Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Foods of My Native Land

We are leaving tomorrow to spend a few weeks on the old family hacienda in New Jersey. Not only will this be an opportunity for visiting mis papás y hermana, we will also be treated to some of the comida típica del país viejo. That is, some of the special foods we either can't get here in México, or only in diluted versions. Below are some of the delights we are anticipating.
•Proper sour Jewish Caraway Rye Bread.
•Pastrami sandwiches on that rye, with hot, spicy mustard and...
•Garlicky Kosher pickles.
•Good hot dogs, with taste and a casing with snap. (Mexican hot dogs here are uniformly dreadful.) See Irving's Deli menu (pdf). The main web site is being remodeled.
•Dunkin Donuts (Yes; I indulge in a couple of Dunkin Donuts every other day while we are there. I especially like French Crullers. Be assured that they are nutritious.
I can get totally wired on their excellent coffee (and much cheaper than Starbuck's down the street.) while geting wi-fied over their free internet connection. Just try to find a table with enough room for the laptop.

•Brisket pot roast with spicy gravy. Kasha Varnishkes. (Steamed whole grain buckwheat groats with egg noodles, lightly bathed in melted chicken fat with crispy, caramelized onions. I can make it in México, but it's better in the Old Country.)
•Connecticut style hot buttered lobster rolls. Fried whole-belly clams. (In photo.)


•Really good Italian food, and pizza!

A vegetable pizza at Pepe's Pizzaría Napoletana, in New Haven, Connecticut.

•Decent bagels.

Actual, real Chinese food, especially Sichuan style.

Baby Wontons in Spicy Red Oil Sauce, at Chengdu 1, Cedar Grove, NJ.

I hope to be reporting back as often as the primitive, regional coconut fiber network permits.
Watch this space for updates.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Holstein: Variations On a Milanesa

Ja, Das Ist Ein Holsteiner Schnitzel!

Pardon my Alemán. I've never studied that language. But I got enthusiastic yesterday when I spotted Milanesa Holstein on the menu at Sanborn's Restaurant at Plaza Las Américas in Morelia. It's true that I was first drawn to the Sandwich Caliente de Pavo con gravy; but having had a very disappointing earlier experience with that at Sanborn's Centro Histórico Morelia, my eyes leapt to the Milanesa Holstein. There is also a Milanesa Italiana or perhaps Parmesana, which the colorful photo menu explains as in a tomato sauce with gratineed cheese. It looks like "Chicken Parmesan", with the chicken standing in for veal.

I'd better explain what Schnitzel (or Milanesa) Holstein(er) is. A thin slice or meat, originally veal, but could be pork or chicken, is pounded out thin and breaded then fried. For the Holstein variation, the fried schnitzel is topped with a fried huevo estrellado. (See my previous work on How To Order Eggs Without Fear, here.) The fried egg is garnished with a couple of anchovy fillets and a few capers. The latter two are among my favorite condiment foods. Put a small order of Papas Fritas, and you've a rare treat when you are surrounded by enchiladas and comida típica Mexicana.

Where did the milanesa originate and how did it come to Mexico? For illumination, I turned to and the article on the Wiener Schnitzel and variations.

Here is some relevant historical context:
The dish may have originated in Milan, northern Italy, as cotoletta alla milanese, and may have appeared in Vienna during the 15th or 16th century. According to another theory, it was introduced in 1857 by Field Marshal Radetzky, who spent much of his life in Milan. The term Wiener Schnitzel itself dates to at least 1862.
The article is a bit thin on Mexico and its adopting of the Milanesa:


Thinly sliced beef breaded and fried is also known as "milanesa" and is a popular ingredient in "torta" sandwiches sold in street stands and indoor restaurants in Mexico City.

I theorize that with the French invasion and occupation of Mexico in 1862 to 1867, and the placing of Emperor Maximilian of Austria on the throne, Central European dishes were introduced to Mexico, including the schnitzel-milanesa, and, I'll throw in pasta hojaldre (puff pastry for strudels and other flakey treats of pan dulce.)

Earlier, Hapsburg Austria dominated northern Italy, and Lombardy, where Milan is located, and this food may have migrated northward to Austria. From there, it traveled to Mexico, where it is ubiquitous, and most prominently used in tortas. (Mexican "sub" sandwiches) Those milanesas are often of poor quality; tough and badly fried. For a really good Milanesa de Pollo, served plated as a lunch or dinner, I recommend those served at the restaurant of the Gran Hotel in Pátzcuaro. Now I can also recommend those at Sanborn's Plaza Las Américas location in Morelia.

So, what's the Holstein connection? Holstein is a county, part of Jutland, in Northern Germany. How does that explain a fried egg with anchovies and capers? has this explanation; believe it or not as you wish:

Holsteiner Schnitzel (Holsteiner Schnitzel, Schnitzel nach Holsteiner Art)

Holsteiner Schnitzel, a veal fillet (pork can be used instead) breaded and browned in butter and topped with a fried egg and an anchovy was the favorite meal of the great 19th-century Prussian diplomat Friedrich von Holstein – who liked to eat in a hurry – so he had his appetizer and main course all on one plate.

This concludes my light-hearted investigation of the schnitzel-milanesa in Mexico. May your next Milanesa be a great one.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Un Gringo Cocinero En Cuernavaca Parte 2

Yo era un cocinero gringo para una familia Mexicana de Cuernavaca.

Liz' 16th birthday was approaching, and she was more than happy if I would make pizzas for her birthday dinner. The challenges were many, but I was flush with reckless enthusiasm, so I took on the task.

The first thing was to enlist my enthusiastic paisanas in the effort. I probably misread their intentions, because they seemed more motivated towards the nebulous concept of a "party" for Liz, (a little cake, a little punch, some finger sandwiches, ¿quien sabe?) while I was up for a fiesta de pizza a toda madre. (To phrase that more delicately, "an all out effort"; "awesome".)

To launch the latter project, Amelia loaded Liz and me in the Talking Chrysler.
I hadn't told you about that, have I? It was Amelia's carro favorito de siempre, a Chrysler station wagon that would warn you, in a deep, masculine Spanish voice, "Abroche su cinturón.", or, "La puerta está abierta."
Off we went to Gigante and its salchichonería (deli) to buy rare and exotic sausages and cheeses. Amelia gave Liz free rein until she started looking longingly at some shrimp.

My memories are dim, so I don't recall if I made the pizza sauce from fresh or canned tomatoes. These days, I greatly prefer canned. Back then, I had the ganas to make my own sauce from fresh tomatoes.

Yet in the back of my mind was a small but gnawing doubt about what sort of pans were available to bake the pizzas. There were none. Inspired by artesanal pizzaioli
Italiani, I decided to bake directly on paver tiles. There were even some surplus ones stacked in the patio. All they needed was a good scrubbing.

A piece of heavy cardboard, covered with foil, would serve as my pizza peel.

Preparations reached a fever pitch on the morning of the party. My paisanas soon retreated from the kitchen and its lunatic pizza maker. The oven was giving its best effort to reach its feeble maximum temperature. I
rolled out the pizza crusts with a mescal bottle.

I'd lined the oven rack with the paving tiles earlier so that they could heat to the perfect temperature. En mis sueños.

The Moment of Truth had arrived, as it must come to all men.

I clumsily transferred a pizza, brimming with sauce, cheese and delicacies onto my primitive peel. I inserted it into the oven, gave it a jerk, and immediately slapped it up against the back wall of the oven. ¡Que desmadre!

I scraped out the remains and trashed them. With greater care, I loaded another one. This one worked.

Eventually, all 5 (?) pizzas were done, and I fell back, suddenly drained as the family and guests snarfed pizza. I don't remember much more of that, except that the next time "la muchacha" (the housekeeper) came in to clean, she had the task of removing the mozzarella and sauce deposits burned onto the oven.

That was the end of my career as a pizza baker in Cuernavaca, but not the end of my cooking and baking in La Ciudad de La Primavera Eternal.

But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Ernest Hemingway
Possibly to be continued...


I love corn. I really do. So, what is it about the abuse of canned corn* that turns me off so?

*Please don't confuse this with CanCun. This is not a travel blog.

Really, canned corn is convenient and useful. You just open, pour and heat it.
(You should, however, keep cream-style corn away from children who might be corrupted by soft pour corn.)
Whole kernel corn has legitimate applications. I may think of some if you give me some time; could be a few years.

It tastes o.k. I'm just mildly appalled by the indiscriminate addition to so many recipes, such as black bean and corn salsa; to chili, and in casseroles. (The latter often baked in Corning Ware™, as if that would justify it.)

I just did something I rarely do: I committed the sin of canned corn abuse by opening a can of it and pouring the contents into a pot of Chipotle Chicken Chile I was concocting. This chili was improvised from various garish recipes on the Internet.

I based my version on one smoked pork chop, diced; most of a pollo al carbón that we bought alongside the road in Tzurumútaro. These are terrific broiled,
spatchcocked chickens (There he goes again, Mildred, with his smutty talk.); daubed with adobo and slowly grilled over a smoky charcoal fire. Fresh orange juice is squeezed on them at the finish, and a few shakes of salt and pepper.

In addition to the meats, I added a couple of small onions, chopped; one clove of garlic, chopped; one sweet yellow pepper (it's what I had on hand); one chopped chile chipotle en adobo plus its sauce; a tablespoon of pimentón de la vera. I use "La Chinata" brand, because I like the red can and the cool label. Sure; and some Mexican orégano and just a bit of cumin also. Too much cumin smells like sweat.

While the bones of flavorsome skin from the chicken plus the small pork chop bone simmered in a liter of water in a separate pot, I added two cans of S&W brand Italian style stewed tomatoes to the main pot.

Then I did it: I opened one can of S&W Whole Kernel Corn and tossed it into the pot. I pushed this tacky, trashy act into the bargain basement of my conscience.

After the bones had simmered 15 minutes, I strained the stock into the chili pot. I also added a heaping tablespoon of Knorr-Suiza Caldo de Jitomate powder. This may have put the salt a little over the top.

Not to forget the frijoles. They were about 3 cups of cooked frijoles vaquitas, which are called thus for their cow-like, black and white markings. (You'll probably never find these, so don't even try. You can use cannelini beans or common black beans.)

Just for "Authenticity"—hah!— I put a large, dried hoja de aguacate in. I did that because I know most of you can't get them, and that further enhances my smug sense of superiority.

Remove hoja de aguacate before serving, or else everyone will want one.

I slowly added about 1/3rd cup of quick white grits to thicken the juices a bit. This (and any other step) is optional, or as we say, "como te gusta."

When I tasted a few sample spoonfuls, it seemed a bit more picante than my sister-in-law, (who will be visiting us this week) might tolerate. So I damped down the picor (the bite) with the addition of the juice of two Mexican limes, and the juice of one naranja dulce. (Just a sweet juice orange, nada más.)

The chili tasted fine after simmering another 15 to 20 minutes. It's now cooling on the kitchen counter.

Now then; when you imagine the above concatenation of ingredients, each contributing their part towards the common good, ask yourself what the corn does.
It's there because it's too easy to do. As Constantino commented, it's "filler"

I'll close with this link to a truly frightening example of what can happen if you slide down the slippery slope of canned corn abuse. This can happen to you. (For Mature Viewers only, with strong stomachs.)

PS: you can, if you like, serve this with a blob of crema (thinned sour cream), queso rallado, and chopped cilantro on top.
Pass the corn chips.