Monday, June 20, 2011

Lost Weekend

            Regular visitors to this site won’t be surprised to learn I spent the past 48 hours engaged almost entirely with food. Call it my lost weekend.

            Saturday our friends Claude and Sara arrived early, and we headed to NW New Jersey for a round of berry picking. Sussex County Strawberry Farm, near Newton, was our goal. Of all the millions of strawberries I’ve eaten, theirs are the finest (well, I did have one basket that was better, but we bought those at a farm stand in Santa Barbara California, and that’s a long drive from NYC!). Anticipating June and the farm’s bounty fills many a long winter afternoon, so now that the season is in full swing I get there every chance I can.

            The place was packed, but we slid our car under the drooping branches of a weeping willow (for shade), sunscreened up, and headed into the fields. 45 minutes later we had each filled a four-quart basket. Stained fingers and lips gave testimony to the morning’s sweet lusciousness.

Leslie and Yours Truly
            Next we were off to picnic lunch at nearby Kittatinny Valley State Park, home of great mountain biking trails and the state forest service’s firefighting airport. Watching pilots train directly overhead – you can tell they’re trainees by the wobbly descent into landing patterns – can be unnerving, but good conversation, store-bought sushi and unlimited dessert – I mean, strawberries – quenched all anxiety.

            At the lake, Claude, Sara and I took a hike while Leslie drove home to pick up our friend Lenore. Alas Leslie had my iPad in the car, so I couldn’t record the many mycological discoveries we scored. Suffice it to say the boletes are arriving.

Claude and Sara
            Boletes are a trick to ID, so none made it into dinner. No problem with that, there was plenty to eat. While Leslie, Lenore, Sara and Claude went for a swim, I fired up the charcoal, added a stack of damp hickory (the forests of NJ are filled with it) and smoked half a rack of ribs. Then came a “bum pack” of potatoes, onions and peppers sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil, wrapped in tinfoil, and tossed on the fire and finally, with the swimmers back at the table, burgers and a swordfish steak. Dessert was … but you already know. 

            The day’s big laugh was my latest bread invention, burger buns. I had scored big with crumb, creating an open web that mimics ciabatta and yet retains moisture, but my friends (and wife) found the notion of “bubbles in the buns” too hilarious to pass up. I have to admit they have a point. It felt good to be chided about something I was proud of.

Going into the oven
            Sunday, Father’s Day, began with strawberry-rhubarb pie. I’d made crust dough Friday afternoon, so all that was required was rolling, shaping, filling and baking.

            I’ve always loved the late Bette Hagman’s vinegar crust recipe, but over the years I’ve modified it with technique (thank you Rebecca Reilly), nut flour, and a blend of shortenings. This year I modified the filling too, substituting 1 cup of partially dehydrated strawberries for fresh fruit. They did a marvelous job soaking up the other berries’ (and rhubarb’s) excess liquid, so the pie was nicely balanced.

Appetizer, salad and main course - I mean - dessert

          Next on the list was a broccoli salad, then appetizers.  The latter gave me a chance to experiment with an idea I’ve been noodling around: Deep-fried gorditas.

            The word means “Little fat girl” and in Mexican cuisine it’s usually applied to tortillas (and not your server, unless you’re looking for a lesson in expletives). Thicker than “normal” tortillas (hence the name) and inevitably made from corn, the ones I’ve had were deep fried in one restaurant, dry fried in another.

            In October I’ll be teaching a flatbread workshop at the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo, and gorditas are a feature of my syllabus, so I have to try every possible way of preparation. Maybe I was hungry, or just craving fat, but whatever, I deep fried them.

            They were wonderful, and ended up being more well-received than even the steaks and shrimps grilled later in the day.

            So cheers to the lost weekend, and here’s the recipe for Luce’s gorditas.

Deep-fried Cheesy Gorditas
Makes 4 appetizer sized Gorditas


            1 masa recipe (see posting "The World Is Flat, 5/12/11)
            4 slices of extra-sharp cheddar cheese, each slice about 2” X 2” and 1/4” thick
            Corn oil, about 1/3 – 1/2 cup
            Medium tomato  finely chopped (for topping)
            2 TBLS chopped cilantro (for topping)
            1 TBLS finely chopped onion (for topping)
            1 TBLS lime juice (for topping)
            Ground dried red pepper to taste
            Salt to taste


            Pour corn oil into a heavy, cast-iron skillet to a depth of 3/4” to 1”. Heat over low-medium while you prepare the gorditas.

            From the ball of masa, pull off 8 chunks, each about the size of a golf ball. Pat 4 of them into thick discs and lay them on a plastic sheet or damp countertop. Press cheese slices into the top of each. Pat the 4 remaining chunks into discs and press them into the cheese-covered discs. Run a finger around the edge to seal any leak points

            Monitor the oil temperature with a candy thermometer or an IR beam thermometer. When it reaches 400 F, use a slotted spatula to slide the gorditas in. After 1 minute, turn them over. After another minute, remove (using a slotted spatula) onto a bed of paper towels.  Serve warm.

            Topping (optional): using a small bowl, add tomato, onions, cilantro, lime juice, dried red pepper and salt. Adjust pepper and salt to taste. Ground cumin may also be added, and/or chunks of avocado.

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