Cinco de Mayo

I don’t love Mexican food.  I never have.  Strange for someone who lives in Texas to admit that.  The least appealing thing are those mushy, drab refried beans that most people love.  NOT ME!  Those of you who know me well know that I have a weird texture thing about some foods. Anyway,  I’ve also never visited Mexico (not that I don’t want to).  I just haven’t gotten there. . . yet!

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. A great day to celebrate Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.  Is there a better way to celebrate than with a Mexican meal?  Probably.  But that’s what we did.

Let me step back a bit.  Last Monday I started a 30 day food cleanse.  I’ve been making my own menus and meals, but following the advice found in the book, Whole 30, by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.  Sadly, I’ve broken up with all of my best food friends:  Wheat products (no bread or pasta for example), dairy, (NO CHEESE, black coffee!), sugar…(no jelly beans or skittles or anything containing sugar), and no alcohol (I am missing my wine and hope to get reunited soon)! So now you can see the substantial restrictions I have with meal prep.

What is a Mexican food that fits into this program, is healthy, has no beans (actually those types of beans aren’t allowed either…I don’t miss them).  An old time favorite, a recipe passed to me by my dear friend, Maggie Morgan came to mind:  Tortilla Soup!

Tortilla Soup!
Tortilla Soup!

Maggie’s Tortilla Soup

3 cloves sliced garlic

1 onion, chopped

2 T EVOO

1/2 c chopped chili peppers (canned)

4 c chicken or vegetable stock (I use my own vegetable stock, recipe below)

28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 t chili powder

1 t cumin

1/2 t oregano

1 t salt

1/2 c fresh parsley

3 oz baby spinach

2 zucchini, sliced

3 celery stalks, sliced

shredded Monterey Jack cheese

lightly crushed tortilla chips

Saute garlic and onion in oil until soft.  Add everything else (except cheese and chips),  Simmer until vegetables are tender (about 1 hour).  Serve in bowls with crushed tortilla chips and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Super easy.  Super delicious.  Super healthy.  I omitted the cheese and chips in my bowl.  I did miss them, I’m not going to lie, but it was delicious regardless.

If I were going to book a trip to Mexico City right now from DFW, the flights are really affordable!  $366 per person round trip, non-stop, and a stay at the St. Regis would cost less than $300 per night!  I’d like to visit Mexico City rather than a resort.  I love to explore beautiful old cities, and take in the sites, sounds and food of the country, good and bad, rather than a resort which is purely for the tourists!  Hopefully sooner rather than later!

Homemade Stock

I love making my own stocks and freezing them for future use.  I have a freezer full of delicious, fat free, no sodium vegetable stock and chicken stock.  For the chicken stock I use Ina Garten’s wonderful recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chicken-stock-recipe.html

DSC_0290

For vegetable stock, what I do is very simple.

2 whole large yellow onions, skin left on, cut into quarters

1 lb carrots, scrubbed, but not peeled, cut into large pieces

1 lb parsnips, scrubbed, but not peeled, cut into large pieces

a small bunch of celery, cut into large pieces

2 leeks, washed thoroughly, cut into large pieces (I used the entire leek)

1 entire head of garlic, cut in half crosswise, unpeeled

2 tomatoes

a large bunch of parsley, thyme, sage, oregano (or whatever else I have around)

a teaspoon of whole peppercorns

If I have any on hand, I’ll also throw in red or green peppers

After washing, and cutting the vegetables,  throw them all into a large stock pot ( I use a 16 qt.) and then fill the pot all the way to the top with water.  Cook on medium heat uncovered until it starts to boil, then lower to a simmer, keeping the lid on slightly tilted.  I cook it all day, until the liquid is lightly golden.  Refrigerate overnight and strain the liquids from the solids using a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth.

Advertisements

Handing Down Delicious Traditions

As I previously mentioned, I was born into a family of bad cooks.  My mother’s signature dish was ham casserole:  ground ham topped with mashed potatoes from a box (do they still make these?) topped with a can of Hunt’s tomato sauce.  My maternal grandmother (Grandma Alice) had a rather horrible way of making spaghetti and meatballs:  A jar of purchased tomato sauce with cut up hotdogs to make it meat sauce.  I will give them both credit for one signature really good dish.  My mother makes the best macaroni and cheese and Grandma Alice made a wonderful apple pie complete with a homemade crust!  We will talk about those another time.

I was lucky to marry into a family with a grandma (Grandma Celia) who was a really amazing old-fashioned Italian cook with lots of amazing traditional Neopolitan dishes in her repertoire.  Like most of her peers, Grandma Celia NEVER wrote down a recipe.  She made her own tomato sauce from tomatoes that she and Grandpa Carl grew and canned.  I remember Grandpa Carl pulling and drying seeds from tomatoes that looked particularly promising for reproduction.

I begged Grandma Celia for the “recipes” for many of her specialities.  It was always “a little of this, a pinch of that, a handful of these.”  I have found her sauce is sadly impossible to replicate (largely because of their use of their home harvested, hand-selected tomatoes).  As a really good substitute, I really like Giada DeLaurentiis’s marinara sauce:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/marinara-sauce-recipe.html.  I make three simple changes to this wonderfully simple sauce:  I only use 2 tablespoons of olive oil, I puree it after it’s done cooking, and I add a handful fresh slivered basil after that.  Grandma Celia wouldn’t make a tomato sauce without fresh basil!  (Of course, they grew their own basil too!)

One of our favorite Grandma Celia foods was her amazing meatballs.  We all tried to watch her as she threw in a little of this and that, but no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t get it exactly right.  After many years of trying, several years back, sadly after she was no longer around to critique them for me, I think I mastered (or at least have come really close) to her original flawless formula.

photocredit to Hilary Abate
Grandma Celia’s meatballs as made by Hilary and me 4/26/15.  Photocred to Hilary

Grandma Celia’s Meatballs

1/2 lb lean ground beef

1/2 lb lean ground pork

6 slices of white bread toasted, then ground into breadcrumbs

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup of grated parmesan (the stuff from a can is fine, it’s what she used!)

2 garlic gloves, crushed

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

1T (or less) extra virgin olive oil (more if you’re not using a nonstick skillet)

Toast the bread and grind into breadcrumbs.  They don’t have to be super fine.  Put the breadcrumbs into a large bowl and add water, a little at a time until the breadcrumbs are thoroughly moistened and begin to stick together.  Then add the rest of the ingredients.  Mix thoroughly with your hands, and form the mixture into balls about 1.5-2″ diameter.

Fry the meatballs at medium heat in a skillet (preferably nonstick) with just a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.  Keep turning them so they maintain their round shape and until they develop a crust on all sides.

Grandma Celia said the “crust” keeps the meatballs from falling apart when you put them in the sauce.  Also, following Grandma Celia’s advice, I usually double the batch so there’s plenty left over to freeze for future use!

This was the dinner my middle daughter, Hilary (who LOVES to cook too) and I prepared on Sunday:  Giada’s marinara sauce, Grandma Celia’s meatballs with bucatini and a delicious arugula salad and ciabatta bread (to soak up the excess sauce).  I felt it was time to pass on this recipe to the next generation and show her how its done, just like Grandma Celia had shown me when I was just a little bit older than Hilary is today.

This tradition is too good to pass up!

Carl and Celia Veltri

Grandpa Carl and Grandma Celia

Hello world! Welcome to The Palate’s Journey!

gargoyle

This is my very first post on my very first blog. I hope to be interesting and informative, and sometimes even funny!

About me:

In 1978 I was lucky enough to travel to France at a fairly young age on a school trip. From that point on, I have loved travel. I often say there is really no place I’d refuse to visit. I love to learn about different cultures, histories and food when I travel, and I love to incorporate what I’ve learned into culinary experiences at home. I truly love finding the restaurants that the locals enjoy, rather than one found in a tour book that is full of visitors. Translating a menu and trusting the waitstaff can truly be an adventure in itself! I also love to “virtually” travel to a place, plan a trip, research flights, hotels, cultures, restaurants, just to prepare a meal from a country that I haven’t visited yet. Since 1978 I have been fortunate enough to return to France a few times, and visit other countries in Europe, Asia and South America. Currently, I am living in Dallas, Texas, although I am originally from Connecticut. Not long ago, I spent six years living in the wonderful city of Toronto, during which time I truly began my culinary journey.

Why am I passionate about cooking? I come from a rather long line of truly bad cooks. My parents and both maternal and paternal grandparents had no interest in cooking, and subsequently we were raised on “TV dinners” and lots of processed foods. I’m fairly certain I didn’t eat a fresh vegetable at home other than a baked potato in my entire childhood. Vegetables were either frozen or canned. It was important for me to change that for myself and my family going forward. I read cookbooks like they are novels, and I have a respectable collection of them as a result. Cooking has become my daily therapy. Food brings us all together and unites us.

Join me as we cook our way around the world!