On my second visit to Arizona this summer, the weather was hot but dry, with beautiful blue skies and wispy clouds that offered a welcome break from the greyness of the Pacific Northwest. I am and have been a sun worshipper all my life. The scenery of arid desert, the cactus along I-10 east of Palm Desert to Phoenix and the occasional tumbleweeds are a far cry from home or better yet my most favorite place to vacation; the beach! But the desert has its own beauty to behold to all who pass through or decide to stay a while - like we did.
My middle daughter, Katie, is a Veterinarian in Cave Creek, Arizona. While she was at work busily saving animals, I thought I would check out the local flavors of southwest cooking and surprise her with a different entree each night of our visit to tantalize her palate. Southwest cookery is known for its bold and brilliant tastes and colors. Tonight's entree is another example of what our Native American ancestors have accomplished by combining their cooking talents with the Mexican, Spanish, and European heritage that is oh-so-common now to this region.
Incorporating the varied tastes from all four of the cultures that now reside in the southwest resulted in a spectacular entree, Roasted Loin of Pork with Prickly Pear Glaze. This dish was not only moist and tender, but offered a kick of flavor for all who joined us at our table.
An important lesson to be learned here: when a chef asks for you to shop at a local market or a cultural grocery store, believe them! They have undoubtedly already searched for the local ingredients, so do not waste your time by thinking you are wiser than they are. My faithful husband of 41 years (and six days) still believes that I am beyond crazy when I say the supermarket will not have what I am looking for. After all, he forgets that I always seem to be looking for the most unusual ingredient known to mankind.
On this trip, we shopped at three supermarkets. After asking every manager at each store if they carried prickly pear syrup or achiote paste, my husband finally gave in and agreed to stop at the local gourmet store. Lo and behold, Paul’s Pantry in the Pedegral shopping center on Scottsdale Road had the achiote paste that I needed! Thank you!
The achiote seed, also known as the annatto, is imported from Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America. Achiote seed is actually more commonly used for its vibrant orange color in some cheeses, margarine and, of all things, cosmetics - who would have known! Paul’s Pantry in Scottsdale had it in paste form, which was exactly what I had hoped to find.
AJ's Fine Foods, an upscale grocery store chain, had two remaining bottles of the magnificently colored Prickly Pear Syrup on their shelves just waiting for me. I did not hesitate to take purchase them both.
When I started dinner, I put out a basket of chips with salsa for my guests to munch on. They all raved about the intense flavor of the salsa. I was short on time, so I purchased a ready-made fresh salsa that I doctored up with a ½ bunch of fresh cilantro, a diced jalapeno pepper, and a half-can (about 3 ounces) of chipotles en adobo that I had chopped up. This item is easily found in the Hispanic section of your local grocery store. This chili has a distinct smokey flavor to it that enhances the heat of the salsa, so be careful how much you add... a little goes along way.
I used it as a rub on a Roasted Loin of Pork, bone-in, drizzled with a Prickly Pear glaze and served with a side dish of Basil Southwestern Mashed potatoes and local asparagus. The pork was moist and tender and the glaze was to die for. I believe that the sweet succulent prickly pear fruit of the cactus with its deep magenta color made this meal truly unique for us all. Our guests savored every last bite! In fact, I have already decided this will be our Christmas dinner for 2009!
After dinner, I decided to prepare a breakfast casserole for Katie’s office. I wanted to make something that was a main dish casserole. At work, I have many customers who select French toast as an accompaniment with their scrambled eggs. I have noticed that the French toast comes back more often than not. When I used to serve Easter and Mother’s day brunch at the Urban Onion, Texas Toast was always a favorite year after year. Texas toast is sandwich bread that is schmeared (as they say in New York) with cream cheese and raspberry jam, then sandwiched together, dipped in an egg batter, and grilled.
With that in mind, I decided to use the leftover French bread we had from dinner as the “toast”. I schmeared it with whipped cream cheese, sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar, then sandwiched the slices together. I then layered a ungreased baking dish with a brown sugar, melted butter and maple syrup to make a glaze. The French bread sandwiches were stacked diagonally in the pan. I added a light custard of eggs and milk, similar to our quiche batter, with a hint of vanilla. I covered the pan and refrigerated the dish overnight.
The next morning I baked the casserole for 40 minutes until the glaze caramelized then dusted the bread tops with powder sugar and served it with fresh berries and a dollop of whip cream. It was heavenly. One of the doctor's at Katie's office asked if she could adopt me as her her mom, she so loved her hot breakfast casserole. This treat will now be added to our breakfast fare for cater outs. So please look for it on our new menu selections, due out in November of 2009.
I believe that no matter where you are or where you travel to, you can always learn to do something different - no matter what your age may be. I also hope that with the recently released movie Julie and Julia will expose more people to the art of cooking again. Cooking is for anyone that is willing to try to cook. Everyone will make mistakes, have disasters and successes but this will be accomplished through trial and error.
My advice to you, my reader, is to purchase a easy-to-read cookbook such as The Joy of Cooking and find a recipe that interests you.
- READ the recipe from beginning to end... Twice.
- Make a list of the ingredients needed for you to purchase.
- The first time that you attempt this recipe, follow it exactly! Don't substitute ingredients this time through - your rate of success will skyrocket.
- Before you proceed to cook or bake, again READ your recipe from beginning to end. This way, you will understand in advance what the desired effect is that you are about to create.
- Now go for it!
If you have any questions or concerns about your recipes, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be glad to see what I can do to help you if I can. Bon Appetite!