Wednesday, August 2, 2017

{ in the kitchen with … } Jo's Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken
with Cold Sesame Noodles and Tofu Salad

Hanging out in the kitchen with my friend Joanna cooking up some easy Chinese food perfect for summer. Want an easy vegetarian meal? Skip the soy chicken–the sesame noodles along with the tofu salad make a great vegan meal.

Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken using Joanna's homemade teriyaki marinade.

It started with a text.

Jo: “Hi there! Are you free this weekend at all?”
Me: “Free-ish on Saturday and free Sunday."
Jo: "Should we make sesame noodles with soy sauce chicken on Sunday?"
Me: "That would be great. OK to shoot it and share it on the blog?”
Jo: “Sure! I'll show an easy way to make the chicken that doesn't use the oven – so good summer food. We can add a tofu salad if you want, too.”

Come Sunday morning, I packed up my lighting and camera gear, a few backgrounds, some foam core boards and new dishes I recently picked up on clearance at a local Asian market and headed out for the 30 minute drive to Joanna's new home in North San Diego County. 

We started our day together the way we do almost every visit: with a trip to a Mexican restaurant. Jo loves Mexican food as much as I do and inevitably we wind up chowing down on guacamole, enchiladas and chiles rellenos. Bellies satiated, we headed out to the market to pick up our groceries for the afternoon’s marathon meal making. 

how we met
In September of 2002 I was leading a workshop on using Photoshop for conceptual fine art and editorial illustration at the Women in Photojournalism conference sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association. San Diego was the host city for the conference and John, one of her oldest friends from childhood, who, at the time, was a staff photographer at the newspaper I work at, was one of the few males working the conference. At the end of the first day, all the conference presenters and the behind-the-scenes staff were treated to dinner. John took Jo as his dinner companion and we just happened to wind up sitting next to each other. After spending most of the evening chatting, she decided to attend my workshop the following day. From that moment on, we have been amazing friends. With a shared passion for creating, designing, cooking and learning new things, the friendship has weathered many life events including a short stint as roommates, relationships, deaths, and even cross-country distances when she moved back to her hometown of New York.

getting to know her
From day one, I have been in constant awe of Jo’s many talents and the longer I know her, the more I learn of her rich past. Here’s just a small sampling: 

  • She's a singer and musician and spent much of her youth in several New York rock bands
  • She started her own music fanzine reporting on the local rock and punk scenes as well as interviewing international bands like Bauhaus and Dead Kennedy's
  • Along with her best friend, designed a line of rock fashion
  • Worked as marketing and public relations rep for a prestigious graphic design studio in New York which was, among other projects, responsible for designing the MTV logo
  • Worked as a model and actor, appearing in MTV ads and music videos
  • Worked as a fashion writer and editor for the East Village Eye
  • Is an award-winning fine jewelry designer who counts Julia Roberts, Andie MacDowell, Annabella Sciora, Rita Wilson, Kelly Preston, Debra Wilson and Poppy Montgomery among some of her clientele 
  • Owned her own jewelry gallery in San Francisco
  • Has provided on-air commentary on gems and jewelry for ShopNBC domestically and on HSE (Home Shopping Europe) in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • Helped a New York fashion house launch a line of bridal jewelry
  • And in the cooking department, has catered large multi-course dinner parties cooking her signature Chinese dishes

As I like to do when sharing the kitchen with a friend for this space, I asked Jo a few questions about her culinary journey. I love that even though I've known her for 15 years, I still couldn't have guessed these answers. I’m so excited to introduce you to her. Now that she's living in San Diego again, she and her recipes will be making many more appearances and I know you’re going to love her recipes as much as I do!

With a restrained hand on the sesame oil, these noodles don't suffer from the typical takeout problem of being a one-note dish. They're even better the next day, too. 

What is your earliest culinary memory?
I first remember my grandmother cooking fried chicken. We loved fried chicken! And helping my mother in the kitchen. My mother is a good cook but never loved cooking so I took over the kitchen at a pretty young age. Probably before I was even in my teens.

When did you first realize that you enjoyed cooking and what is it about it that appeals to you?
My first real love was baking. I remember when I was quite young, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I made individual breads, braided into little baskets that each held an Easter Egg for the people at church. I think I also made cream puffs that looked like swans that year! Haha! I wanted to be a baker and my Dad had a client who had an Italian café and bakery. Their pastry chef, Nino, was amazing! He said he would take me on as an apprentice. I was 10 years old and it was tough enough to go to school at 7:00 a.m. so when I heard I’d have to start at 3:30 a.m. at the bakery I realized that (becoming a baker’s apprentice) was not in the cards…

Cooking came very naturally to me and at an early age I took over the bulk of the family cooking. I enjoy feeding people and I am pretty good at knowing what ingredients will work together. I have a sense of flavors even if I have no recipe per se, I know what it will taste like.  I like the creativity you can meld into your cooking. The art of making a wonderfully, thoughtfully, lovingly prepared meal is very special.

Do you have a favorite dish or specialty that you love to make?
I love cooking holiday food. There’s a certain ritualistic aspect to the food and the memories of family and friends are so intertwined with the meals, it enriches every aspect of it. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Easter, birthdays–all special and I do make special dishes for each holiday that have become a personal tradition.

I’m open to all cuisines and learn a lot when I try new dishes and new ingredients. When my Mom and I were in New Zealand visiting my sister Andrea and her children, I would cook while she was at work and the kids were in school. Food is really expensive in New Zealand so you get creative really fast!

When I was in Honduras, we were staying at a dive resort that had terrible food. I was there for my dear friend Lili’s birthday so I asked if they would let me take over their kitchen to make her a special birthday meal for her and our group. I was very limited on ingredients but you use what’s available, what’s fresh, local and what’s in season. We’d just caught fresh tuna that morning so we had a really nice meal and there was even enough in their pantry and larder for me to bake her a pineapple cheesecake for her birthday cake.

Is there a dish or particular cuisine that you haven't tried yet but would love to give a shot at making?

Too many! I’d love to learn by location. Even the regional cuisine of our country is quite vast. I love Moroccan food but have never prepared it. Spending as much time in Asia as I have I would love to learn how to prepare those cuisines. Hand pulled noodles are right at the top of my list because its magical how they are formed. My love of Italian food is deeply embedded in my childhood so having a better understanding of regional Italian food would be great. And I still love baking and decorating. I took lessons in sugarcraft and cake decorating and loved it. I’d like to be able to wield a pastry bag like a pro someday! 

Jo's Tofu Salad is a perfect cold dish for a hot summer day.

final thoughts
When thinking of Jo, I can’t help but think of the passage in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice:

“… no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be half deserved.”

Jo is accomplished, fully deserving of the word. Thank you, Jo, for sharing a part of yourself with us today.

Until next time, friends … xo, ani 

Jo's Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
This is one versatile marinade. I've been to Jo's for dinner when she's used this marinade on tri-tip. Delicious! And that's the true beauty of this recipe: you can use it for chicken, beef or a strong fish, like salmon, and with each protein, the marinade will have a slightly different taste. So if you have friends over for a mix grill, all three proteins can take an overnight bath in this marinade and each would retain their own unique flavor–pumped up, that is. If you don't feel like grilling, you can simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, place the chicken single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or shallow pan and bake it for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the meat has pulled away from the bone and internal temperature registers 165 degrees in the thickest part of a leg or thigh. The meat will taste best if you allow it to marinade overnight or at the very least, 4 hours. 

Makes 6 servings

2½-3 pounds bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
2½-3 pounds bone-in, skin on chicken legs

For the marinade: 
¾ cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger (see note)

Divide chicken into two 1-gallon sized resealable plastic bags. In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Evenly divide the marinade between the two bags of chicken then squeeze out excess air while sealing bags. Massage marinade into chicken and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from refrigerator and allow 30 minutes to come up to room temperature. Prepare a grill as per grill's instructions. Once temperature reaches 500 degrees, place chicken on grates, close grill and grill for 10 minutes. Open grill, flip chicken, close grill and grill an additional 8-10 minutes. Continue grilling and turning chicken, moving chicken pieces onto cooler areas of the grill as needed until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove to a platter and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: Jo keeps her ginger in the freezer. Frozen ginger grates on a microplane so much easier with the added benefit of not losing any precious ginger juice. I've started doing this and truly am amazed at how much more intense the ginger is.

Jo's Cold Sesame Noodles {vegan}
A classic takeout dish, Jo thinks the problem with restaurant sesame noodles tends to be too much sesame oil. "A little goes a long way," says Jo. "The flavor can quickly become overwhelming, throwing off the balance." A surprise ingredient to me was the addition of peanut oil. "It adds to the silky mouth feel of the dish, especially since we're limiting the amount of sesame oil." Jo has also swapped out traditional fresh Chinese noodles for more readily available spaghetti.

Makes 6 servings

1 pound dry spaghetti
1 tablespoon peanut oil, plus a splash, divided
1½ cups chunky peanut butter
3½ tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons sambal (Chinese chili paste), or substitute with Sriracha or gochujang 
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts), divided

For garnish: 
chopped peanuts
cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook 8-10 minutes or until just tender. Drain pasta and rinse under cold running water. Keeping the pasta in the colander, drizzle a splash of canola oil over the pasta and toss to coat. This will help keep the pasta strands from sticking to each other. Set aside to finish cooling.

In a large bowl, stir the tablespoon of peanut oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sambal, sesame oil and garlic together until well combined. Add a tablespoon of water if needed to help smooth sauce out. Add the noodles and toss well to coat, adding more water a tablespoon at a time, if needed. Toss in ⅔ of the sliced scallions, stirring to distribute.

Divide noodles between 6 plates. Garnish with remaining scallions, chopped peanuts, cilantro and sriracha, to taste.

Jo's Tofu Salad {vegan}
This salad is so easy. I asked Jo if this was a dish she'd grown up on. She said no, that in fact it came about because she was hosting a New Year's eve dinner and needed to flesh out her vegetarian selections. I'm specifically calling out Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Tofu for this recipe. No, this isn't sponsored. I have nothing to do with Trader Joe's. But after personally trying and using many different kinds of tofu, I have found that this extra firm tofu has the best texture, holding it's shape well when sliced. 

Makes 6 servings

2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sambal, or to taste
3 drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 medium to large red bell pepper, diced into roughly 1/4-inch pieces
3 scallions, thinly sliced, divided
1 15.5-ounce package of Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Tofu, cubed into bite-sized pieces 
handful of cilantro leaves, chopped, for granish

Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, sambal, sesame oil, sugar, bell pepper and half the scallions. Place the cubed tofu in a bowl and top with the dressing. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, divide between 6 dishes and garnish with reserved scallions and the cilantro.

Joanna and I June 2017. Photo ©Joanna Joy Seetoo.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How to cook beef tongue, Part 3: Chile Verde Lengua Tacos

Part three of a three-part series on how to cook a 5-pound beef tongue for three different Mexican dishes. Today, it's chile verde style!

Chile verde is not something I learned to appreciate until well into my 20s. Dad made it occasionally with its most frequent appearance at my grandmother's table for special dinners during the holidays or my grandfather's birthday. And even then, it was only ever served as a condiment on the side as an alternative to my grandmother's salsa roja. I make it now probably more often than I make red salsa or chile colorado and I absolutely love cooking with it. Today's version is a simple, very traditional recipe wherein the vegetables are boiled, blended and then fried and cooked until thickened. At that point, it can be used to braise whatever protein or veggies you want to cook in it or it can be cooled completely, jarred and used as a condiment later. Speaking of condiments, in case you missed it, I did post a roasted tomatillo salsa recipe a few years ago. Both are good but definitely different even though they have virtually the same ingredients. 

Speaking of ingredients, this is what you're going to need: 8 tomatillos (about 1 pound), one poblano, one jalapeño, 3 cloves of garlic, and half a Spanish onion (often called brown, although technically they're considered yellow).

Peel the garlic and onion then remove the husks from the tomatillos. You need to run them under cold water, rubbing to remove the sticky residue left behind by the husks.

Bring a stock pot halfway filled with water to a boil. Quarter the onion and add one quarter of it to a pot along with the two of the garlic cloves, the tomatillos and peppers. Bring to a boil again, lower heat and simmer, cooking for about ten minutes or until the colors darken.

When ready, the tomatillos will change from bright green to a dull greenish yellow while the peppers will turn a dark, slightly yellowish green.

Scoop out the the veggies and add to a blender along with the reserved onion and raw garlic and half a bunch of cilantro, stems and all. If you're a heat wimp like I am, cut the peppers in half first and remove the seeds before adding them to the blender. This will cut their heat by about half while retaining their peppery goodness. You'll need about a ½ cup of the cooking liquid. 

Then blend until just slightly chunky.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pot and once shimmering, carefully pour in salsa (watch out for splattering). Reduce heat and allow to simmer while you proceed with the recipe.

Rough chop some onion. Heat some oil in a skillet and sauté the onion for 2 minutes, careful not to burn.

Chop the remaining tongue into bite-sized pieces and add to the onions. Cook, stirring, until heated through and just starting to lightly brown.

Pour in the salsa. Top with chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or my favorite, in warm corn tortillas.

Garnish the tacos with avocado, thinly sliced radish, cilantro and juice from a small wedge of lime. 
Mmm. Now that I've finished the writing and editing of this series, I'm ready to go back and make some more just because it's that good!  

chile verde lengua

You'll be using the final third of the previously cooked 5-pound beef tongue. When boiling the tomatillos, be mindful not to overcook or the skins will burst, rendering most of the fruit unusable. This makes more salsa than needed for this particular dish. Once the leftover salsa is completely cooled, place it in airtight container and use it as a condiment throughout the week.

Serves 4

For the salsa:
8 tomatillos, about 1 pound
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeño
3 cloves garlic, divided
1 brown onion, halved, peeled with root and top ends removed, then divided
½ bunch cilantro
1 tablespoon canola oil
sea salt, to taste

For the lengua:
1 tablespoon canola oil
⅓ of the previously cooked beef tongue
1 ½ cups of the prepared salsa verde
sea salt, to taste
¼ bunch cilantro, chopped

For the tacos:
8 corn tortillas
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 avocado, flesh cubed
¼ bunch chopped cilantro, tougher stems removed first
2 limes, quartered

To make the salsa: Fill a soup pot with water to half full; bring to a boil. Remove the husks from the tomatillos then rinse. Add them to the boiling water along with the peppers, 2 cloves of garlic and ¼ of the peeled onion. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat to a simmer then cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the tomatillos have changed from bright green to dull yellow. Remove the veggies to a blender, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid. For a less spicy sauce, first cut the peppers lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds and veins before adding them to the blender. Also add ¼ of the reserved onion, the reserved garlic and ½ bunch of cilantro. Pour in the reserved cooking liquid. Place the lid on the blender, with the vent tab open, place a kitchen towel over the vent and blend just until the cilantro is chopped and incorporated and the tomatillos are still a little chunky. Heat a saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and once shimmering, carefully pour in the salsa as it will splatter. Stir, reduce heat to low and simmer while you proceed with recipe. 

For the lengua: Rough chop the remaining onion. Cut the tongue into bite-sized pieces. Chop ¼ of a bunch of cilantro. Heat a skillet on medium heat; add 1 tablespoon oil. Once shimmering, sauté the onions until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring to keep from browning. Add the tongue, cooking until heated through. Reduce heat to low.

Back to the salsa, turn off heat. Add a ½ teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Ladle about 1 cup of salsa into the meat mixture. You want enough salsa to coat the meat but not so much that it's soupy. Add up to ½ cup more if needed. Turn off heat and then stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

To serve: Divide the tongue between 8 corn tortillas. Garnish with avocado, radish, cilantro and some freshly squeezed lime juice.

This is the final in a 3 part series on cooking beef tongue and using it for three Mexican dishes. To learn how to cook the tongue, go here.

You'll also learn on the above post how to make chile colorado tortas like these:

Part two is Lengua a la Mexicana, a dish that incorporates all the flavors of pico de gallo served over rice. That recipe is here.

I hope you enjoyed the little peek into some of my family's favorite ways to prepare cow tongue. I loved sharing these recipes with you. I know it's a little intimidating to try a cut of meat you might have eaten out at a restaurant but not cooked at home yourself. I do hope you give these a whirl. If you do, share a picture on Instagram and tag me (@afotogirl) so I can see your creations!

Until next time, friends ... ¡Buen Provecho!
xo, ani

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine {vegan}

Bringing the taste of Morocco home is made easier with the help of Mina Tagine Moroccan Cooking Sauces. Today I'm sharing the one formulated for fish which I've used to make this satisfying vegetable tagine.

I'm back with another tagine sauce today from Mina. If you've been following along on this tagine journey of mine, you know that tagine is Moroccan and it refers to both the cooking vessel and the name of the dish cooked in it. You also know that Mina sent three sauces for me to try, each for a specific protein: chicken, beef/lamb, and fish.  

I've already posted on the chicken and the beef sauces. The last one I had left to try was a fish cooking sauce. After a lifelong aversion to fish and being new to eating it, I am not quite ready to tackle cooking it myself yet. Well, at least not on my own. So I proposed that I use the fish cooking sauce to make a vegan tagine. The folks at Mina loved the idea.

I included the traditional vegetables normally served in a fish tagine: potatoes, green bell pepper, and carrots. Also traditional, are dark olives and I choose to use pitted California black olives. I substituted the fish with butternut squash and eggplant which are two of my favorite vegetables with a "meaty" bulk to them. I also added onions and for protein, a tin of chickpeas. The fish cooking sauce is tomato-based and I loved how it complimented all the vegetables I used.

Now after having cooked and enjoyed all three sauces, I have to admit that I absolutely loved this vegan version with its luscious reddish sauce. As much of a carnivore as I am, I really enjoy vegetable-based dishes. What? You ask? Didn't you just post two recipes in a row using tongue? I know. I know. I'm a bit contrary. My aunt said as much to me today when I was telling her how much I loved this tagine (she is partial to the chicken one I made).

The chicken tagine had a nice tingle on the tongue from the peppers and various warm spices. The beef was slightly sweet with the addition of dried apricots added towards the end of cooking. This vegetable tagine has that slight tingle from the warm spices which is well balanced by the acidity of the tomatoes. The dish is hearty and satisfying without leaving you feeling heavy and sluggish.

a note on cooking vessels
Part of my discussion when Mina reached out and asked me to try their sauces was that I would cook each sauce in a different cooking vessel to show that you don't necessarily need a tagine to cook with these sauces.

The first one I cooked was the chicken. I went out and picked up a tagine specifically for it. I loved this cooking method. The tagine I bought was not the unglazed clay version but a ceramic one with a glazed interior. I found that this acted very similarly to a Dutch oven with the tight-fitting conical shaped lid forcing the steam back down, creating condensation and keeping the sauce from evaporating and the meat super tender and juicy.

For the beef, I used my trusty cast iron skillet but really, any heavy-bottomed skillet would do. This is probably the method most people would attempt as a good skillet tends to be in every kitchen. I loved being able to get a nice caramelization on the meat and turn around and utilize the brown bits stuck to the pan as extra richness once the sauce was poured in. The only drawback I found with this method was that even with a tight-fitting lid, the sauce evaporated so much halfway through cooking that I had to add liquid to the pan. Which actually is just fine because this sauce was so packed with flavor that even adding additional liquid did not dilute the final outcome. The sauce was still thick and flavorful. I might also need to attribute the evaporation to the fact that this dish had to cook for double the time recommended on the jar because I bought a relatively tough cut of beef. So, you know, my bad.

Lastly, for this fish version, I used my Dutch oven. This method worked very similarly to the tagine version and other than the small amount of water I swirled in the empty jar to loosen any sauce left in it, this method required no additional liquid halfway through cooking as the beef version did. Again, disclosure, though: since this was only vegetables and having cut the harder ones smaller than the softer ones, they all cook relatively even and more quickly than raw animal protein would have needed to cook had it been a part of this version.

last words
These sauces have found a permanent home in my pantry now. All three have basic recipes on the jars but even more exciting are the possibilities they can provide for creative improvisation all with a Moroccan vibe. You can easily experiment, adding your family's favorite ingredients to come up with your favorite combination.

I hope you give them a whirl.

Until next time …

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine
Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and rough cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 large carrot, rough cut into 1-inch chunks
4 small red potatoes, cut into ½-inch chunks
2 pinches sea salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 green bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch wide strips
½ small onion, rough chopped
1 small globe eggplant, rough cut into 2-inch chunks
15-ounce can garbanzo beans (aka, chickpeas), drained and rinsed well
1 jar Mina Tagine Moroccan Fish Cooking Sauce
2 cups pitted black olives

To serve: 
cooked couscous, chopped cilantro, lemon wedges

Place oven rack on lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place cut squash, carrots and potatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables. Add a pinch or two of sea salt and a couple shakes of freshly ground pepper, or to taste. Toss vegetables to coat well.

Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven on high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When shimmering, carefully add the squash mixture. Let cook, undisturbed, for 3 minutes to give the vegetables time to start caramelizing. Stir, and repeat until vegetables are slightly browned. Place the peppers, onions and eggplant into a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat. Add these vegetables, the beans, and sauce to the butternut squash mixture; stir well. Fill the empty sauce jar with ⅓ cup water, shake well, then add to Dutch oven. Cover with lid and place in oven. Cook for 15 minutes. Carefully stir in olives and cook for 5 more minutes or until vegetables are fork tender. Serve over couscous and garnish with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

This post was created in partnership with Mina. All opinions, recipes and photography are my own. Connect with Mina on TwitterInstagram and Facebook

I occasionally work with brands that I love and use in my own kitchen. These sponsored posts help to offset the cost of running this site. Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Monday, July 3, 2017

How to cook beef tongue, Part 2: Lengua a la Mexicana

Part two of a three part series on how to cook a 5-pound beef tongue for three different Mexican dishes

Even though I'm Hispanic, the only time we heard Spanish in the house while I was growing up was when either set of grandparents came over. Being third generation, none of us girls learned how to speak the language. I was around it enough to get the gist of a conversation when I hear it and I can use some high school Spanish to try stumbling through reading the language but I really do suck at it. I’ve picked up a little more over the years watching Spanish cooking shows where I can associate the picture of an onion or celery or pork chop with the word as it’s being said. Well, that and living with my Grandmother these past four years but mostly, she speaks to me 50% of the time in Spanish, 50% in English and I answer her 100% of the time in English because my recall and accent are terrible. The reason I mention all of this is because this dish today is another one of my father’s signature dishes and even though I’m calling it by it’s Spanish name, my dad would never refer to it as this. This is simply tongue with tomatoes, onions and cilantro just like the lengua tortas last week that he calls tongue sandwiches.

Food growing up was a mix of American, Italian and Mexican cuisines as Dad used to cook for a living. But the Mexican dishes were often called by their American names, not Spanish. Learning the names of the dishes in Spanish from research and from my Grandmother, has been a quest of mine since I started sharing my and my family's recipes here with you.

Back to today’s recipe. When a dish is appended with “a la Mexicana,” it usually means the aromatics used are the same ingredients used in basic salsa (aka, pico de gallo) which also happens to be the colors of the Mexican flag. 

We have chopped jalapeño and cilantro (green), onions (white) and tomatoes (red). So that’s why I’m calling this dish Lengua a la Mexicana.

The onions get sautéed until softened.

Then the jalapeño and the tomatoes join the party.

Next comes the saved broth from cooking the tongue. Any fat will have risen to the surface and hardened. You can easily discard it before pouring it into the measuring cup.

Stir in the cilantro. Don't bother removing the leaves from the stems when chopping the cilantro. Just scrunch it all up in a ball and run the knife through, chopping it all together. As my dad says, the stems have tons of flavor and since it's cooking, they will soften up.

Next you'll add ⅓ of the tongue, thinly sliced and cook until heated through. That's it! Easy peasy  and totally delicious.

Until next time!
xo, ani

Lengua a la Mexicana

This is part 2 of the series on getting three different dishes out of one 5-pound beef tongue. For directions on how to cook the tongue, see this post. Also, my dad's original recipe doesn't include jalapeño. Feel free to leave out if you are not a fan.

1 tablespoon canola oil
½ medium onion, thinly sliced in half moons
2 large roma tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeds removed then finely diced
2 cups leftover broth from cooking the tongue
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon whole Mexican oregano
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon beef bouillon, such as Knorrs
⅓ of the cooked tongue from last week, thinly sliced

To serve:
cooked rice or grain of your choice (I used plain short grain brown rice), chopped cilantro, corn tortillas

Heat a 10-inch skillet on medium-high heat, add the oil. When shimmering, add the onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes until the onions are softened and begin to become translucent. Stir in the tomatoes and onions and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the broth, add the salt and stir to combine. Put the oregano in the palm of your hand, then rub your hands together over the pan, crushing the oregano while adding it to the mixture. Stir in the cilantro and the bouillon; taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Add the sliced tongue to the pan and heat through. Serve over rice or stuffed into tortillas for tacos. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Go here for part 1 of this series: how to cook tongue and make chile colorado tortas

Friday, June 23, 2017

How to cook beef tongue, Part 1: Chile Colorado Lengua Tortas

This is the first in a three part series on how to cook cow's tongue (lengua) then use it in three different Mexican dishes: chile colorado tortas, a la Mexicana, and in chile verde for tacos. First up: chile colorado tortas (sandwiches).

When I was probably about 5 years old, Dad asked me to go to the kitchen and grab him a drink from the refrigerator. I remember happily bouncing to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door only to run from the room screaming straight to mom. Upon opening that door, staring at me at eye level was a big ol' pig’s head! Come the weekend, with a houseful of friends and relatives eagerly awaiting the barbacoa that my dad had prepared by digging a big hole in the backyard for the meat to smolder over hot coals during the night, I had no interest in going anywhere near that head. However, as an adult, the idea of tasty pig cheeks and crunchy pig ears has a certain appeal.

There is something about odd cuts of meat that can be quite polarizing. Take for instance cow’s tongue. I love it. Always have. But try to serve me a bowl of menudo (tripe, a.k.a., cow stomach lining) and I’ll be gagging at the very first whiff. Blehhhh.

When I was in college, tongue (along with liver, also another favorite), was super cheap meat mainly because it wasn’t mainstream. You rarely found it at major grocery stores. If you wanted tongue, you’d have to go to a butcher or better yet, a Mexican market. When I treated myself to meat while going to art school, it was invariably tongue or liver because they were the cuts that fit into my beans and rice grocery budget. Since the head to tail movement, odd cuts of meat can get pretty darn pricey! Tongue now costs as much per pound as a decent cut of steak. But here’s the thing, sure you might spend anywhere between $30 to $40 for a 5-pound tongue but that tongue can be served three different ways for four people. That’s 12 servings which comes out to about $3.30 per serving of meat.

About 25 years ago now, I served this chile colorado lengua over Mexican red rice with freshly made pinto beans on the side to a good friend. Of course, when he asked what was on the menu, I merely answered stewed meat in a Mexican red sauce because I didn’t want him to pre-judge the meal. He couldn’t stop mentioning how tender and flavorful the meat was while we were eating. After, he caught on that I had avoided saying what cut of meat we had been eating so he point blank asked. I said lengua, because I thought it sounded more exotic. He just laughed. My blond, blue-eyed surfer friend had spent enough time surfing Baja to be a better Spanish speaker than I was. He admitted to never having had it and was surprised at how much he enjoyed it.

Today I’m showing you how to cook the meat which will then be divided into thirds for three different meals. Along with how to cook the tongue, I’m sharing my dad’s chile colorado tongue sandwich recipe. We’re making a basic pan red sauce that my parent’s use for 90% of their Mexican red sauce needs. Our family rarely made chile colorado from whole dried chiles. That preparation was reserved for homemade chorizo and occasionally, mole for tamales. Everything else has always been made with California chile powder (sometimes they will use a combination of California chile powder and New Mexico chile powder). It cannot be made with generic chili powder so please don’t attempt to substitute it. Those spice jars that simply say “chili powder” have a muddled flavor profile. There is a distinct flavor to California chile powder that is absolutely necessary for Mexican dishes. You can find it in 1-ounce plastic cellophane bags in the Mexican aisle of most major grocery stores and Walmart stores. Preferably, it’s El Guapo brand and the package will say: Chile California Molido (Ground California Chili Pepper). It’ll run you anywhere between .99 cents to $1.60 depending on where you get it. Also, if you wind up liking the flavor, I suggest stopping in at Smart & Final and picking up their larger 8-ounce jar.

Next week, I’ll be sharing the other two preparations: Lengua a la Mexicana (with tomatoes, jalapeño, onions, cilantro) and chile verde lengua tacos.

Ok, ready to cook? Let’s get started!

So this is what five pounds of cow tongue looks like. I know, it's hard to make raw meat look appealing. You know how a really well prepared filet mignon practically melts in your mouth? Trust me, when this has cooked for 3 or 4 hours, it's just as tender and rich but with a much smoother texture.

To cook the meat, we're going to need salt, whole peppercorns, garlic cloves, some bay leaves, half an onion and whole Mexican oregano (find it in the Mexican spice section of your local grocery store, usually El Guapo is the brand most readily available).

We're also going to need half a bunch of cilantro.

All of this goes into a soup pot and gets covered with fresh cool water. Then onto the stove to bring to a boil.

After the meat comes to a boil, we'll reduce the heat to medium-low to keep the water at a low simmer. During the first hour of cooking, the impurities will be released from the meat. Use a spoon to skim it off and discard.

After 4 hours of cooking, we'll remove the tongue from the broth to cool. You want to reserve the broth because we'll be using it for all three dishes following the basic cooking process. 

Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, we're going to need to remove this tough skin.

Starting at the base of the tongue, we're going to grab a corner of the skin and lift. 

Slip a sharp knife between the skin and the meat and carefully slice through it, lifting the skin as you go.

The closer you get to the tip of the tongue, the more difficult it will be to remove the skin–it gets thinner as it moves down the length of the tongue. You might need to make horizontal cuts into the skin to help remove. Once it's completely removed, the skin can be discarded.

Back up at the base of the tongue, this underside resembles more of a pot roast in texture. It also often has excess fat. Trim away the fat.

Then slice away the underside–tenderloin, I call it–and save it for the taco recipe. We want to make the tortas first, using the thickest part of the meat here at the base of the tongue as they fit best on the rolls. Removing the "tenderloin" allows for cleaner cuts and better slices for the sandwiches. At this point, you could wrap the meat up and pour all the broth into a container, refrigerate and continue the rest of this recipe the next day. Or continue. 

For the tortas, starting at the base of the tongue, we'll make 8-10 thin slices. Set aside.

The Mexican red sauce starts like most sauces do: with a rue. We're using butter, chile powder and flour. We'll also be using beef bouillon in place of salt during the finishing stage of the sauce.

As soon as the butter has melted, in goes the chile powder and flour.

Cook the flour and chile, stirring, for one minute. You want to cook it long enough to get rid of the raw flavor in the flour but not too long as the chile burns easily and that will make it bitter.

In goes 2 cups of the broth, whisking it until it's smooth. Then a small can of tomato sauce is whisked in.

Then comes the bouillon. It gets whisked in.

Add the sliced meat.

Turn the meat to make sure it's fully covered in sauce and heat until warmed through. If the sauce seems too thick, add more broth, a tablespoon at a time. It should be a little thinner than gravy but not as thin as soup. 

A generous slathering of mayonnaise goes on the bottom slice of the telera roll. If you don't have a local latin market or bakery, choose a soft crusted roll. But to make it authentic, do search out a telera roll. It's flatter and softer crusted than a bolillo or birote (basically, two different names for the same kind of Mexican-style French bread, just depends on which part of Mexico the bakers are from). A bolillo can be used in a pinch but you'll need to hollow out the inside a little to make room for the sandwich fixings otherwise they'll simply slip out when you try to take a bite due to the harder crust. Next comes the avocado, followed by the thinly sliced cold iceberg, then the meat. Lastly, the top half of the bread gets a quick dip in the sauce before topping the torta. Also, like a good burger, I feel like Coca-Cola is the best beverage with this. But that's probably just me. 

Until next time, friends, be well and buen provecho!

Basic Beef Tongue and Chile Colorado Lengua Tortas 

To cook the meat:

5 pound beef tongue
1 tbs salt 
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
½ tbs whole oregano

½ tsp cracked black pepper or peppercorns
3-4 bay leaves
Small bunch cilantro
½ onion
3-4 peeled garlic cloves 

Place ingredients in a soup pot. Cover with water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil then lower to medium-low and simmer for 4 hours. During the first hour of cooking, skim off the foam as it appears and discard. Once the meat is cooked, carefully remove to a plate; allow to cool until it’s easy to handle. Drain the broth, reserving the cooking liquid and discarding the solids. You’ll need the broth for all three cooking preparations to follow.

When meat is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to remove the skin. Start near the base of the tongue, grip a corner of skin, slip the knife between the skin and meat and carefully slice away the skin, gently pulling up on it as you go; try not to cut into the meat. Discard skin. Cut away any visible fat near the base of the tongue. Also, there is “tenderloin” of sorts at the base of the tongue that can be sliced off to allow for cleanly slicing the rest of the tongue for the tortas; the tenderloin will be reserved for the tacos.

At this point, once the meat and broth have completely cooled, you can refrigerate and continue with the recipe the next day.

For the chile colorado:

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon California chile powder
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups reserved cooking liquid, plus more as needed
8-ounce can of tomato sauce (I prefer Hunt’s because it doesn’t have added sugar)
1 tablespoon powdered beef bouillon, such as Knorrs

To make the rue: Warm a skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the chile powder and flour, either with a whisk or silicon spatula, stir to incorporate for 1 minute.

Make the sauce: Whisk in the cooking liquid until smooth. Add the tomato sauce. Pour 4 ounces of cooking liquid into can, swirl to rinse and add to sauce. Whisk until smooth, then whisk in the bouillon. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more bouillon, if needed.

Starting at the base of the tongue, make 8-10 thin slices. Add to sauce.

For tortas:

4 telera rolls
mayonaise, to taste
1 large ripe avocado, thinly sliced
iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced or shredded

Split the rolls. Spread mayonnaise, to taste, on the bottom halves. Divide the avocado slices between the four bottoms. Top the avocado with lettuce. Next, add the meat, divided between the four bottoms. Dip the top halves of the rolls in the sauce, then top the sandwiches.