weeks where I found myself wearing flip flops and short sleeves and socks and sweaters on the same day. I stared blankly into my closet each morning hoping that I could find something to wear that would be comfortable throughout a busy day, but not leave me sweltering or shivering at any given moment.

Likewise, at this time of year I also stare blankly into my refrigerator hoping for some meal inspiration – something that is substantial enough for a crisp October evening, yet still leaves me with the feeling that I didn’t overindulge.

With that dilemma on my mind, I was thrilled to see Regina Schrambling’s article on pot luck dinners in the L.A. Times (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, October 3, 2007) and especially intrigued by her recipe for Salpicón – “A Mexican classic not often seen outside of El Paso, TX.” As a lifelong Californian, I consider myself fairly fluent in the realm of Mexican food, but this was a dish I had never seen listed on a menu. Some quick internet research revealed that Salpicón is a salad that originated in Chile, but I found variations from several Latin American countries.

Off to the market I went to buy my first chuck roast of the season. I seasoned it according to the recipe and popped it into the oven for the long slow braising process. As it cooked I continued the never ending process of sorting piles in the garage and each time I came back into the house I was greeted by the most glorious scent of beef roasting with onions, cumin and oregano.

While the roast cooled down enough for me to shred it, I chopped the last of the summer season’s beautiful tomatoes along with cucumbers, cheese, avocados and cilantro. As I stirred together the dressing ingredients, I was pleased that the last time I bought a can of chipotles in adobo sauce (and only needed two of them) I had decided to divide the remaining chiles into baggies and freeze them.

My husband warmed some corn tortillas on the stove while I assembled the salad and the kids set the table. We all enjoyed the Salpicón soft-taco style first and then ventured off into our own specialized method. Besides the original way, my favorite was using one of the lettuce leaves to make a wrap.

The next day for lunch, I scooped some over lettuce and added fresh avocado to make a salad. My husband warmed up the mixture in the microwave and stuffed the it into a heated a tortilla with fabulous results. As you would imagine, the heat really perked up the flavors and the melted cheese added another tasty dimension to an already yummy dish.

All in all, Salpicón was the perfect answer to my seasonal dinner dilemma, but I still don’t know what to wear.

Regina Schrambling’s Salpicón
Los Angeles Times – October 3, 2007

3 pounds beef brisket
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef broth
Juice of 3 limes, divided
2 chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
1/3 cup corn oil
3 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 ounces Colby Longhorn cheese, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
1 large bunch green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and finely diced
2 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
1 head leaf lettuce such as Boston or red leaf, washed

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Season the brisket all over with salt to taste, cumin and oregano.

2. Lay the onion into a baking dish large enough to hold the meat. Add the peppercorns and bay leaf. Lay the brisket on top. Pour the beef broth around it. Cover the pan and bake until the meat is very tender and shreds easily, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove from the pan to a cutting board and let stand until the meat is cool enough to handle.

3. Combine the juice from 2 1/2 limes with the chipotles and corn oil in a bowl and whisk to blend.

4. Cut the brisket crosswise into strips 1 inch wide. Remove the extra fat. Using two forks, or your fingers, separate the meat into thin shreds. Place in a large bowl and pour the lime mixture over the meat. Toss to coat. Add the jalapenos, cucumber, cheese, green onions, cilantro and tomato. Toss to combine. Season with salt, to taste. Refrigerate if not serving the salpicón immediately.

5. Just before serving, gently mix in the diced avocados. Season to taste, and add additional lime juice if desired. Serve in a large bowl lined with lettuce leaves.

Each of 10 servings: 409 calories; 36 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 80 mg. cholesterol; 191 mg. sodium.

Total time: About 4 hours
Servings: 8 to 10

Monday, September 17, 2007

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother’s dense pound cake perfumed with nutmeg. Even these days when I occasionally reprise her recipe, the scent from the oven brings back sensory memories of a happy childhood and hours of measuring and mixing in my Grammy’s kitchen. Even though Southern California was in the grips of unfriendly baking weather (and no air conditioner in sight) - from the minute I saw the photo of the Brown Sugar Pound Cake in the L.A. Times Food Section, I started counting eggs and butter cubes to see if I had everything on hand.

A dinner party for our friends visiting from England was the perfect occasion to try the recipe and give them a taste of America. The recipe proved to be easy to follow – with the possible exception of the excruciating wait while the cake cooled and before the glaze could be applied.

The richness, color, taste and texture of this cake has no equal and our guests gobbled it up sliver by sliver until only a small hunk remained. I was able to hide that small piece away for a couple of days until we arrived for a visit with my family in northern California. After dinner the first night I brought out my little wedge of cake and divided it up into small bites for everyone to try. Within five minutes every crumb was eaten and it was unanimously requested that I bake another one the next day.

My only modification the second time around was to continue whisking the glaze for an extra 15 minutes so that it was thicker and cooler than the consistency achieved with the recipe’s recommendation of 1-2 minutes. The result was luscious fingers of delicious caramel decadence.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Glaze
Los Angeles Times Food Section- August 22, 2007
Adapted from "Southern Cakes" by Nancy McDermott


3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened, plus additional for greasing the pan
1 (1-pound) box dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
5 eggs

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a fork; set aside. Into a small bowl, pour the milk and add the vanilla; set aside.

3. With a mixer, beat the butter at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the brown sugar in three batches, then add all of the white sugar, beating after each addition. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.

4. Reduce the speed to low and add half of the flour mixture and then half the milk, beating until the flour or milk has disappeared into the batter. Add the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk in the same way. Quickly scrape the batter into the tube pan and bake until the cake is nicely browned at the edges, springs back when lightly touched at the center and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from the oven and leave it on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. Loosen the cake from the pan with a table knife and turn it out onto a wire rack or plate, then leave it to cool completely. When cool, glaze with caramel glaze.

Caramel glaze:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. In a large saucepan, place the butter and brown sugar over medium heat. Stir until the butter melts and blends with the brown sugar to a smooth sauce, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Add the milk and let the icing come to a gentle boil. Stir well, remove from the heat and add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat well with a mixer, whisk or spoon until the glaze thickens and loses a little of its shine, 1 or 2 minutes. (I recommend 15+ minutes)

3. Use at once. If the glaze hardens, stir in 1 or 2 spoonfuls of evaporated milk to soften it.

Each of 12 servings: 840 calories; 8 grams protein; 129 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 34 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 174 mg. cholesterol; 144 mg. sodium.

Total time: 45 minutes, plus baking and cooling time for the cake
Servings: 10 to 12

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What to be when I grow up?

I have always envied those people who knew from an early age what their passion in life was. I, on the other hand, seem be eternally curious about so many things that I'm not sure I will ever be able to do justice to any of them. As I look back on my childhood, the only thing I always knew I wanted to be was a mom.

As a teenager I had a part-time job in a real estate office, which turned into a 20 year career as an Escrow Officer (the neutral third-party that prepares the legal documents and handles the money in a real estate transaction). I'm organized and good with numbers, so the job is a good fit for me, but I'm not passionate about it whatsoever.

I love cooking and come from a family of chefs and food lovers - even my kids are budding gourmands! I love babies (the littler and fresher the better) and have considered being a doula so I could help new mommies with the difficult first weeks. I am very interested in genealogy and my roots, especially with regard to traditional foods and customs. Gardening and decorating are also very close to my heart.

If you enter all of those interests, passions, and skills into the "career computer" it turns out that I am highly qualified to be a wife, mother, and domestic goddess. So I guess I did find my dream job after all.

Oh, and I also love to write, which brings me here.