Saturday, April 30

Hot Cross Buns

In continuation of our Spring/Easter theme....

What Easter would be complete without those warm, sweet and aptly named buns?

Here are some facts I bet you didn't know about Hot Cross Buns:
  1. Apparently these little buns pre-date Christianity and were first consumed by the Saxons in honor of the goddess Eostre.  Easter, Eostre?  Hmmm.
  2. Protestant England attempted to ban these buns as they were deemed dangerous reminders of Catholicism - the same dough was used to make the communion wafer.  The buns were too popular however, and Elizabeth I passed a law allowing bakers to sell them.
  3. Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday will never get old - they will not get stale or moldy (currently testing this theory) and, as such, are said to have healing properties.
  4. Sharing a bun with friends is said to ensure lasting friendship throughout the year.
  5. Taking these buns on a ship journey is sure to prevent any shipwrecks.
  6. Hanging a bun in the kitchen is suppose to prevent fire and ensure that all baked breads turn out amazing.
  7. There is no name for them in Spanish. My dad suggests panecillos cruzados, but that just makes me think of baked buns on a crazed rampage.
Me thinks the Queen would approve.

And then, there's this:

Hot cross buns, hot cross buns,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns.

If you have no daughter,
Give them to your sons,
One a penny, two a penny,
Hot cross buns.

Here's the recipe I used this year to make the buns. Instead of icing for the cross, the recipe called for pastry dough.  Yay for a recipe that requires twice the job!  But seriously, they're worth it, especially when they're toasted and smothered in butter.

Dark Chocolate Flan with Pepita Praline

Ok, so it's been a while since I last posted.  I've, um, been busy.

Anyway, in celebration of Easter - and seeing as I finally have some time on my hands - I decided to attempt my first Easter lunch.  And what Easter meal would be complete without chocolate?

In keeping with my Latina roots, I decided to go with a traditional dessert - flan made with bittersweet chocolate and chili. Ok, so maybe it was a traditionally inspired.

Milk and cream are slowly simmered with chili, anise, cinnamon and black peppercorns, allowed to sit for 30 minutes, and then simmered again. Dark chocolate is added once the milk mixture is off the fire.

Eggs and sugar are beaten 'til light and fluffy.  Milk mixutre is added to the eggs and then  drained through a very fine sieve into a candy coated pan.

Sugar coated pepitas anyone?

 The full recipe can be found here.

Friday, February 11

1985 and American cuisine

Looking back

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, moving to the US in the mid 80's was quite a shocker, no less so when it came to food. We went from the open-air markets of Lima, to a world of processed food and chain restaurants. Yes, it was the era of Ronald Regan and Princess Di, MS-DOS and IBM, McDonald playgrounds (the first PlayPlace was opened in 1986) and the microwave. There were good things, and there were bad.

The surplus and decadence of the decade fed the growing popularity of nouvelle cuisine, spurred the rise of TV food stars, and allowed the slow food movement to bloom.  It was also an era that marked the growing influence of fast food.  In that decade the first Olive Garden opened, Chili's went national, and Denny's, Red Lobster, and Roy Rogers (to name just a few) reached their height as fast-food franchises.

But what of the American home-cook?

A few years ago, getting off work in the Meatpacking district, I came upon a discarded cookbook.  It was the 50 year anniversary edition of the Culinary Arts Institute, printed in 1985, including over 4,000 "kitchen-tested recipes from all over the world".  After looking through it several times, and testing some of these "kitchen tested" recipes, these are the conclusions I've come to:

Ring Molds

Beermato Aspic: not technically a ring mold

Apparently ring molds were very popular in the 80's.  Recipes ranged from cheese mousses to Beermato Molds (yes - you got it - a beer and tomato jelly mold). I find these retro shots somewhat amusing, if not necessarily mouthwatering.

Ham mold....what?

Beef, Pork and Sausages

Lots of meat, all the time.  My particular favorite is the Potato Volcano - which is actually found in the vegetable section of the book. The recipe is included below should you wish to test it.  Personally, I couldn't convince anyone - not even Jeremy or Mike - to swear that they would taste it in the hypothetical chance that I made it at home.

An explosion of bacon and sausage!

Fish Preperation

Fish prep was heavy handed and most of the recipes call for some kind of white fish either baked, broiled, grilled whole (as seen above) or in some kind of stew.  Forget pan-seared steaks like tuna. Forget tuna for that matter.

Hungry yet?

I'm also thinking that cooks in the 80's must have had quite a penchant for Basquiat.  Is it just me, or is there an eerie similarity going on here?

The Microwave

By 1986, 25% of households in the U.S. owned a microwave oven.  It was at this time that cookbooks started to include sections on microwave cooking. This edition of the Culinary Arts Institute offers a section "of special interest to microwave owners:" recipes from "appetizers to beverages" to make "your oven especially useful."

Who knew that fish could be done in the microwave?

Ahh the Doll Cake, what birthday party would have been complete without it?

Apparently there was a lot of baking and it wasn't that bad (doll cakes included).  The book has a huge array of breads, pies, cakes and more (in fact, a third of the book - that's some 250 something pages out of 790 - is dedicated to baked goods and desserts), some of them with beautifully kitsch photographs. 

All in all, I'd like to think that the 1980's were the start of something new.  Thirty years on we've acquired foodies, food blogs, Top Chef, the Naked Chef (yes, please!) and a first lady that champions healthy and fresh eating. We worry about the health of our children as childhood obesity becomes a growing concern, but I have to believe that we are on the road to an era of more educated consumers and cooks.

Mmmm, peach pie.

Saturday, January 15

Ceviche in the Big Apple

Part II: What to do when you crave ceviche but live in New York.

It's unfortunate that some of the worst ceviche I've ever tried has been in New York. There was a lamentable incident in which Jeremy and I, in a moment of inspiration, decided to stop at Coco Rocco for a lunch time ceviche and beer. The fish was mauled and stringy - absolutely no care had been taken to treat it with any dignity - and the texture was such that we felt we were eating worms.  It also had no taste (and, as long as I'm ranting, I should add that the food at Coco Rocco tastes nothing like Peruvian food). Anyway, yuck.

Lima's Taste used to have a decent ceviche.  But ever since they moved from the East Village to Christopher St. in Greenwich Village, their quality control has been questionable (although they do serve a mean Lomo Saltado).

The best place to go is Jackson Heights (unless you have any other suggestions?), where there is a growing number of Peruvian restaurants, all serving quite decent ceviches and tiraditos.

But that's of little use if you don't live in the area...not that I mind a trip to Queens, it's just that I don't always have the time.

Lucky us that ceviche is quite easy to make. The key is fresh fish.

I like to go to Brooklyn Fare, where they have a very good selection of local fish - wild caught and farmed (I never used the frozen stuff).  My man is Franco, their fish specialist, who will tell you exactly which is the freshest of the lot and at exactly what time of the day they arrived.  He knows a lot about fish (and surprisingly about ceviche too), and will recommend a good substitute when there is no adequate sole available. I always go with his word.

I'm using this post as the perfect opportunity to experiment with my ceviche recipe - I made two versions.

Ceviche 1 was left to soak in salted water for 30-45 min. It was then drained, patted dry, and cut into 1/2 in chucks. In a shallow dish I rubbed a clove of crushed garlic and a bit of crushed ginger over the surface, leaving the garlic.  The fish is then added in one layer, salted and topped off with onion, habanero (used instead of aji), pepper, a bit of cilantro and lime juice. 

Ceviche 2 was left to marinade in milk (whole) for the same amount of time, 30-45 min.  Once the fish was cut, I placed it in a bowl and added onions, habanero, garlic paste, salt, pepper, and lime juice.

Both ceviches were made with fresh sole (caught that morning), with slightly less than 1/4 c of lime juice per 1/2 lb of fish, along with a generous amount of sliced onions. Neither sat for more than 10 minutes before being served.  Note: It is important to allow the sliced onions to sweat before mixing them with the fish - sprinkle them with salt and let them sit for at least an hour, then rinse before using. In addition, I added an ice cube to maintain freshness. As garnishes I served sweet potatoes - boiled with cinnamon and cloves, sliced and chilled - and cancha.


The ceviche that sat in milk was by far the better recipe - the milk added a base to the citrus and gave the dish a much more complex flavor.  Alas, it is by no means a perfect ceviche.  The ingredients available here are too different from those found in Lima.  But, it was a good version and I think there is room for improvement.  Next time: ceviche made with key limes.

Tuesday, January 11

A guide to the Peruvian ceviche

Part I: In search of the perfect ceviche.

Ceviche at Juanito's

Okay, so maybe finding the perfect ceviche is a tall order,  but I would be hard pressed to say that it was found outside of Peruvian borders.

Apparently the origins of the dish are a bit contested.  There is evidence suggesting that the Moche civilization in the northern Peruvian coast had a similar variation of the dish, in which the fish is marinated with the fermented juice of a passionfruit. There is also evidence suggesting that the Incas created a similar concoction where the fish is marinated in chicha. Either way, scholars (food scholars?) generally agree that the modern dish as we now know it - a combination of fish and citrus juice - originated in coastal Peru during colonial times, when limes and other citrus fruit where brought over by Pizarro and his merry men.  

Ceviche at La Canta Rana

There are a great variety of ceviches, cebiches or seviches (depending on your regional preference), ranging from cooked shrimp with lime juice served with tomatoes and tostadas (Mexico), to raw fish marinated with vinegar (Phillipines) - side note: in a strange turn of events, my dad professed the Ecuadorian and Costa Rican ceviches pretty good too. But, the best is the Peruvian version. Not that I'm biased or anything.

The Peruvian ceviche is traditionally made of either corvina (sea bass) or lenguado (sole), cut into small pieces and then marinated for 10-15 minutes in a combination of limon (like a key lime, but not quite), thinly sliced red onions, and some diced aji limo. There are variations, of course, most notably in the amount of aji, the use of various other types of seafood (for example, el ceviche mixto usually comes with corvina, scallops, squid and octopus), and a few secret tips of the trade professed as indispensable by certain chefs of (dis)repute: a dab of milk;  fresh ginger or garlic rubbed on the serving plate; or a couple of ice cubes mixed in with the fish. The variations are quite endless. But, almost all ceviches are served with a side of camote (sweet potato), choclo, and a tall, cold glass of Cusquena (although my dad says that an exaggeration, since most Peruvians actually prefer a Pilsen).

Regardless, the traditional ceviche casero will likely have a rough, chunky cut of fish, as served at Juanito's, a seaside restaurant in the surfing town of Cerro Azul. The freshness of the fish makes up for the lackluster cut.  

Ceviche at Punta Sal

My preference is for the more modern ceviche (perfected by the Peruvian-Japanese chef, Dario Matsufuji, in the 1970's), which uses a delicate sashimi-style carved fish.  The tiradito is a variation of this method, taking the Japanese influence to a whole new level.  Thin, long slices of fish are served in a shallow dish with an aji rocoto or aji amarillo sauce, completely raw.  Punta Sal is one of Lima's more popular cevicherias, offering a great variety of ceviches, tiraditos and other Peruvian seafood specialties.

For a real taste of the innovations in gourmet ceviche that Lima now offers, I recommend both La Mar and Pescados Capitales (a play on pecados capitales - the seven deadly sins). Cheap, they are not. But, I've tried some of the best fish of my life there, so it's worth the extra buck (or more likely two).


Ceviche is a lunch time meal, so never make the faux pas of serving or ordering it for dinner.  It is professed to be the ideal hangover cure and the left-over sauce, leche de tigre (tiger's milk), is supposed to have the same effects as Viagra. Whether it works or not, I unfortunately never had the opportunity to verify (wink, wink). But, there must be some merit to it.  A shot of leche de tigre is often found on a cevicheria's menu as a popular number, served as either an aperitif or a digestif.

But, alas, what is the point of all of this if you're stuck in the brutal cold of a New York winter?

La Trixie chowing down on ceviche