If I say Chicago, what food snaps into your mind. Pizza? Dogs? Cabbage rendered in a thousand different ways? That’s a dangerous topic to ask a person from New York, the home of true pizza and the world’s best hot dogs. And, and, which city has won more World Series?
Back to food. Chicago? I think Mexican. And largely because of one man: Rick Bayless. Frontera Grill is his flagship Chicago restaurant, a site that for over 20 years has served delicious, ethnically authentic, outstanding food. Rick has many books but this one, Frontera, packs in 50 recipes just from that singular restaurant. Over all those years, a lot of avocados have arrived at the back door of Frontera. A lot of happy people have left hours later through the front door, the tang of guacamole on their tongue, the vapors of margarita sublime in their brains.
Wonderful variations for guac and margaritas — plus some snacks — are presented here, reflecting years of trial, experimentation and ultimately perfection.
Take this guacamole. It has cheese. Like goat cheese. Would you have thought of that? I would not, but I do love the taste. Goat cheese adds both its distinctive flavor and mouth feel. Rick says this dish is substantial, and prefers it as side to shrimp, chicken, fish or pork. I put a chip in the picture because I could never make a batch of guac and not at least taste test. In this particular case, Suzen and I taste tested the whole bowl.
What did we do then? Why we dipped into our emergency supply of ripe avocados. You have one of those, right?
Grilled Corn and Poblano Guacamole
Yield: 4 cups
- ½ medium white onion, sliced crosswise into 3 rounds
- A little olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 small ear of fresh corn, husked and cleaned of silk
- 1 fresh poblano chile
- 3 ripe medium-large avocados
- ¼ cup crumbled Mexican fresh cheese or other fresh cheese, like salted pressed farmer’s cheese or goat cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1-2 tablespoons epazote [or cilantro]
Heat a gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until medium-hot and the coals are covered with gray ash. Lightly brush both sides of the onion slices with oil, sprinkle with salt and lay on the grill.
Oil the corn and lay it beside the onion, along with the poblano (no oil needed on it). When the onion slices are browned on one side, 4 to 5 minutes, flip them and grill the other side. Turn the corn regularly until evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Roast the poblano for 5 to 7 minutes, turning it until evenly blackened. Let the roasted vegetables cool.
Chop the onion into ¼-inch pieces. Cut the kernels from the corn (you need about ¾ of a cup). Rub the blackened skin off the poblano, pull out and discard the stem and seed pod, tear the chile open and briefly rinse to remove stray seeds and bits of blackened skin. Cut into ¼-inch pieces.
Cut the avocados in half, running a knife around the pit from top to bottom and back up again. Twist the halves in opposite directions to release the pit from one side of each avocado. Remove the pit, then scoop the flesh from 1 avocado in a large bowl. Scoop the flesh from the other 2 avocados onto a cutting board and cut them into ½-inch pieces. With an old-fashioned potato masher, a large fork on the back of a large spoon, thoroughly mash the avocado this is in the bowl.
Scoop the diced avocado into the bowl, along with the grilled onion, corn, poblano and 2 tablespoons of the fresh cheese. Sprinkle with the lime juice and epazote [or cilantro], then gently stir the mixture to distribute everything evenly. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate.
When you are ready to serve, scoop, the guacamole into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Source: Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles, and Snacks by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless
Photo Credits: Canon T2i, 18-55mm lens at F/5.7, 1/100 second at ISO 3200 [no flash]
Somewhere in our childhoods, we all encounter a story or tale with buried treasure found and adored.
So, for many of us, part of life is that search for that treasure. It may be golden coins or golden locks. Or golden pieces of cake.
Baker Julie Richardson has been fortunate to find buried treasure. She is generous in sharing that bounty with us in Vintage Cakes.
Julie is a natural baker who began her career in Ketchum, Idaho. She has moved to Portland, Oregon and now has Baker & Spice Bakery just over the West Hills. Her bakery is in the space occupied 50 years ago by the Hillsdale Pastry Shop. In her process of remodeling the old to start anew, Julie found a filing cabinet that she emptied into boxes and pushed aside.
And then she began to go through those boxes and discovered a bevy of fifty year old recipes. People who remembered the Hillsdale Pastry Shop asked her for old treats from that store. And friends began to supply their old recipes, too: you know, those fond things that a grandmother made long ago. The paper the recipes were written on may have faded. The memories have not.
And so, Julie has written Vintage Cakes. And you, you, have a mission. Find this book, take it home, and take a journey of flavor and memories. Yesterday, I posted a picture and recipe for the Blitz Torte from Vintage Cakes that is fabulous: brown sugar cake, meringue, honey custard, and berries. In the picture above, you see lots of little stickies at the top and side of the book. Yes, I’ve gone through Vintage Cakes page by page and there’s so much I want to try:
- Banana Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream
- Butterscotch Cream Roll Up
- Coffee Crunch Spiral
- Goober Cake [Peanut butter cake with peanut butter frosting]
- Malted Milk Chocolate Frosting
- Old Vermont Burnt Sugar Cake
- Marshmallow Frosting
- Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
- Lovelight Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream
- Malted Milk Cupcakes
- Double Dip Caramel Cake
I showed Suzen the recipe for the Goober Cake. Her reaction was, well, emphatic: “That makes my teeth hurt!” And you know what, she’s right that it is a tad sweet but I’m determined. Next dinner party we have is ending with the great American peanut in all its glory: in the cake and in the frosting. I envision serving peanut brittle on the side.
This book from 10 Speed Press is beautifully packaged. The recipes work, because a professional baker has written them. Erin Kunkel has photographed many of the cakes here and does them full justice.
Physically, the book is divided into important sections:
- Hasty Cakes for those of whose ADD medications are not working
- Everyday Cakes for the standard sweet tooth
- Little Cakes and Light Cakes for those with cupcake addiction
- Flips and Rolls for people, like me, who think a roulade is a national treasure
- Layer Cakes for traditionalists [i.e. they want frosting between the layers]
- Party Cakes to make family treats memorable
- Fillings, Frostings, and Icings for those who know that no cake should be naked, not ever
The recipes here are old. Fifty plus years in many cases. They reflect an age of butter, eggs, sugar and loving creation.
I grew up in Portland in the 50’s and 60’s, just across the river from the Hillsdale Pastry. Did I go there? I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember this. In a city filled with second and third generation families from Germany, Austria and Scandinavia, there was a mom-and-pop bakery every other block. Yes, people did bake at home, but there were scores of wonderful places whose aromas wafted out onto the streets. You might think I’m exaggerating or imagining. But, no, I’m just remembering.
Now those memories can be real. They can be yours. They fill the pages of Vintage Cakes.