It happens to all of us. Every cook tries new recipes, and they don’t always go right on the first try. Or the second. Today, I attempted to make ceviche, a unique Latin American appetizer in which fish is “cooked” using acid rather than heat, the preferred acid being lime juice. It’s a very tricky dish to do well, as I found out.
I had a different recipe all ready to go – Ukrainian borshch – but we hit a record 93 degF in Cambridge today. In the midst of a heat wave, root vegetable soup seemed completely out of season.
I wandered the Arlington farmers’ market, looking for inspiration, and I found it at a stall selling fresh fish. Not heating up my kitchen on a day of record heat sounded like the ideal solution. Half a pound of haddock and several fresh vegetables and herbs later, I was ready to make ceviche.
Saying that this is New Mexican ceviche is something of a contradiction in terms. New Mexican cuisine is largely dictated by local food: chiles, tomatoes, beans, corn. Rice and avocados are imports from Mexico, but even that’s not so far away. One thing that’s almost impossible to get in landlocked, high desert New Mexico is fresh fish. I have caught trout in mountain streams and have fond memories of one amazing morning on the Chama River when the browns were so hungry they were striking bare hooks. Fresh, pan-fried trout remains one of my favorite breakfasts. Still, I can’t imagine trout would work in ceviche. (Know otherwise? Tell me in the comments!)
I have never seen ceviche offered in New Mexican restaurants, which makes sense, since fresh whitefish must be flown in daily at tremendous expense (I’m betting that some insane place offers it anyway). It’s not surprising, then, that my first experience of ceviche was in Burlington, MA, and that was shrimp ceviche, tasty but not outstanding. Then we went to Cape Cod this summer, and my husband and I dined at Tumi, a Peruvian-Italian fusion restaurant, where I tried the mixed seafood ceviche.
It was a revelation. The acidity balanced with the delicate fish captivated me. I couldn’t get enough and ate more than my fair share of the appetizer, which was fine because my husband was having a similar experience with his rocoto relleno appetizer. By the time I had finished the last bit of grilled octopus, I knew that I had to try making ceviche myself as soon as possible.
My first attempt was a dismal failure. Ceviche requires careful timing. I didn’t really understand how long it took to “cook” the fish in the lime juice, and we had to go out that evening, which meant that it was disastrously overdone mush by the time we got home. Today marks my second attempt, using this recipe from Laylita’s Recipes.
It was AWFUL: too acidic, not salty enough, terribly bitter. I made several mistakes.
- I was preparing the ceviche at the same time as some pork carnitas, so I missed the part where the onion and tomato are marinated separately at the end of the cooking process, and I threw in the onion and part of the tomato to cook with the haddock. I suspect the onion may have contributed to the bitterness.
- I also forgot to add salt to the fish before cooking it in the lime juice.
- When I drained the fish, I noticed – too late! – that some of the fish was not fully cooked, and I was out of limes. So I pulled out a bottle of lemon juice, covered the fish again, and cooked it for another 45 minutes. This was a terrible mistake. The lemon juice clashed with the lime juice and was much more acidic without any balancing sweetness. I suspect that this was the main source of the bitterness.
- I tried to salt the fish after adding the remaining tomato, bell pepper, avocado, and cilantro. This just made it salty and acidic and bitter. And mostly inedible. Bleh.
My one success: Hatch green chile. I don’t have Ecuadorian peppers, nor is New England well known for any of its hot peppers, but I did happen to have some Hatch green chile in the fridge that I’d been meaning to use. Even with the nasty bitterness, I could taste the mellow burn of the chile, and I think it would be really excellent in a ceviche done properly.
So, the moral of today’s cooking adventure: do not attempt to cook something totally new while also making something else complicated. Ironically, the pork carnitas was probably the best I ever made, with a wonderful, rich umami flavor to it. I would post that recipe, except that I don’t actually know exactly what I did. I was paying too much attention to the ceviche to really notice. I browned the pork, took it out of the Instant Pot, sauteed the onions and garlic, then added a splash of apple cider vinegar, a dollop of tomato paste, some low sodium chicken broth, mexican oregano, cumin, mustard powder, and Worcestershire sauce, with a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper. Fantastic!
But the fact that I can pull off things like that makes me cocky. I forgot that I’ve made carnitas a million times before, and that ceviche is in a class of cooking I am wholly ignorant of. Next time I try ceviche, it’ll be on a lazy afternoon when I have absolutely nothing else to do, and I can really focus on getting everything right. And I’ll be sure to have extra limes.
Tomatoes, bell pepper, avocado, and cilantro, all headed to their DOOM.
It looks soooooo good, but it tastes soooooo bad.
Here in New England, the leaves are just starting to turn from green to gold and orange and flaming red. The remnants of Hurricane Jose have been drifting in as fog and wind and rain. It’s chilly and clammy outside, the kind of weather that makes you want to wrap up in a warm blanket, sip a mug of tea with honey, or maybe indulge in a bowl of soup.
This is also the time of year when squash starts appearing at farmers’ markets, when zucchini and crooknecks and pattypans are supplanted by spaghetti, delicata, acorn, and butternut, their sweet golden flesh ready to be put to a vast array of uses. My favorite thing to do with winter squash is to balance its sweetness with something savory, and curry works beautifully.
This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Gardeners’ Community Cookbook compiled by Victoria Wise and given to me by my friend and fellow meals adventurer, Megan.
CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE
1 medium butternut squash (about 1-3/4 lb.)
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large cooking apple, such as Cortland or McIntosh, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
Whole sage leaves for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350 degF. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or coat with butter and place the halves cut side down on the sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork pushes easily into the thickest part of the squash. When mostly cooled, scoop out the flesh.
Melt the butter in a large soup pot. Add the onion, garlic, and apple and cook over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the curry, nutmeg, and flour and stir until the flour disappears.
With a food processor or blender, puree the onion-and-apple mixture along with the squash and 1 cup of the broth. Return the puree to the pot and stir in the tomato paste, half-and-half, minced sage, remaining broth, and salt and pepper. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it just begins to boil. Serve immediately, garnished with whole sage leaves.
Variations: for a richer flavor, use light cream in place of half-and-half. For a little more kick, increase the amount of curry, or add 1/2 teaspoon red chile or chipotle powder. If you don’t have butternut squash available, you can substitute 2-3 acorn squash or even a similar-sized pumpkin. If you use pumpkin, save the seeds, roast them, and use them as garnish along with the sage.
If you’re looking for a vegan version of this, I recommend this recipe in the New York Times.
It’s no surprise that food brings people together. But it’s a rare gift when you come across a food that brings people together across an ocean and several hundred years.
Molletes are a sweet anise bread, a favorite in my family, similar in some ways to Portuguese sweet bread. My abuela is famous for her molletes, which come out soft and fluffy and golden brown, delicious with butter or jam. But it’s not a well-known bread, even in New Mexico. You won’t find it in typical bakeries or restaurants, the way you do biscochitos. They’re a secret delight, a recipe passed down through generations.
So you can imagine my surprise when I mentioned to a fellow parent that I was making molletes that evening, and he did a double take. “Did you say molletes?” he asked, pronouncing it properly (moh-yeh-tehs). It turns out that his wife grew up in a small town called Zamora in Spain, which is home to one of the few remaining enclaves of Spanish Jews. It is also the only town in Spain where you can find molletes.
This made sense to me. I’d learned about two decades ago about the Conversos of New Mexico, Spanish Jews who had converted, sometimes forcibly, to Christianity but still faced suspicion and outright persecution in Spain. They emigrated to the Spanish territories in the New World, and a large contingent settled in what is now known as New Mexico. Those were my ancestors. There’s nothing left of Jewish tradition in my family now, except molletes, which I often introduce as Spanish challah.
That’s because there are serious similarities between molletes and challah. Both are enriched with eggs and basted to attain a beautiful sheen and soft crust. Both are sweetened, almost a dessert. They’re rich and decadent and wonderful. Molletes, however, are a slightly drier bread than challah, and they contain anise seed, giving them their characteristic but subtle licorice flavor. I like to eat them with apricot jam, my husband prefers butter, my children Nutella.
Note that molletes are one of my inspirations for the elf cakes in A Witch’s Kitchen, along with banana cookies. I imagine elf cakes as tasting like molletes but as thin and springy as banana cookies. One of these days, I’ll try to find that magical hybrid. In the meantime, I’m starting to teach my thirteen-year-old, who can inhale an entire loaf of bread every day, how to make her own bread, and we are slowly working our way up to her favorite bread: molletes.
This recipe was handed down to me by my abuela, but I found an identical recipe in Great Southwest Cooking Classics, a compilation of recipes published in the Albuquerque Tribune, and the name of the author, Josephine Telles, seems vaguely familiar to me. Was she a cousin with the same recipe? It’s more likely that my abuela, when writing the recipe down for me, couldn’t quantify it easily – she has long baked by tossing ingredients in a bowl until they look right – and so she borrowed it from a ready source. How do I know she had a different recipe? Well, I remember her using lard in this, instead of shortening, and she never, ever used raisins.
I have modified the recipe to use the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method of using a kitchen mixer to do the dirty work.
1-1/2 tablespoons (2 packets) yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup scalded milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 large or 4 small eggs, well beaten
4 tablespoons melted shortening or butter
7 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons anise seed
1/2 cup floured raisins (optional)
Soften yeast in lukewarm water with one teaspoon of the sugar. Stir remaining sugar and salt into scalded milk and cool to lukewarm. When cooled, combine with yeast mixture and all other ingredients. Knead by hand or using a kitchen mixer (prefered) until you have a smooth, elastic dough that does not stick to the bowl or your hands. If it’s still sticky (as often happens in the humid Northeast), add a little flour until you reach the desired consistency, without making the dough stiff. Cover (not airtight – in New Mexico, we use a moistened towel) and let rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
Turn onto floured board and shape into four loaves. Place on greased pans or pans lined with parchment paper and brush lightly with melted butter on top. Cover with wax paper. Let rise again until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degF or until golden brown. To test for doneness, tap sharply; loaves should make a hollow sound. Turn out onto a rack to cool. Brush again with butter for a softer crust. Store in plastic bags in refrigerator or freezer.
Which recipe would you like me to post next week? Tell me in the comments!
Today is my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. He’s visiting from Sweden, and we always make a particular Swedish cake for him called Kronans Kaka or Crown Cake, which along with Princess Torte is traditional for birthdays. It’s a peculiarly delicious recipe that uses almonds and mashed potatoes in place of flour, and it has no leavening of any kind. This makes it a good, gluten-free dessert choice, and it’s also Kosher for Passover. My kids love it for its sweet, moist texture.
I’ve modified the recipe I found in The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook in several ways:
- The original recipe calls for blanching and grinding almonds, but now almond flour is available nearly everywhere, and I’ve adjusted the recipe accordingly. I prefer Bob’s Red Mill, but Trader Joe’s will do in a pinch.
- The original recipe also calls for bitter almonds, which are illegal in the United States. They’re not necessary for the cake, but if you live where they are available, I recommend using them because it gives the batter a unique tang.
- The recipe recommends topping with lemon sauce, but my father-in-law greatly prefers chocolate frosting, and I’ve included my favorite recipe below. It’s halfway between glaze and frosting because the cake tends to be friable and will crumble under stiff frosting.
- The original recipe calls for the pan to be coated in bread crumbs, but I just use a bit of almond flour to keep it gluten-free.
- Finally, the original recipe is too small! I always double it, and the ingredients list reflects this.
1-1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened salted butter
1-1/2 cup almond flour
6 bitter almonds, blanched and finely ground (optional)
4-5 medium potatoes, cooked, peeled, mashed, and cooled (I recommend Yukon gold)
Light and fluffy
Preheat the oven to 400 degF. Beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add almond flour
Beat in the butter, almond flour, bitter almonds (if available), and potatoes. Make sure you beat in the potatoes thoroughly or the batter will be lumpy.
10″ Springform pan.
Butter a mold or springform pan, coat with a little almond flour, and pour in the cake mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is slightly browned on top and solid throughout. Beware baking too long; the cake will crack. Let cool slightly, then turn out onto a plate (if using a mold).
Frosting the cake
When completely cool, frost with orange buttercream frosting and decorate with slivered almonds and slices of orange peel. Birthday candles optional. Serves 8. Refrigerate leftovers (assuming there are any).
Orange Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 bar of Maya Gold chocolate (see below for substitutions)
1/2 cup warm milk
1 t vanilla
16 oz. powdered sugar
Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high in 30-second increments until chocolate is melted. Stir together. Slowly beat in powdered sugar, adding warm milk as necessary to obtain the right spreading consistency, neither stiff nor runny. Stir in vanilla.
Substitutions: Maya Gold is a deliciously spiced organic dark chocolate bar made by Green and Blacks. I can always find it at Whole Foods, and it is sometimes available in large supermarkets in the organic/natural section. If you cannot find Maya Gold, you may instead cream the butter with 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and either add 1/4 teaspoon orange flavoring or 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest when you add the vanilla. If you want a subtler chocolate flavor, use less chocolate/cocoa; conversely, if you want a stronger chocolate flavor, use more. It’s a very forgiving recipe and easy to experiment with.
Note: This recipe makes about twice as much frosting as you will need for a Kronans Kaka. It’s an excellent excuse to make two cakes, but you can also either halve the recipe or put the excess in the refrigerator where it will keep for at least two weeks.
This cake was the perfect ending to a lovely dinner, for which I made bearnaise sauce for the first time. Tasty, but needs a little work. Once I’ve mastered it, I’ll share that recipe with you as well.
The finished cake and happy recipient (plus photobombing from my daughter). Bow ties are cool!
Labor Day weekend was a never ending festival of potlucks. We went to three potlucks in two days! The first was at a board games party I helped run, and I invited several of my daughter’s friends over to make gaming munchies. They chose to make 20-sided dice cookies and rulebook s’mores from the Nerdy Nummies cookbook by Rosanna Pansino, and that was a big hit at the party (I also made Swedish meatballs with cream sauce, see last week’s recipe). For the Labor day brunch, I made a nice frittata with green onions, garlic scapes, king oyster mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, potatoes, eggs, manchego cheese and red peppers on top. For the Labor Day barbeque, I brought marinated beef kabobs and veggie kabobs, yum.
But out of all these, someone asked me for the recipe for a loaf of whole wheat bread I brought to the brunch. I make bread all the time. I’ve made seven loaves of bread in the past five days. We’ve had a lot of kids over, since school hadn’t started yet, and they just inhaled all that bread with butter and jam and Nutella. I brought two loaves of white bread to the gaming party with some funky pumpkin seed butter and Nutella-ish dark chocolate sunflower seed butter, and those also disappeared right quick. But I’m trying to make healthier breads for my family, and this particular recipe is a hit. I found it in my favorite bread-making book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois, and they in turn had modified the recipe from one by Chris Kimball which appeared in Cook’s Magazine in turn, and in that tradition, I modified it a bit as well. So, Andrew, here’s the recipe. Enjoy!
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Makes two loaves in 9x4x3″ loaf pans
3 cups lukewarm water
1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1-1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup wheat gluten
3 cups white whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Neutral-tasting oil for greasing the pans (I use canola spray)
Mix the yeast, salt, honey, and butter with the water in a 5-quart bowl. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup capacity food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with dough hook – I use one of these). if you’re not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last of the flour. Alternatively, if you live in a moist climate or are baking on a rainy day, you may need to add extra flour. If you add a cup or more of extra flour, add another 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of salt. The dough should be firm and smooth, pulling away from the wall of the bowl, but not dry.
Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours. You can refrigerate the dough and use it later, but who has the patience for that??? Assuming you’re planning ahead for a meal, you can store the dough in the fridge, lidded but not airtight, for up to 5 days.
Lightly grease the loaf pans. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut it in half. Gluten-cloak each loaf by shaping it into a ball and stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball one-quarter turn as you go. Form it into an elongated loaf, lay it in the loaf pan, repeat with the remaining dough, and let rise for 40 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, you’ll need to let the dough rise for 1 hour 40 minutes.) Meanwhile, about 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400 degF.
Place the loaves on a center rack in the oven. If you want crustier bread, add a broiler tray and pour 1 cup of hot water into it. If you want a softer crust, as my kids prefer, brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter before putting them in the oven and after they are done baking. Bake for about 50 minutes or until browned and a bit hollow-sounding when you knock on them.
Here’s the hardest part: allow to cool before slicing or eating. 😉 Enjoy!
Writing takes you to some interesting places. I’m on Chapter 15 of A Pixie’s Promise, and I find myself writing essentially a Viking feast. So much fun! I’ve been consulting the Icelandic Sagas and The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson for inspiration and accuracy. And, of course, I’ve been diving into my Scandinavian cookbooks for a deeper understanding of the cuisine.
One of the staples of a good Swedish smorgasbord is meatballs, and Swedish meatballs are quite different than Italian meatballs. They’re smaller and they often use milk or cream as binding ingredients for a richer flavor and moist texture that can stand up to long periods of baking. Here’s a recipe I’ve put together by combining aspects of two recipes in The Complete Scandinavian Cookbook by Alice B. Johnson.
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
2 eggs (You may substitute 1/2 cup mashed potatoes for one egg)
2/3 cup bread crumbs
1 cup light cream
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper (alternatively, use white pepper)
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
butter or a neutral oil for cooking
Combine all ingredients except the butter/oil in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Roll in to small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Brown in hot butter/oil on medium heat in a skillet. Alternatively, skip the butter oil, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degF for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Serves 6.
Serving suggestions: If you used a skillet, remove the meatballs and make a gravy by adding 1/2 cup flour to the skillet, stirring to soak up all the fat and to keep from scorching. Add just enough water to make a thin gravy. Place the meatballs in a casserole, pour the gravy over them, cover with a lid or aluminum foil, and cook at 375 degF for about an hour, which will thicken the gravy nicely. Alternatively, instead of using gravy, cover with light cream and bake until cooked through and cream is reduced to a thicker sauce.
If, like me, you prefer not to have gravy, you can also use the traditional Swedish condiment for meatballs: lingonberry jam, available in most major supermarkets. Currant jam is a good substitute. Serve with rice or boiled potatoes.
One of these days, I should try the gravy method in an Instant Pot. I bet it would only take 10 minutes or so to achieve the same result.