Monday, February 22, 2010

‘Mexican Made Easy’ - COLD Butter In A Crumb Crust(!) Storing Breadcrumbs (Urgent Information) And Cutting Onions

Mexican Made Easy with Marcela Valladolid

Cuddle Cuisine

Butternut Squash Soup with Chipotle Cream

Chile Crusted Rack of Lamb

Sweet Strawberry Tartlets

Marcela Valladolid seems to have a sound culinary background, but, I’m being honest here, she seems so darned young and so lacking in authority that I have to wonder why the FN chose HER to give a show to. Oh wait, is that WHY? Because she IS so darned young?

I never thought I’d say this, but I actually felt kind of sorry for Ingrid Hoffmann after watching an episode of Marcela's new show Mexican Made Easy.

Does this mean that the Food Network thought that Ingrid was just too old to do the Latin thing on their network? I’d like to think that Ingrid’s show didn’t survive (I’m not even sure if it was officially cancelled), because viewers thought it was just too much of a mish-mash of culinary traditions, and that simply adding lime juice to something doesn’t makes it Hispanic. But Ingrid WAS very accomplished as a television host. Let’s see how Marcela does...

The first sentence from Marcela - “You have to make sure the butter is RALLY RALLY cold.” Actually, she only said Rally once, but it sounded like a cross between a Valley Girl’s singsong cadence and…well, actually, THAT IS what it sounded like – a version of Valspeak. Her Spanish, incidentally, is absolutely beautiful.

Okay, let’s get to the cooking. I missed the first show, but in the second show she starts with strawberry tarts, and Marcela, thankfully, makes her own pastry – hence the “rally” cold butter. Oh wait, she’s using it for a CRUMB crust. Why wouldn’t she just have melted the butter? That is RALLY different.

Have you ever NOT used melted butter in a crumb crust? Hers actually didn’t look any different than a usual one. Hmm, I looked at over a dozen crumb crust recipes from books and online and NOT ONE used cold butter. Every single one, whether it used graham crackers, ginger snaps, vanilla OR chocolate wafers, all used melted butter. What could possibly be the reason for using cold butter in a crumb crust?

That’s not the only query in my mind as I watch her. Marcela reminds me of someone, some young actress that if I could only think of who she is, you would instantly get what she’s like.

I remember now. Oh! This isn’t good. Remember on Entourage, the stalker-type, kind of obnoxious, too-thin girl that E was involved with? The character’s name is Ashley. I haven’t seen most of this season, so I don’t know if he finally dumped her, but I guess she must have been a very good actress, because I couldn’t stand her!

Anyway, THAT’S who poor, sweet Marcela reminds me of and I find it hard to watch her now. THIS is who I’m talking about. That really is unfair of me. I have to shake that off right now!

Oh boy, I made the mistake of looking at Marcela’s blog and NOW I think just the opposite. She seems absolutely darling, even if she does have on too much eye make-up. She’s making me go all over the place. I think I’ll stick to the cooking and forget the Valspeak and Maybelline.

Marcela is making individual strawberry tarts with that crumb crust. She likes to use Maria biscuits, but you can substitute graham crackers with no problem, she says.

Marcela loves her mother’s idea of adding a bit of sugar to the strawberries, so they make their own juice. (I wish MY daughter would give ME credit for ideas that have been around since the beginning of time.)

The filling for the tarts is cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and her mother’s SECRET addition. Oh good, I have a feeling her mother is this awesome Mexican cook, turning out fresh chalupas at the drop of a sombrero.

I wonder what the secret ingredient could be. Hmm, Maybe a bit of Tequila? THAT would be different. Mexican vanilla? Too obvious. Oh I know!!! She probably adds Mexican crema, which is a Mexican version of crème fraiche or sour cream. Let’s see what it is.

WHAT??!! The secret ingredient is…POWDERED WHIPPED TOPPING! I don’t even know what that is. Cool Whip in powdered form, maybe? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Marcela says when asked how she gets the pie to be so fluffy and airy, her mother says she just whips it for an extra 5 minutes.

Sorry, but that white powder sprinkled over the cream cheese and sour cream looks really suspect as she beats everything together. Marcela folds in the strawberries and some of their magical juice. She spoons the filling on the tart shell and tops it with a fresh strawberry.

Next she’s making butternut soup. I wonder if some Knorr soup mix will go in at the end.

She roasts a halved butternut on a baking sheet with a bit of oil, salt and pepper for 45 minutes at 400º F. Meanwhile, she chops an onion, coarsely, and adds it to chopped carrots, celery and garlic with salt and pepper. She cooks it for not very long then adds the scooped out flesh of the butternut. She adds enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables, stirs well and the recipe says to cook it for 30 minutes until the vegetables are very soft.

I would prefer to completely soften the vegetables before the stock and squash goes in. The onions are incomparably sweeter that way.

Marcela makes a Chipotle Crema to go with the soup. See? I guess I mentioned crema a bit early. Marcela dices one chipotle very finely and mixes it with sour cream, salt and pepper. She purées the soup with an immersion blender and then seasons it (without tasting).

Marcela serves the soup with the chipotle crema and some pumpkin seeds. She tastes it and approves. Where’s Mama, anyway? That’s what we need. Ingrid’s show only became bearable with Mama.

Marcela starts her lamb main course by dissing her sister, saying if SHE can make this, then anyone can.

I shouldn’t get up in arms about that. I talk smack about other people’s cooking abilities ALL the time. No member of my family will step foot in my kitchen while I’m there. Too bad, they could really learn something. ;-)

Anyway, apparently her sister didn’t inherit the cooking gene. Marcela grabs her own homemade bread crumbs from the pantry. Hold on! Fungi Alert!

That’s great that she made the bread crumbs from scratch, but I would NEVER make bread crumbs in advance and keep them in the cupboard. Commercial ones have “secret” things added to them, so they don’t go off, but homemade breadcrumbs are a potential breeding ground for mold. You can bag them up and store them in the freezer or just make them and use them.

BTW, this chef has some thoughtful reasoning about why you shouldn’t use the CRUST in your homemade bread crumbs.

Back to the lamb, Marcela starts the crust that will go on the outside. She chops her shallots beautifully. That tells me a lot, but I don’t want to repeat my chopping-onions-the-classic-way-got-me-my-first-restaurant-cooking-job story. THIS is what I have to say about THAT. (Use Control-F to find the paragraph right after “I want to digress just a sec.”)

Marcela adds the chopped shallots to butter in a sauté pan. She says the trick to instantly stop crying from onions is to stick your head in the freezer. That’s great, but I have a bottom freezer now and by the time I cleaned out all the bread (and breadcrumbs), nuts, butter and ice packs, the crying would be long over.

You can also try a tiny dribble of water from the faucet. (Catch it in a pot, so you don’t waste it.) Apparently the acid from the onion is attracted to the moistest thing around, including your tear ducts. BUT if you have a faucet running, it’ll go to that. I still think the BEST way to cut down on crying is to keep your onions in the fridge. There’s a bucket full of tears difference between chopping a room temperature onion and a cold one.

I like that Marcela makes clear not to brown the butter as she sautés her shallots. She adds the fresh bread crumbs from that airtight container. I’m SO worried about those breadcrumbs. I can feel a few mold spores around the edges that she hasn’t caught. PROMISE ME that you won’t keep your freshly made breadcrumbs in the pantry.

Marcela stirs the breadcrumbs around in the butter to brown them. Then she adds ancho chile powder. Thank you Food Network, for telling us that this is “Ground Up Poblano Peppers”. I actually mean it (THIS time), I think it’s good they told us something useful for once.

I know Marcela is the Mexican cooking expert (supposedly), but I absolutely would have handled the ancho chile powder differently. I would have softened the shallots, THEN added the chile powder and cooked it on low, low, low for 2 to 3 minutes and THEN added the breadcrumbs. The mixture would be evenly ancho-ed, and there would be a more rounded, rich flavor with less rawness. THAT is how to treat warm spices – cumin, coriander, curry, turmeric, chile powder – in any sautéing situation.

Marcela stirs in a bit of fresh thyme and adds salt and pepper. She gets the crumbs golden brown, but not TOO browned, because they’re going in the oven. Good point.

She takes the breadcrumbs out of the sauté pan and sets them aside. Then in the same pan, she adds oil to brown the lamb. She heats the oil to “RALLY hot”. She seasons her rack (I couldn’t resist) with salt and pepper and sears the skin side of the lamb to a nice brown.

Marcela gives a nice explanation that searing the meat before it goes into the oven allows the meat to form a crust. That keeps the juices inside and the result will be “ONE JUICY RACK” of lamb.

Marcela spreads a layer of Dijon over the lamb and “packs on” the bread crumbs. She pours out the extra oil from the pan and put the rack back in, crumb side up, and puts the pan in the oven at 400º F for 25 minutes.

Commercial for Minute Rice. I can’t decide if the “Have you heard?” commercial is like a really bad sitcom or a really pathetic informercial. Office co-workers are sitting around a lunch table discussing the benefits of healthy eating, targeting one pudgy guy in particular who’s trying to lose weight for his wedding.

Great, but WHY would you buy brown rice in an over-packaged high-priced microwavable container (I NEVER microwave in plastic) when you could make a pot of brown rice at the beginning of the week and just pack it up separately. How about in these little Pyrex dishes with lids? But I still wouldn’t put the plastic lid in the microwave. Rice doesn’t need a lid to reheat anyway.

Back to Marcela…She takes the lamb out of the oven, exclaiming, “That, TO ME, looks like love at first sight.” Oh, this is supposed to be a romantic dinner, by the way. She sets it down to rest while she makes a mint sauce.

Eww, she mixes mint jelly and beef broth and a few sprigs of fresh mint. She heats up half a can of beef broth with some mint jelly. She chops up the mint and adds it at the last minute with salt and pepper. That really looks awful. Don’t ruin that nice lamb with that. She slices the lamb and dips a chop right into the sauce.

I would get a GOOD mint jelly, just serve that and make a little reduction from the juices in the pan for a sauce.

I would have reserved just a bit of that shallot and sautéed it around in the pan in which the lamb was cooked. And how about a sprinkle of that wonderful ancho chile powder? (I would have cooked it for 2 minutes on low, low, low, of course.) Then just a splash of some wine, brandy, even orange juice or balsamic vinegar…bring it the boil and scrape up all the stuff in the bottom of the pan. THEN add a bit of stock, reduce and voila, no minty, jellified sauce necessary.

I was going to write about all 3 of Marcela’s shows, but lookie here, she gave me too much to write about. I love when that happens. My next post about Marcela will include her Chocoflan recipe, which looks really interesting and seems to have quite a few problems based on its reviews on the Food Network website. Adiós por ahora.


Emily said...

Mmm Chocoflan. I like the sound of that. How about Choconut Flan? Chocolate Coconut Flan.

I haven't watched this show yet, but she seems likeable and not annoying in the commericals.

Speaking of annoying commerical, I hate that Minute rice commercial. But I watched and didn't ignore it, so I guess they win.

But I'm not buying their rice.

Sue said...

Of course, YOU would come up with an instant improvement to a recipe you haven't even seen yet. ChocoNUT Flan - It's brilliant! I guess you would make the flan part with coconut cream. Great idea, get on it.

You BETTER not buy their rice.

Anonymous said...

Sue, you cracked me up. "I wish MY daughter would give ME credit for ideas that have been around since the beginning of time." "I wonder if some Knorr soup mix will go in at the end." Of maybe McCormick chicken gravy?


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Now I want Emily to make some Choco-coconut flan!

Thanks for reviewing this. I have been wondering if the show was any good. Sounds like it's not as bad as some of the others. Sounds like better cooking an Ingrid Hoffman. It's funny, I never think of lamb as Mexican. I don't know why not. Mexico has a wide variety of ecosystems including ones suitable for sheep-keeping.

She should have mentioned that your knife should be extra sharp before cutting your onions to cut down on the tears.

Sue said...

Hi Rach,
Really?!!! I didn't know that about a sharp knife! Is it because you can cut the onions faster and limit your exposure to them? I thought I had heard every wacky remedy there was for avoiding tears. Actually, that's not even wacky and we should have sharp knives anyway.

Anonymous said...

With a sharp knife you cut open fewer of the cells that release the sulfur-containg compounds that sting your eyes.

Sue said...

You guys are sooo smart!

Sue said...

I'm not sure why your 1st comment got lost.

Yeah, it's funny even when I TELL her how great I am, the kudos from my daughter are not forthcoming.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I get the same reaction from my cats.

padillas4 said...

I have enjoyed watching Marcella's show and making many of her dishes. I was truly disappointed when I realized this morning that she is no longer on the Food Network. Her Baja Fish Tacos are my favorite, and her Chicken Mole Enchiladas, AMAZING! To all you "gringos" with nasty comments, Taco Bell will gladly continue to feed you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sue said...

Hola Padillas 4,
I don't think Marcella has been cancelled...yet. I think they made 6 shows for the first series and they just haven't announced when she'll be back on the schedule.

I don’t actually believe I had such horrible things to say about Marcella. It was the first show I had seen, for goodness sake. And whatever I did say didn’t really have anything to do with her being Mexican and me being a “gringo”, other than the fact that I was talking about Mexican food. Should I have pretended she was making hot dogs?

Plus, I can’t swear, but I think I may have been to a Taco Bell once maybe 20 years ago, but that’s about it. How’s about we forget about ethnic stereotyping? I will, if you will.

Ashley said...

i found your blog by accident, and it was an enjoyable read. however, i just had to stop reading that link on breadcrumbs when she started talking about the "crust crumbs". i can't take anyone seriously as a foodie or chef if they're going to make up that crazy phrase. baked bread is basically two things: the crust, or hard outer portion, and the crumb, or soft inner portion. oh, and marcela's mention of searing the meat to retain juiciness is really just an old inaccurate myth. it does caramelize the meat adding to it's taste and texture, though.