Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rhubarb Crisp/Crumble

Despite all this avowed loyalty to the southwestern lands of the US, I am and always will be a midwesterner at heart. Living in Michigan during my "formative years", I was able to experience the joys of a garden that, in the summer time, bestowed all kinds of delicious fruit and vegetables. Although I was more than on board with picking and eating the berries or snap peas directly from my mother's well-tended garden, I was always wary of the large celery-type looking thing that was rhubarb. It didn't help matters that my mother had warned me off the stuff by saying that the leaves were poisonous.

Why would anyone eat such a thing?

She would attempt to incorporate it into various summer pies or cobblers, but my mind was resolutely made up that no quasi-posionous foot item that so resembled a vegetable could possibly be delicious.

This opinion stuck with until my move to England, where I found it incorporated into all number of desserts, usually served with custard or cream. And thus only recently did I discover the joys of fresh summer rhubarb, made better still by combining it with sugar, rolled oats, and cinnamon. The crumble or crisp being one of my favorite desserts, when Mark Bittman came up with this easy beauty of a rhurbarb crumble, I couldn't pass it up. Although it was in season when I made this, I still worried that my "Tesco-sourced" rhubarb would be too tart for the scant amount of sugar that Bittman includes with the recipe. So I upped it by about 1/4 cup.
Tell me adding sugar to anything is wrong.
Go ahead, tell me.

Time: About 1 hour, largely unattended

Serves about 6-8


6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for greasing the pan

2 1/2 to 3 pounds rhubarb, trimmed, tough strings removed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 5 to 6 cups)

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon orange or lemon juice

1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup pecans


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking or gratin dish with a little butter. Toss rhubarb with white sugar, orange or lemon juice and zest, and spread in baking dish.

2. Put the 6 tablespoons butter in a food processor along with brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt, and pulse for about 20 or 30 seconds, until it looks like small peas and just begins to clump together. Add oats and pecans and pulse just a few times to combine.

3. Crumble the topping over rhubarb and bake until golden and beginning to brown, 45 to 50 minutes.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Coconut Cookies: Two Ways!

A friend of mine had a birthday recently and she is helplessly addicted to coconut. While I had originally planned to make coconut macaroons for her, I discovered only too late that what I thought was shredded coconut in my pantry was instead powdered coconut "cream". I was a bit worried but curious how it would turn out if I used it instead.

Lo and behold it worked like a charm!

And then, in a mood of particular curiosity and wanting to use up all other coconut products I had lying around (as you do...) I used dried coconut milk as a substitute ingredient for the next batch which came out as an entirely different cookie and consistency. But just as delicious!

The powdered coconut milk kept the cookie moist in the middle but still retained a firm shape and coconut flavor. These are great recipes if you only want a few cookies and not an entire tray full. Enjoy!

Unusual Coconut Macaroons

Makes:  4 cookies


1 egg white

1 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp vanilla

1/8 tsp almond extract

3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut (or, in my case, powdered coconut "cream")

Stir together all ingredients except for the coconut in a large bowl. When combined, slowly add the coconut while stirring.

Divide into fourths and drop onto a baking sheet lined with foil, buttered and floured.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Coconut Milk Cookies

Makes: 4 cookies


1 egg white

2 tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp almond extract

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 cup "powdered coconut milk" (I used the brand Maggi)

Stir together all ingredients except for the coconut in a large bowl.

When combined, slowly add the coconut while stirring.

Divide into fourths and drop onto a baking sheet lined with foil, buttered and floured.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Fiesta de Julio

This particular fiesta was marked by the surprise entrance of the Mexican sombrero. I don't want to know where these people got them in Britain at the last minute, but they were well in keeping with the mood of the night and made for interesting "Mexican hat dances" as the night wore on.


Pork Tamales
Shrimp Salsa
Black Bean & Hominy Salad
Smoky Stuffed Jalapeno Chilies
Avocado Dip
Courgettes with Chilies and Cheese
Cream Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Berries

And, of course, the staples of Mexican beer, pseudo-margaritas (shamefully, from a premixed bottle), and mojitos (which aren't technically Mexican, but at least from a Spanish-speaking country).

Pork Tamales

Well, we've crossed another marker in the Mexican food exploits of UK living. Pork tamales. This is something I've wanted to make for years. But if I've moaned about sourcing ingredients before, try finding dried corn husks in the UK. This was a necessary Arizonan import. Intent on my goal, I brought a bag back with me last time I visited home, where a bag of about 50 are on sale for less than $1. Because honestly. They're corn husks.

Tamales are the ubiquitous Mexican New Year's Eve food. Usually complemented with red and/or green salsa, most families will gather around a large bowl of masa and set up an assembly line for making them.

The trick is to get the balance between the filling (pork in this case) and masa just right. You set grandma up with making the masa, mom gets working on the pork (or whatever filling) and then everyone grabs a corn husk and starts making these little parcels of deliciousness.

Pork is traditional, but you can even make dessert tamales by stuffing the masa with chocolate, dried fruit, or really whatever your heart desires. You will need a steamer for these guys and about a day free for cooking. The recipe I used (adapted from this website) actually advised spending two days on the project. Now, I can justify a day of cooking as thesis procrastination, but even I have to draw the line at two. I started cooking the meat in the morning and it was falling apart (perfect tamales consistency) by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. The masa took minutes to make. So worry not, delicious tamales can be yours in less than 24 hours.

Serves about 8-10


2 pounds pork lean steak (fat trimmed and cut into 2'' cubes)

1 onion, thickly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1/4 cup chili powder (I used a blend of ancho and achiote, very smoky and not too hot)

salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp cumin

4 cups masa harina (dried masa for tortillas)

1 cup lard (or vegetable shortening but good luck finding it!)

corn husks


Cook the pork in a large pot of water (or in a slow-cooker filled with water) with an onion, 2 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, salt and pepper. Cook for the day, 4 hours minimum.

After the meat is cooked (so that it falls apart and shreds easily), remove from pot, set aside to cool, and puree the onion and garlic with the broth. Season broth mixture to taste with chili powder and salt.

Shred meat finely with two forks (you can even chop it after shredding), and store covered in refrigerator separately from broth.

Soak your corn husks in a bowl of boiling hot water for about 30 minutes or until they are soft and pliant.

Season shredded meat with chili powder, salt, and cumin (optional) to taste. As you season the meat, add a small amount of broth to moisten meat, but it should not be runny.

For every 2 cups of masa harina (meal), add ½ cup of shortening or lard, 1tsp. of salt, and enough chili powder to make a pink dough. Add broth mixture a little at a time to masa and mix with your hands to get a smooth, spreadable consistency. If you run out of broth, you can use hot water, but you will wish you had plenty of broth.

Assemble the tamales

Spread masa about 1/8 inch thick on corn husk with fingers, leaving about ½ inch border along the sides and 2 inch border along the top and bottom of husk. Use about 2 Tbsp. of shredded meat to fill the tamal (like a cigar). Fold sides until they just overlap, fold narrow end under, and place tamal folded side down.

To keep the corn husk in place, I recommend making small strips of one corn husk, using each strip to tie a "belt" around each corn husk.

To cook, place about 1/2'' of water at the bottom of your steamer, allow the water to come to a boil and then reduce to a nice simmer. Place the tamales in the steamer so that they just overlap with each other (but don't crowd them!) and then steam for 15 minutes or until masa is no longer sticky.

Courgettes (Zucchini) with cheese and green chilies

I will not even deign to comment on the whole zucchini/courgette name debate (remember, I live in England & every once in a while I feel the need to assert the American vocab) but suffice it to say I was looking for a veggie side dish that was at least pseudo-Mexican and this one fit the bill.

Delicious, but feel free to decrease the amount of cream cheese you put in.

Consider it dependent on your adherence to the credo that veggie side dishes should retain at least some nutritional value.

Serves 6 as a side dish


2 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tomatoes

1/3 cup drained pickled jalapeno chili slices, chopped

1 1/4 lb (500g) courgettes (zucchini, gah!)

1/2 cup (115g) cream cheese

salt and ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, garlic, and oregano. Fry for 3-4 minutes, until the onion is soft and translucent.

Cut a cross in the base of each tomato. Place in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave in the water for 3 minutes, then lift out on a slotted spoon and plunge into a bowl of cold water. Drain. The skins will have begun to peel back from the crosses. Remove the skins and cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the seeds. Chop the flesh into strips.

Top and tail the courgettes, then cut them lengthways into 1/2 inch wide strips. Slice the strips into matchsticks.

Stir the courgettes into the onion mixture and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add the tomatoes and chopped jalapenos and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Add the cream cheese. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. As the cheese melts, stir gently to coat the courgettes. Season with salt, pile into a heated dish and serve.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Shrimp Salsa

Because I was holding a party that would involve several noted pescetarians, I wanted to provide something as a substantial meatless dish.

Behold, the shrimp salsa.

 I'm not quite on the bandwagon yet with calling everything that is cold and has a few chilies in it "salsa" (I mean, what's the difference between this and a salad?) but regardless this was a good treat and went down well with the non-meat eaters of our group.

Due to continuing ripeness issues with avocados, for this recipe, I made it a few hours early just so that the avocados might soften a bit as they sat in the lime juice. Worked like a charm. 


2 limes, halved

about 30-35 cooked shrimp

1/4 teaspoon achiote powder (optional)

2 cups seeded and diced tomatoes

1/3 cup minced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos, or to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Ground black pepper to taste


Use 1/4 cup of the lime juice and the achiote powder to soak the shrimp for about 1-2 hours if you want a really zesty salsa. Otherwise just skip to the next step.

In a large bowl, mix the shrimp with the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, avocado, lime juice, jalapeno, herbs, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more lime juice, salt, or pepper.

Note: This dish can be made and refrigerated up to 3 hours before serving. It should be made the day it is served. Although it doesn't go bad, the vegetables become waters, and it isn't as good the next day.

Smoky Stuffed Jalapeño Chilies

As I've often commented (see previous posts), sourcing ingredients for Mexican food in England is not always the easiest task. And often it's the simplest ingredients that prove to be the most trouble to find.

For example: jalapeño chillies.

These little babies, which are so frequently stocked in your friendly neighborhood Tesco, were on this particular day nowhere to be found in the central Oxford area. Nowhere. Ancho chilies? The other slightly non-standard food item I needed? Available by the truckload. And while I found it amusing that I couldn't find my main ingredient , the amusement did not extend past me asking the 5th store employee if they had any jalapeños. The amusement particularly had worn thin when the answer was no.

So I improvised and invested in some Marks & Spencer's baby chilies instead. Which were the perfect size and worked like a charm. These bite size morsels are definitely more-ish.

I doubled the recipe below in an attempt to satiate the appetites of 12, but I would say plan for at least 3 half peppers per person. There were definitive angry grunts from the people who hadn't swooped in to snag one before they were gone.


8 jalapeño chillies (or sweet baby chilies)

2 slices of white bread, crusts removed, for breadcrumbs (or Panko breadcrumbs)

2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

1 apple, peeled, cored and finely diced

2 banana shallots or 4 regular shallots, finely chopped (or half an onion)

8 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves picked and roughly chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 heaped tsp chipotles en adobo (available in major supermarkets and online at
       -or dried ancho chilies

Juice of ½ lemon

120g vegetarian goat’s cheese, diced or crumbled

75g grated vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese



Halve the chillies lengthways (keep the stems intact) and remove the seeds. Plunge the chilli halves in boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes to blanch. Refresh in cold water, then drain. This will soften them and temper their heat a little.

Meanwhile, whizz the bread in a blender to make breadcrumbs. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the diced apple and fry for 3-4 minutes until it has started to colour. Turn the heat right down and add the shallot, thyme and some seasoning. Cook for 10 minutes until the shallots are soft. Add the garlic and chipotles and cook for another 2 minutes, then remove from the heat. When the mixture has cooled a little, stir in the lemon juice, to taste, then the goat’s cheese.

Place the chillies in a shallow baking dish. Divide the stuffing among them and scatter with the breadcrumbs. When you’re getting ready to eat, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4. Drizzle the chillies with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

Cream Cheese and Pecan Stuffed Berries

On summer nights it's hard serving warm cookies, cakes, or really anything that requires an oven for dessert. You want something that's light but sweet, and reflects something of the season. Berries are all over England right now. You can't move for strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries, the three-way tie for my favorite fruit.

While the Brits can't pass up on their strawberries and cream (classic), here's a new twist on the same idea. The slicing of the strawberries was perhaps the most challenging bit of this, but once you get the knack, you can do all 20 (or however many) in minutes. And if you want to bypass that step altogether, opt for raspberries.

Nature has already provided a space for you. And Nature, we are so, so grateful.
I tried to remember to take a picture of the dessert when it was sprinkled with pecans. But alas. They were gone in minutes and the photo was not to be. 


20 whole large strawberries, hulled (and/or raspberries)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup confectioners' powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla and/or almond extract

2/3 cup chopped pecans


-Cut a thin slice from the bottom of each strawberry so the berries stand upright. Place berries, cut side down, on a serving platter.

-Carefully cut the berries into 4 wedges, cutting almost to, but not through, the bottoms with a criss-cross cut. Fan wedges just slightly, taking care not to break them. Set aside.

-In a mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until combined but still stiff.

-Using a teaspoon or a plastic bag with a small hole cut in one corner, fill the strawberries with the cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle chopped pecans on top of the stuffed strawberries.

-Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Middle Eastern/Mexican Avocado Dip

Trying to make guacamole in England is a lesson in perpetual frustration. It is case in point why Mexican food has never really, well, flourished here.

It's a simple question of ingredients. The humble avocado, needing the warm watery environs of places like California or Mexico, does not do well in the land of fish and chips. Avocados are not happy here. The ones offered at the grocery store are small green rocks. Even if you try and ripen these bad boys at home, most of your efforts will be in vain. They will go from rock to mush with about a 5 second window of "perfectly ripe".

As such, making anything that requires the beautiful soft texture of a ripe avocado is foolhardy. To avoid said foolhardiness but still wanting an avocado-based dip,

I solved this issue by just thoroughly mashing the crap out of an avocado, thus bypassing the texture issue altogether. It also involved tahini, a new-found love of mine.

This dip was gone in minutes, literally. Have it with tortilla chips in appreciation of its Mexican side, pita chips for its Middle Eastern side, or  raw veggies if you want to go the healthy way.

Makes about 1 cup of dip


2 cloves garlic, cut in half, green shoots removed

Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste

2 ripe avocados

3 tablespoons sesame tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or lime juice, if you want more of a hint of Mexican flavors)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground (to taste) (or simply ground cumin)


1. Place the garlic in a mortar and pestle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and mash to a smooth paste. Cut the avocados in half, pit them and scoop out from the skins. Add to the mortar and pestle, and mash together with the garlic until the mixture is smooth. Work in the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and additional salt to taste.

2. Scrape into a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, setting the wrap right on top of the avocado. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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