Monday, March 23, 2009

Fried Oreos and Keith Urban: Crispy Beef Tostadas

Spring break has sprung in Colorado and Grace and I took full advantage of it this past week. I guess that we are just gluttons for punishment because instead of hopping a jet for the beautiful waters of the Caribbean, we hit the dusty trail once again and drove to Texas. Don’t ask me what the fascination for car trips is these days, because I just couldn't tell you. In addition to wanting to get away, this trip had a dual purpose. My mother offered to give Grace a desk for her apartment next year and driving down seemed to be the best way of getting it here. Like most women who love a bargain, and there’s no better bargain than free, we both jumped at the chance to take advantage of her generosity and started packing.

We got up bright and early Saturday before last and pulled out of the driveway leaving our men behind. Kevin’s spring break was the following week which was OK because he and Mark would rather take a stick in the eye than another road trip. Besides, we had big plans for our man-less trip. We could take as many bathroom breaks as we wanted and talk about make-up, chick flicks and Hollywood gossip for hours on end without any eye rolling or groaning from male passengers. For the next 1,000 miles, we were Thelma and Louise (without the murder and mayhem of course).

We normally try to pack enough snacks to carry us through so we can take our first meal break in Texas. Like many who leave their homes to settle in foreign lands, familiar food seems to be the main thing we all miss. On this trip, our first couple of meals in our homeland went just OK. We had some mediocre hamburgers and a couple of less than memorable Mexican combination plates in the northern part of Texas. We brushed these meals off as poor precursors to the real deal, because Houston has some of the best food in the western world and we were rocketing there at an average of 66 miles per hour.

I am positive about our land speed average because my husband hooked up Grace’s new GPS just in case we suddenly decided to veer off the route that we had driven a thousand times before and get lost. I found this new contraption to be extremely annoying because in addition to speed it also felt obliged to figure our arrival time. This meant that instead of living in ignorant bliss about how long that last pit stop took us; Mr. GPS was there to remind us that we were now 30 minutes farther away from our destination than we were when we stopped. By the time we arrived in Houston, this mean little machine was more than happy to report that we had fiddle farted around and extended our trip by one hour and forty-five minutes. If I really wanted to know that information, I would have brought my husband along.

When we finally arrived at our destination, we hit the ground running. We were over the moon to discover that the rodeo was in town. As a girl growing up in Houston, the rodeo was a month long celebration. I was so excited to share something that I had liked so much as a child with Grace. She, on the other hand, was just as excited that the rodeo had included Keith Urban in its line up. I am here to tell you, Nicole Kidman is one lucky woman. Who cares that we had oil soaked corn dogs for dinner during his show. Keith was worth every calorie infused, nutritionally devoid bite.

As we were leaving the rodeo, I was disappointed to discover that while we were eating those aforementioned corn dogs inside, outside in the carnival food tent, there were people enjoying such delicacies as shrimp on a stick, funnel cakes and, deep fried Oreos. I must have experienced brain damage from the decibel level in the stadium or was just overcome by Keith Urban’s awesome Aussie sexiness, to pass on these intriguing menu items. I don’t know the reason but, under normal circumstances, I would never have turned down a deep fried cookie. Oh well, the next rodeo is less than a year away.

We are back home now and Grace leaves for university later on today. Her week off is over and Kevin’s is just beginning. Last night, in celebration of both, I gave my lovely little family a trip back to Texas in the form of a beef tostada dinner. Before she died, my wonderful Aunt Sis passed this recipe down to all of the girls she loved. I can still see her, frying corn tortillas with a Lone Star beer in her hand and Marty Robbins singing about a Mexican gunfight on the stereo. It’s just a shame that she never taught us how to fry an Oreo.

Aunt Sis' Crispy Beef Tostadas
This is a great beginner recipe when first venturing into Mexican cooking. It is delicious and since most moderately experienced cooks will already have most of the ingredients in their cupboard for their Asian recipes, easy to prepare. Crispy beef tostadas offer something new and different with minimal effort. Vegetarians can substitute refried beans for the beef for an equally delicious dish. There is no way that these tostadas can be eaten with a knife and fork so, roll up your sleeves, use your hands and be sure to lean over your plate to avoid a lap full of food, and enjoy.

1/2 - 1 cup (125 - 250ml) vegetable oil, enough for 1/2"-1" depth in your pan
8 corn tortilla pancakes (you can stretch this recipe to 10 tortillas if needed)
1 ½ pounds (750g) beef mince
½ small onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 teaspoons (10ml) ground cumin
1 teaspoon (5ml) ground coriander
2 teaspoons (10ml) chili powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) salt
Freshly milled black pepper
1 - 14.5 ounce (411g) tin chopped tomatoes
2 cups iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
2 large avocado pears, diced
1 ½ cups (170g) cheddar cheese, grated
4 green onions, sliced across in ¼” slices
1 cup coarsely chopped black olives
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh or pickled jalapeno peppers (optional)
Soured cream and tomato salsa to garnish

Preheat oven to 250 F, 140 C, Gas Mark 1.

In a medium size frying pan, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Place 1 tortilla at a time into hot oil. Fry each tortilla for 30 seconds or so on each side or until tortillas are crispy and slightly brown. Remove from oil and drain in a single layer on a kitchen roll lined cookie sheet. Place in the preheated oven to keep warm.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, brown mince until it is almost cooked through, approximately, 8 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or until the onion begins to sweat. Add cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir well then add tomatoes; stir quickly once again. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove tortillas from the oven and place on serving plate. Top each with equal amounts of the seasoned mince, lettuce, avocado, cheese, green onions, black olives, jalapeno peppers. Garnish with a dollop of soured cream and salsa.

Serves 4

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Spice of Life: Pan Fried Chicken and Homemade Seasoned Salt

I’ve struggled with this entry for my beloved blog. I waited a bit and gave my family time to do something interesting that I could build my story on . . . no luck. Not a bag left on public transit, no stupid gifts, nothing, so I guess I’ll have to go back into the memory vault and pull something out.

When I talk with my friends about their families and memories of their childhood, I usually hear something like memories of baking cakes and cookies with their dear old blue haired grandmother by the warmth of a crackling fire. Normally, I am the first to admit that I didn’t have a great relationship with my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother was a very glamorous woman who lived a great distance from us and, was mostly absent from our lives. My maternal grandmother, who was a constant in our lives while growing up, although a great cook and baker, was about as cuddly as a porcupine. After this admission, the stories usually come tumbling out like a jailhouse confession. You see, I think that normal, cookie baking grandmas are the exception and not the rule. Don’t feel ashamed of your colorful background if you have one, celebrate it. Some of the best of us had one too.

My mother came from a totally dysfunctional family of five children. Except for her, all of these children had three children of their own, pretty close in age. Holidays were usually spent with this tribe at my grandmother’s farm on the south side of Crazytown. Counting my first and second cousins there was normally 20 children or so at any given occasion (no wonder everyone was a little mad). While the adults fought in the lounge (a time honored tradition in our family), the unsupervised children were free to enjoy activities such as; sinking into the mud of an almost dry pond, starting fires with fireworks in the front garden, and our favorite, listening to the adults arguing in the lounge. In addition to the obvious entertainment value, we found this to be a necessity because it gave us heads up on who was probably going home before the night was over. Aaaahhhh, memories of childhood.

In between all of these shenanigans laid the food that tied us all together. Some of the best food I have ever eaten was offered up at these lively get togethers. Light and crispy fried chicken, creamy mac and cheese, over cooked and slightly vinegary green beans and every child’s favorite, whipped mashed potatoes with smooth white cream gravy were ever present and available in abundance. Although I love gourmet foods with delicate flavours and carefully reduced sauces, if I were given the choice of my last meal, it would most likely be taken from one of these menus. I am pleased to say that it is not just my simple palate. I was watching a television show with some of the western world’s greatest chefs. When asked what their all time favorite meal would be, without exception, it was down home comfort food from their childhood.

Now that I reflect back on those days, I realize that this crazy, passionate bunch of people really added some of the spice that made me the character that I am today. What would a nice curry be without the turmeric or chilies? What would I be without them?

Pan Fried Chicken

I find this to be a rare and guilty pleasure. No one misses this dinner. I was never really taught this technique of frying chicken, I just absorbed it by watching my mother do it hundreds of times. Be sure and drain your cooled oil and save it in a tightly sealed container for more uses.

I try to find the smallest chicken possible, cut it up myself, rinse the pieces (patting them dry slightly), add a little salt , pepper and garlic powder, cover it and allow it to sit in the fridge for an hour or so if possible.

Pour a couple of cups of plain flour into the center of a plate. Dredge wet chicken pieces through the flour then mound them into the center of a second plate. Allow them to sit on the plate while you heat about 1 - 2 inches of oil into a large frying pan over medium high heat. By the time you are ready to fry the chicken, hopefully it has a sticky coating, now, dredge the pieces through the flour one more time and shake off the excess.

Place the chicken pieces into the hot oil (they should sizzle when added to the oil) cover, and fry to a golden brown, turn and fry to a golden brown on the other side. Fry chicken in batches if necessary so there is plenty of room in the pan for the oil to circulate around the pieces. Remove from the oil and place on kitchen roll to drain. Place on a cookie sheet or shallow pan in a 300 degree oven for up to about 15-20 minutes before it starts to dry out.
Sprinkle with your favorite seasoned salt or make your own following my recipe below.

Seasoned Salt

In addition to sprinkling this on fried chicken, this is great on all types of meat and fish. Rub meat down with desired amounts of this seasoning before putting it on the barbeque for a nice change to regular old s & p.

1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl or tea cup. Use immediately or store in an airtight container.