Campechana: A Shrimp and Crab Cocktail

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Every Mexican, Text-Mex, Taqueria or gulf coast seafood joint in Houston has a version of a seafood “cocktail”. The cheap versions are little more than boiled shrimp with some onions, spices in a Tabasco-spiced ketchup sauce. They can be ok. However, one of the best versions in town is at Goode Co. Seafood. It’s something Diana and I order everytime we go there for lunch. They call it a Campechana after the Mexican coastal city of Campeche where presumably you find such seafood dishes.

Campechana

When we had a craving for Goode Co. Campechana recently, instead of going out, I decided to make a batch at home. It is just as good and certainly more economical. I knew The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain had a recipe that she based on Goode Co.’s. Lisa is a fan as well it seems.  I picked up some good large gulf coast shrimp and a package of lump crab meat (no way was i going to boil and pick a half pound of crab meat) and put the dish together in less than 30 minutes.

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I used good quality canned fire roasted tomatoes for the sauce and pureed them with a couple of chipotle in adobo peppers. That got tossed with the chunks of seafood, onions, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, minced garlic and minced serrano pepper. I let the mixture sit in the fridge for half an hour or so to chill it well and allow the flavors to meld.

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Meanwhile, I toasted a few corn tortillas, chopped up some more peppers and prepared cubes of avocado. To serve it, I tossed in the avocado cubes, adjusted the seasoning and dished out generous portions garnished with the chiles. It was fantastic with perfect balance of fresh seafood, tart sauce and just the right amount of heat.

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The Infiltrator (Brad Furman – 2016) D

The synopsis for this sounds very good, a fact-based story about a US Customs official who brought down a huge Escobar-connected Colombian drug ring in the US by going deep undercover. The execution unfortunately is not so good. It is messy and a bit confusing. It really fails at making us care for the supposed connection our undercover agent forged with his drug trafficking buddies. We care even less about the paper thin characters. The direction is really shaky and it shows even in the performance of these, otherwise fine, actors like Bryan Cranston.

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle – 2017) A

I had no idea this was even being made. I did not think it is a needed sequel, but am I glad we got it! It’s not a sequel that picks up where the first one left off. It picks up 20 years later as we check in on the cast of characters from Trainspotting. Everyone is 20 years older and it’s time to see how life has treated them since Renton ran off with the money. Obviously Boyle is older now and it shows in the more mature direction and the subtle ways he draws on the original. Honestly it is tough to pinpoint why T2 works. It’s the characters, the self-aware nostalgia. The perfectly delivered and setup scenes. The changing world and changing city. The way it captures friendship, loss and relationships. It’s the reckoning and that every action can be a turning point in life. That really worked on my middle-age self now the same way the first one worked when I was a college student.

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle – 1996) A+

In preparation for T2 I re-visited this bad boy and it is as awesome as I remember. Full of anarchy, life, death, wicked humor and the stupid recklessness of youth. The music throbs and the camera is all over the place with everyone delivering awesome performances. It’s a classic for a reason, it’s a keeper.

The French Laundry: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

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Back to that endless well of inspiration and technique, The French Laundry Cookbook. It’s like a small mini cooking course for every…course. I refine, learn and always end up with an awesome dish or two. This dessert was from a couple months back when pears were at their most abundant. I had some of the fruit and wanted to make some kind of pastry with them. A quick search against my cookbook database using -the very useful- Eatyourbooks.com resulted in several recipes using pears in a pastry including this lovely and refined version of a strudel.

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The first component I prepared was the fruit. I cut the neck from the pears and peeled the remaining rounded part. I used two different round cutters to make even cylinders and to hollow them out. These got poached in a syrup of white wine, vanilla, sugar and water. Once cool they went in the fridge until baking time.

Poached Pears

With another large pear I made the crystallized pear chips. Using a mandolin, I sliced it into paper thin slices. I poached these in a syrup of sugar and water, heavy on the sugar, until translucent. I laid them carefully on a Silpat and dried them in a 275 F oven until perfectly crispy. I reserved these in a container with a pack of silica to keep them crispy.

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This is by and large a classic recipe with classic components like the crème anglaise. It is really one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s just egg yolks, sugar, vanilla seeds made into a velvety custard with hot milk. I have made this using my sous vide precision cooker many times but this time i went old school and made it in an old fashioned pot and whisk. It is so delicious that I can eat it by the spoonful.

Chestnuts are not as beloved in the US as they are elsewhere and that’s a shame. They have a rich nutty and sweet flavor with a great buttery texture. Here roasted chestnuts get cooked with heavy cream and vanilla for an hour or so. Then they get pureed along with a bit of the pear poaching liquid and strained to make a luscious smooth puree.

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To complete the strudel I brushed 4 layers of filo with clarified butter and sprinkled each with sugar. I stacked them and cut them into strips a bit wider than the pear cylinders. I laid the cylinders on the filo and rolled them up to make neat packages. I baked these at 350 F until golden brown and let them cool slightly before serving.

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I plated the pear strudel and dusted it with a bit of powdered sugar. I poured some dollops of the custard next to it and each got a bit of reduced pear poaching liquid in the center. Then a scoop or thick smear of the chestnut puree went next to the strudel. This is a delicious dessert with contrasting textures, temperatures and flavors. I was a bit skeptical about how the chestnut puree would work with the rest of the dish other than that it has the perfect texture to hold the pear chips. However, it was delicious and added a great almost-savory accent to the dish along with a rich creamy texture.

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Sous Vide Corned Beef and Great Colcannon

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For St. Patrick’s Day we had corned beef and cabbage. Not the stinky slow cooker pot of meat and mushy vegetables, but some awesome home-cured perfectly cooked beef with “The Best” Colcannon. making corned beef from scratch is time consuming but pretty easy to do. I used the recipe and process from ChefSteps.com and it all starts with the brisket. I trimmed it a bit and left about a 1/4 inch fat on the beef. The process is very similar to pastrami, really identical except for the smoke part.

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I made a brine with water, sugar, salt and a boat load of spices (coriander, mace, bay, star anise…) The cure also has pink salt or cure #1 which is Sodium Nitrite. This is essential for the proper color and flavor of cured products like corned beef. The brisket sat in the brine for about a week. Really 9 days would have been better since it had a very small dime size center piece that the cure did not get to in time, but I wanted to cook it for St. Patrick’s weekend so it got rubbed with more spices and into a vacuum bag it went.

Red Potatoes

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I cooked it at 63 C for 48 hours. The brisket, roughly half of a full one actually, was too big. So, I had it bagged in two bags and cooked them both. That was a good idea because now I have a nice ready to eat corned beef chunk in the freezer. I had two options for serving the beef, a classic Reuben sandwich with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on homemade rye bread. The other option was with a nice helping of Colcannon.

Colcannon is a traditional humble Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. I like most versions, even those that have the whole thing mixed together into a lovely mess. This time I tried Letie’s Culinaria Best Colcannon recipe, adapted from the book, Victuals by Ronni Lundy. Judging by this recipe I might have to get me a copy of Lundy’s book.

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The red potatoes are cooked separately and mashed skin on with butter and cream. Where the recipe shines is with the cabbage and the addition of kale. They are cooked with plenty of onions, butter, spices, beer and broth until perfectly cooked. To serve, I mounded the potatoes in a bowl and topped it with the cabbage mixture. Thick slices of moist corned beef went on top and a pint of Guinness stout on the side. A perfect and comforting dinner.

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10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg – 2016) A-

I really loved this tight, well-made flick. Michelle gets in a car wreck and wakes up in a bunker she of course freaks out! Howard tells her it’s for her own good, the world outside has sort of ended…the air is toxic. He’s a survivalist and he was prepared. Sure he seems like a creep but maybe he is right. It’s a locked room drama with only three characters and it could’ve been very conventional and predictable but this one is much smarter than that. Michelle is smart, Howard, played brilliantly by John Goodman, is terrifying but weirdly paternal at times. The twists and turns work very well and -with one small exception- the ending is just brilliant.