Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Answer is: Millet.

Hot on the heels of my sojourn out of the country for nearly three months, I’m back aboard the whole grain train again.  

With all the fried and rich spicy food that I devoured while in Mexico, it was time for some simple, unadulterated comfort food.  And millet was my answer. 

Now that I’ve become more familiar with millet mechanics, I’ve learned it is extremely forgiving.  When it comes to cooking time, millet tolerates a wide margin of error. Although I usually allow about 20 minutes overall, the consequences of under or over cooking it seem minimal.   

Millet is happy to drift into the background and just hang out.  Its moderately small grains and mild nuttiness make it a great foil for other more substantial textures and flavors.  


Here’s my version of a convenient homemade custard pudding that is soothingly suitable for many occasions.  Start with a quick and easy custard, add the cooked millet, stir in a handful of dried fruit such as apricots and golden raisins, and top it with toasted sugared almonds.   

For an easy parfait variation, omit the dried fruit and layer the pudding in stemware alternately with sweetened fresh berries.   

Millet Pudding

1/2 cup millet
1 ½ cup boiling water
pinch salt

2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 cups milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
½ tsp. each vanilla and/or almond extract

Optional ingredients and variations:
2/3 cup dried fruit:  such as 1/3 cup golden raisins, 1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup fresh berries or other suitable fruit:  toss lightly with 1-2 tbsp sugar
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a dry pan with 1 tsp. sugar

1.       To pre-cook the millet, bring salted water to a boil, stir in the millet.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.  Note:   you will have more millet than you will need. (Freeze the remainder, or try it as a hot cereal for breakfast.)

2.       For the custard, in a small pan over medium heat, whisk milk, cornstarch, sugar and eggs and bring to a simmer.  Continue to whisk until mixture begins to thicken about 3-5 minutes. 

3.       Stir in extract, 1 cup or more millet and dried fruit if using.  Let stand briefly and then pour into serving bowl or portion into individual dishes.  Top with toasted sweetened slivered almonds.  Yield:  serves 4.

Variation:  In parfait glasses, spoon layers of millet pudding alternately with sweetened fresh berries or other fruit.  If desired top with toasted nuts or additional fruit. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Liver for Lovers: Bolognese Sauce

Warning!  This blog may not be suitable for all readers.  Please proceed only if you appreciate chicken livers.

Recently back from my ten-week stint in Mexico, I acknowledge that there are other foods in life beyond chilies, tortillas, cheese, and all the fabulous dishes celebrated there.
In fact, on my return I had an unexpected craving for chicken livers.  It’s not a complete surprise, and because I get a hankering for them about once a month, I tend to stock-pile a container of them in my freezer to head off this sudden biological urge. 

Yesterday, as I mulled over a nice weekend meal, what glee did I express, when behold!  To the rear of my freezer, I spot a lurking carton of chicken livers amongst my depleted pickings.  Hallelujah sister!  Joy upon joy, I had all the fundamentals for Chicken Livers in Bolognese including three fresh Roma tomatoes and from out in the garden plenty of sage and rosemary.

I make my Bolognese the traditional way:  a meat sauce simmered with tomatoes and milk.   I elected to go with ground pork instead of veal, turkey, or beef because it too, was in my freezer.  I can’t say enough about the addition of the milk to the sauce.  Fear not:  the tomatoes will not curdle the milk; along with a bit of Parmesan cheese, it tends to tenderize the meat and harmonize the sauce.  The combination of herbs and spices, plus the addition of the chicken livers, create a marriage made in heaven. Trust me on this one.

Now, you are doubly forewarned ― because this comes from an unabashed liver lover.

Chicken Livers in Bolognese Sauce

  3        tbsp. olive oil -- divided
  1         lb. chicken livers
 1/3     cup flour
             salt and pepper    
  1         onion, peeled and chopped
  1         poblano or other green pepper, seeded and chopped
  1         carrot, peeled and chopped
  2         cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  3/4    lb. ground pork, veal, turkey, or beef
  1         tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  1         tsp. fresh sage, chopped
  2        tbsp. red wine
  3        Roma tomatoes, chopped
  2 – 3  tbsp. tomato paste
  ½       tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  ¼       tsp. cayenne
  ½       tsp. salt and freshly ground pepper
  ½       cup low fat or other milk
  2         tbsp.  Parmesan cheese, crumbled
  12       oz. chicken stock,  or beef
             few dashes Worcestershire sauce
             salt and pepper
  1         tsp. aged balsamic vinegar (optional)

Clean the liver, cut into manageable pieces and pat dry; sprinkle lightly with flour, salt, and  pepper.  In a large pot heat 2 tbsp. oil and add livers.  Brown well on all sides and remove.

To the pot, heat remaining oil, add vegetables to soften and remove to separate bowl.  Add pork to the pan, break up and brown lightly adding herbs and spices.  Deglaze with red wine and loosen bits from pan; add tomatoes, tomato paste, reserved vegetables and the stock.  Add the milk, Parmesan, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and stir to combine all. Partially cover pan and simmer about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens slightly.  It will thicken as it sets.   

Add livers to pan, simmer to finish cooking them and to blend flavors, about 10 minutes; adjust seasoning.  If too tart, add a pinch of sugar or a splash of aged balsamic.  Best if allowed to set overnight to mellow flavors.  Serve over pasta, polenta, or on the side with risotto.  Yield:  4 servings.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Chicharrón… more or less

In Mexico, chicharrón can cause strong reactions and it is often the subject of considerable discussion, even debate. 

Stateside we are familiar with the addictive crunchy snack made from deep fried pork skins. Of course, bags of them are everywhere in Mexico, some are sprinkled with chile blends, and others can even include a personal sample of hot sauce.

However, that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their possibilities in Querétaro.  For the more adventurous, the skins are not fried.  They can be purchased raw at local markets and made into an array of dishes by home cooks.  Tostadas and tacos often feature this style: skins simmered for various lengths of time in a favorite sauce can result in an end product that ranges from barely cooked and squeaky pink, to well done and meltingly soft.

Part of the traditional gastronomy of Querétaro are gorditas, corn patties filled with a variety of fillings ranging from nopales, chorizo, potatoes, cheese, or of course, chicharrón.  My Sunday breakfast today featured the ever popular migajas gorditas, tortilla dough stuffed with a filling of chicharrón simmered in a savory chile sauce. 

 There are other forms to consider:  there are guacamayas, or small sandwiches called bolillo tortas that are stuffed with chicharrón and avocado, seasoned with lime and red mashed salsa of tomatoes, onions, chili peppers.  Or consider crema conchis, a soup flavored with chicharrón and chile; and of course where we would be without chicharrón sorbet?  

In Mexico City I had my first experience with tostadas de chicharrón. The crisp corn tortilla was spread with refried beans,  sheets of fried chicharrón, and finished with assorted toppings:  cabbage, onion, radish, avocado, crema, cheese, and a boat-load of salsa options. The chicharrón tends to soaks up the toppings and softens it instead of breaking into unwieldy pieces. 

Chicharrones in Salsa Verde is very popular in this area and it really requires no recipe.  The format is similar to the above tostadas.  Begin by heating about 2 cups of your favorite salsa verde; add ½ pound of chicharrón and simmer to soften, but not mushy. 

Serve with warm tortillas or tostadas spread with refried beans if desired; top with shredded cabbage or lettuce, onion, radishes, crumbled cheese, avocado, and favorite sauces. 


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