Archive for the ‘Holiday Foods’ Category

Memories of Migas

Wednesday, May 4th, 2022

For Cinco de Mayo this week, I’m making one of my favorite (and one of the easiest ever) Tex-Mex dishes, Migas.

I first tasted Migas when I was working on my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. I won’t say how long ago this happened; readers might begin to doubt my official age of 39. I will just say that it has been a number of years since I graduated.

I gather that Austin at present is not a cheap place in which to live. The New York Times ran a piece last November titled “How Austin Became One of the Least Affordable Cities in America.” I was saddened to learn that my former city now suffers from a housing crisis.

When I lived there, Austin was a paradise for impoverished students. I made a few hundred dollars a month. Luckily, I didn’t have to pay tuition; I usually had some form of scholarship. My income came either from fellowship money or teaching assistantships.

With this income, I managed to pay for basic groceries, textbooks when I absolutely had to purchase them (I found that a lot of the books I had to read were available in the local library), occasional gas and repairs for the Tinkymobile, and rent at the Casa del Rio.

The Casa was a small apartment complex from which I could walk to the University of Texas campus. A number of my friends lived there as well so communal meals out on the patio surrounding the pool were frequent.

Each small apartment had a sliding-glass door that led to the patio. If you were available to visit with friends, you left the curtain behind the door open. If you had to work that day or night, you closed the curtain.

It was an ideal living situation. One could have company whenever one wanted to, but nobody was offended when one was unavailable. I loved having my own stretch of patio where I did container gardening, raising flowers, herbs, and the occasional vegetable. Nurturing living things is the perfect antidote to the dissertation blues.

I recently looked for the Casa del Rio on the internet and was heartened to learn that it still exists. I was saddened to discover that it boasts of upgrades that include state-of-the-art appliances. I adored my vintage turquoise-blue kitchen appliances. True, the refrigerator needed to be defrosted frequently, but one must suffer for beauty.

Even after paying my rent, my cheap student health insurance, and my other expenses, I usually had leftover funds for dining out at least once a week. (I wish I could say the same of my budget today!)

Food, like rent, was inexpensive in Austin. I never warmed up to Texas barbecue; I much preferred the sweeter, more pork-centric barbecue in Tennessee.

On special occasions my friends and I dined at Threadgill’s, a restaurant that started as an art-deco service station and morphed into an Austin institution mingling country-style cooking and music. It was at Threadgill’s that I first tasted chicken-friend steak. I was an instant convert to this Texas favorite.

Threadgill’s managed to survive for decades only to be closed down during the recent pandemic. Its demise sparked headlines across the nation.

On non-special occasions, my group eschewed Threadgill’s and ate at any one of a number of Tex-Mex establishments. It was at one of these that I learned to love Migas.

The word Migas means “bread crumbs” in Spanish. This classic poor people’s dish originated in Spain as a way to use up stale bread by combining it with eggs and other handy foods.

In Austin, Migas were made not from leftover bread but from leftover tortillas, cut into strips and fried to give them new life. The dish is even easier if you do as my friend Jennifer does and use leftover tortilla chips.

I asked Jennifer for her recipe, and she gave it to me—although it’s one of those recipes that isn’t really a recipe. She just gave me a list of ingredients she might or might not put in her migas.

These included three types of cheese, jalapeño and bell pepper, onion, and cilantro or parsley.

I couldn’t find all three types of cheese at my general store so I used what I always call “store cheese,” a chunk of aged sharp cheddar cut off of a big wheel.

My migas were thus a New England variety. They didn’t taste quite like the ones we ate back in Texas. They were still absolutely delicious.

Feel free to play with the recipe. Jennifer always eats her migas with warmed corn tortillas to which she applies butter. You may also stuff the eggs inside warmed corn or flour tortillas to make an egg taco. If you love meat, fry up at little chorizo, and add it to the almost cooked eggs.

The garnishes may also be augmented. Migas are lovely with chopped red onion, refried beans, and/or black olives.

New England Migas

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into small pieces
1/2 jalapeño pepper, diced (optional, depending on how spicy your salsa is)
2 large local eggs
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano (optional: Jennifer says that Mediterranean oregano will not do. If you don’t have Mexican, just skip it)
1/4 teaspoon cumin seed (whole or ground, also optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 splash water, milk, or cream
1/2 cup grated store cheese (more if you like)
1/2 cup coarsely crumbled corn tortilla chips (more if you like)

Garnishes:

lots of salsa
a little more cheese because life is better with cheese
a little ripped fresh cilantro (or parsley if you don’t have cilantro)
sliced avocado (optional but good)

Instructions:

Melt the butter in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add the onion and the peppers and sauté over medium-low heat until the onion begins to turn golden.

Whisk together the eggs, spices (if you’re using them), salt, and liquid. Add them to the pan and fry, gently stirring. When the eggs just begin to set on the bottom, stir in the grated cheese and then the tortilla chips.

Serve with the garnishes of your choice. Serves 1 to 2, depending on appetite and on how much cheese, etc., you add to the eggs.

And now, the video I made for Mass Appeal:

Love and Chocolate

Friday, February 11th, 2022

Chocolates at Erving Station (Courtesy of Erving Station)

Cartoonist Charles M. Schultz is often quoted as saying, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” At this time of year, most of us selfishly want to receive both love and chocolate. And we unselfishly want to give both to others.

Laura DiLuzio runs Erving Station on Main Street in Erving, Massachusetts, with her mother, Donna Christenson. The colorful shop (my sister-in-law refers to it as “the pink place”) is a candy store so things are getting busy there right now.

It’s almost Valentine’s Day. I have 100,00 things to do,” DiLuzio told me last week in a telephone interview. “Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter are the three biggest chocolate times.”

She noted that February 14 is an appropriate time of year for celebrating chocolate. “January is slow in Chocolate Land because people are going on diets, but by February people are ready to come in and get some chocolate,” she said.

Asked about the origins of the perceived link between chocolate and romance, DiLuzio explained that the link, like chocolate itself, is native to the Americas. “The Aztecs believed that the substances in chocolate would make you more open to romance,” she observed.

Romance and chocolate continued to be associated over the centuries, and that association bloomed in the Victorian age. “The Victorians were all about romance and love,” stated DiLuzio.

I wondered aloud whether she herself craved chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or whether being in the chocolate business had jaded her.

“Everyone loves to get chocolate on Valentine’s Day, even candy-store people,” she informed me firmly. “It’s luxurious. And the sweetness just pulls everyone in.”

She and her mother have had fun designing special Valentine gifts for their customers, including sleeves of candies that combine peanut butter and jelly flavors, Valentine’s Day “platters,” and Valentine pretzel rods with festive sprinkles.

Despite having all of these goodies at hand, DiLuzio’s daughter Vivienne, the official “manager of taste testing” at Erving Station, makes her own chocolate Valentine gifts, the proud mother told me.

“She’ll make everyone an individual chocolate bark with all the inclusions that she’ll know that they like. She puts [the gift] in a plain white box, and she draws a picture on each person’s creation,” said DiLuzio.

If you’re looking for a special Valentine’s Day gift, visit Erving Station soon. Or stop in at one of our other local chocolate emporia, Richardson’s Candy Kitchen in Deerfield or Mo’s Fudge Factor in Shelburne Falls.

To be sure that you’ll get the chocolate gift you want, it’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve what you’re looking for. Mo’s Fudge Factor even offers online ordering for convenience.

In case you get to Valentine’s Day with no chocolate gifts on hand, I am sharing one of my own favorite chocolate recipes below, for “Just Peachy” Chocolate Brownies. These super fudgy concoctions topped with swirls of peach jam make a welcome gift.

You may actually use any jam you like. I developed the recipe for my rhubarb cookbook so obviously I started with rhubarb jam. I don’t have any rhubarb jam in the house right now, but I found some peach jam left from last summer in my refrigerator so I adapted my formula.

The adaptation was a winner. The peach flavor isn’t pronounced, but it’s there. And the jam adds to the overall moisture and decadence of the brownies.

Don’t forget to bake with love. Happy Valentine’s Day.

“Just Peachy” Brownies

 Ingredients:

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) sweet butter
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa (I used Hershey’s special dark cocoa)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 cup flour
6 ounces (1 cup) chocolate chips
1/4 cup (more or less) peach jam, preferably homemade

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of an 8-inch-square pan. For extra security, you may want to line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil and grease the bottom of that. (The foil will make it easy to remove the brownies from the pan.)

In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat melt the butter. Add the sugar, and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling—and stir it to help melt the sugar. (The mixture will become shiny looking as you stir it.)

Remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.

Stir in the cocoa, the salt, the baking powder, and the vanilla. Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then stir in the flour and the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Drop little bits of jam around the top of the batter so that each brownie square will get a little jam; then swirl the jam bits around the surface of the batter just a bit with a knife.

Bake the brownies until they solidify (30 to 35 minutes). Remove them from the oven. Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving them. Makes about 16 brownies, depending on how large you cut them.

 

Easy as Pie?

Wednesday, November 17th, 2021

Pie probably wasn’t served at the so-called first Thanksgiving 400 years ago, but it has been a must-eat for this holiday since at least the 19th century if not before.

Pie dresses up produce—squash, apples, nuts, etc.—inside pastry and always delivers the feeling of fullness Americans associate with Thanksgiving. In my family, we always have at least two pies, and one of those is always pumpkin.

I try in vain to suggest a crisp or a crumble or (heaven forbid!) no dessert at all, but like most families mine believes that tradition is paramount on this special day. In the end, I always bow to the will of my relatives when it comes to the Thanksgiving dessert menu.

Here’s the problem: I’m not really a pie-crust person. In my experience, pie-crust creation is a skill honed by practice. My grandmother grew up on a farm where pies were on the menu almost daily. My mother spent a lot of time on that farm.

Both possessed the proverbial dab hand with pastry, producing flawless pie crusts. I make pie a couple of times a year at most so I have never had a lot of practice. For much of my life, my lack of pastry experience bothered me. I no longer worry about it. My pie crusts don’t look perfect. They are usually patched together a bit. They always taste good, however.

The secret to making pie crust, I have learned, is to do it without fear. And (as with most cooking) to create your pie with love in your heart.

I realize that many readers won’t have a problem making pie crust. In case you’re not quite ready to wield a rolling pin without fear, however, I offer a couple of suggestions.

First, purchase your pastry. Pillsbury crusts don’t quite match homemade in terms of flavor, but aren’t bad. Furthermore, they look homemade, and using them allows you to take most of the credit for the pies you create.

Another way to get around the pastry issue is to make a pie that requires a Graham-cracker crust: a lemon or key-lime pie, a custard pie, a chocolate pie. Just melt butter, add Graham-cracker crumbs, and press the resulting mixture into your pie pan. No rolling required!

Finally, of course, you may purchase pie or ask one of your guests (if you’re having them) to bring dessert. Your feast will feature lots of homemade goodies. You will be forgiven for outsourcing a little of the cooking.

For those of you who want to make pie crust but are feeling a bit wary, today I am sharing one of the easiest pie-crust recipes I know. It was given to me my late neighbor Bob Stone. Bob maintained that the vinegar and egg in the recipe make the pastry easy to manipulate. I concur.

Bob’s recipe makes enough pastry for two two-crust pies. Feel free to cut it in half. The only trick is dividing the egg in half, which I do by eye.

Because pie crust is no fun on its own, I’m also including a recipe for a fairly easy pie that will be on my own Thanksgiving menu this year, my friend Denis’s French apple pie. This tasty offering with a crumb toping takes only one crust so you can freeze your leftover crusts for future use.

Bob Stone’s Fullerville Pie Crust

Ingredients:

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1–3/4 cups shortening
1/2 cup ice water plus a bit more if needed
1 tablespoon white vinegar (cider vinegar works as well)
1 egg

Instructions:

Combine the flour and the salt in a bowl. Cut in the shortening, using a pastry blender or two knives, until it is crumbly. Do not over mix. Whisk together the water, the vinegar, and the egg, and stir them gently into the flour mixture. If the dough seems too dry (this is rare), add a tiny bit more cold water. Be careful not to add too much water; this will toughen your crust.

Divide the dough into four even segments, and pat each segment into a rounded disk. If you have time, it helps to refrigerate the dough for an hour or so to make it easier to roll out. If you don’t have time, go ahead and roll the dough into circles. I do this on a board covered with a silicone matt that I then flour. (Call me paranoid!)

Makes enough crust for 2 double 9-inch pies.

Apple Pie à la Française

Ingredients:

3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch salt
5 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix together the sugar, the cinnamon, and the salt. Add them to the apples, and combine delicately. Place this mixture in your pie shell.

Combine the flour and the brown sugar. Cut in the butter. Cover the apples with this crumb mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another half hour, or until the apples are completely cooked. Serves 8.

The related videos may be viewed by clicking on the links below. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tinky Makes Pie Crust

Tinky Makes the Pie

Red, White, and Blue Sundaes

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

I know I just posted a recipe, but this one is ideal for July 4 so I’m giving it to you this week. I promise not to inundate you in future!

As far as I am concerned, July Fourth isn’t primarily a day for cooking. I think of it as a day for family and community.

I love to swim with family and friends. I enjoy watching the Independence Day parade at noon in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, and I adore listening to Mohawk Trail Concerts’ annual jazz offering in the afternoon. I’m thrilled that the latter two events are returning this year after their COVID-induced hiatus in 2020.

I’m not a fan of fireworks. I spent too much time when I was little overseas in countries where explosives were readily available and children could burn themselves. If my neighborhood is planning a display, however, I try to be a good sport and not cover my eyes and ears too obviously during the fireworks.

Despite all of these activities (and more!), one has to eat—and it’s nice to have something in one’s repertoire for Independence Day that goes beyond hot dogs.

You may have your own special summery dishes: a great aunt’s potato salad, a smashed hamburger (these are very popular right now on the internet), sun tea, a strawberry pound cake.

Here I offer a couple of suggestions in case readers need a little recipe inspiration. Actually, I’m just offering ONE—but I suggest you visit some past recipes here as well. Tammy’s Tangy Kielbasa is easy and tasty. Cliff’s Potato-Chip Chicken is more work, but it has a holiday appeal.

My new recipe this week is a red, white, and blue sundae. It uses strawberries (which are finishing up their season in these parts) and blueberries (which are starting theirs). If you want to simplify life, look in a cookbook for a standard ice-cream formula that doesn’t require cooking like my custard recipe.

If you want to make things even simpler, purchase your ice cream. I suggest a high-quality local brand.

I wish you a glorious fourth of activity and eating.

Red, White, and Blue Sundaes

The Sauce:

Ingredients:

2 cups cut-up strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 generous tablespoon butter

Instructions:

Place the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a nonreactive (stainless steel or enamel) saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat, add a little bit of the butter, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Turn off the heat, stir in the remaining butter so that it melts, and continue to stir the mixture for 3 to 4 more minutes to distribute the berries. Use immediately or refrigerate. Makes about 1-1/3 cups sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream:

Ingredients:


1-1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
2/3 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Heat the milk until it is steamy but not boiling. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar until the mixture is thick and light yellow (about 4 minutes).

Whisk a bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Then whisk in more, up to 3/4 cup. Whisk the milky egg yolks into the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken but does not boil (about 2 to 3 minutes on my gas stove).

Remove the custard from the heat, and strain it into a heatproof bowl or pot. Cover and cool thoroughly.

When the custard is cold whisk in the cream, vanilla, and salt. Place this mixture in your ice-cream freezer and churn until done.

This recipe makes a little more than a quart of ice cream.

Assembly:

For each sundae, scoop out 1/2 cup ice cream. Spoon on some strawberry sauce, dab on a little whipped cream (optional but good), and top with a couple of fresh local blueberries.

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.