Mashed Potatoes with Crema Mexicana

Crema Mexicana 2013I don’t get the immigration debate. Why would the U.S. want to keep out any people who have invented something as delightful as crema Mexicana–or any of the other foods from South and Central America? A nation that let lutefisk in but tries to keep empanadas out ought to re-think its policy.

Lutefisk aside, food seems to get better when cultures come together, even under troubling circumstances. Where would Italy be without Native American tomatoes–and where would America be without the pizza and spaghetti that Italian immigrants brought back? Or yams and okra, or tacos and burritos, or bratwurst . . .

These mashed potatoes are the result of just such a fortuitous collision. Crema Mexicana is a close cousin of sour cream, creme fraiche, and quark. Sour cream is the typical substitute north of the border, but crema Mexicana is less tart, richer in taste, and thinner. (Typically, it’s about the consistency of cake batter.) You can make it from scratch, a day or two before you need it, by combining whipping cream and sour cream–one recipe is here. Crema also comes in varieties from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and probably every other country south of the border, and I haven’t encountered any that I didn’t love. (There is a good discussion of the differences here at eGullet.)

Crema Mexicana adds depth and richness to mashed potatoes without stretching them very far past the traditional. Your guests won’t even realize they’re a experiencing fusion cuisine–they’ll just think that they’re eating the best mashed potatoes they’ve ever had.
Mashed Potatoes 2013 15
Mashed Potatoes with Crema Mexicana

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 – 3″ chunks
4 Tbsp. unsalted  butter
1 cup crema Mexicana (NOTE: Some brands are closer to the consistency of sour cream than typical crema Mexicana. If you are using a thicker version, you may need to add more half and half.)
1/4 cup half and half
2 tsp. salt

Put potatoes in a 6-qt. or larger pot and cover with water. Add about 1/2 tsp. salt to water. Bring to a boil, uncovered, on high heat. Reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until potatoes are very tender (that is, they break apart easily when pierced with a fork), at least 10 minutes. (NOTE: If pot threatens to boil over, reduce heat to low; this can alter cooking time.)

While potatoes are cooking, measure out other ingredients. Once potatoes are done, drain and return immediately to pot. Add remaining ingredients and cover. Let sit, covered, until you are ready to mash potatoes, up to 30 minutes. (I’m quite careless on this last point and suspect I’ve let them sit up to an hour, but they always seem to be okay.)

At this point you can mash the potatoes with a hand masher or mix with an electric mixer in the pot. If the mix is too dry, add more half-and-half. Once potatoes are blended to the right consistency, taste them, stir in more salt if needed, and serve immediately.

Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Onions

Brussels sprouts onions olive oil 16Last week, listening to a radio interview with a chef on the cooking trends we can expect in 2013, I learned that Brussels sprouts are on their way out. Once relegated to the same loathsome realm as beets and liver, they had recently become the darlings of trendy restaurants all over the country, cozying up to lardon-encrusted meats and peeking out from under house-made sauces. But in 2013, poor Brussels sprouts will apparently go the way of last year’s prom queen–still with lots of friends in the popular crowd, but probably not invited to the dance.

Big poo, I say. Brussels sprouts are still trending in our house. Fred has only recently recovered from his childhood aversion to the grayish, mushy lumps that appeared on our plates in the 60s and 70s, and we aren’t going back. Plus, there were some gorgeous ones at the Dekalb Farmers’ Market recently, so I had to do something with them.

I’d also been paging through my tattered copy of “Lidia’s Italy,” a cookbook whose recipes I dearly love but whose binding I hate, and once again came across its wonderful tomato and onion foccacia. Lidia gives you license to do whatever you want with the toppings–so it didn’t seem too much of a leap to Brussels sprouts, onion, and bacon.

We were pleased with the results. The focaccia is tender and light, though definitely best served warm. We loved the smoky bacon combined with the slightly carmelized Brussels sprouts. Salt on top is essential. With a salad or other vegetable (buy extra Brussels sprouts & saute them), it makes a meal.

Plan to eat within two to three days and heat up before eating. But please, don’t do this.

A Fred original Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

A Fred original: Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

Recipe: Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Onions, and Bacon

Serves 6 – 8 as a meal

4 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. yeastFoccacia  brussels sprouts bacon
2 1/4 c. warm water
5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
6 – 7 or more large Brussels sprouts (enough for at least 2 cups), halved lengthwise & sliced thin
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Finely ground sea salt, or regular salt, to taste
About 1/3 cup olive oil, enough to coat & marinate sprouts, onions, and garlic
6 slices bacon, cut into 1″ lengths
Coarse sea salt to sprinkle over top

DOUGH: Measure water in spouted measuring cup and dissolve yeast in water for a few minutes. Oil a large bowl with about 1 tbsp. olive oil and set aside.

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour flour into food processor and turn it on. With processor running, pour yeast and water through feed tube. Process until dough pulls away from processor bowl, about 30 seconds. If dough is too sticky (some will stick to sides of bowl, but it should pull away), add more flour, a little at a time. If it is too dry, with crumbly bits in the bottom, add a little more water.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute. Place into bowl with olive oil, turning once to coat. Cover tightly in plastic wrap and let sit in warm place until doubled, about an hour.

While dough is rising, prepare remaining ingredients and let them marinate. Coat a broiler pan with about 2 tbsp. olive oil. This makes for a thick focaccia; if you would like something thinner, try a large jelly roll pan (17 1/2″ x 12 1/4″).

Have a glass of wine, make a salad, or read for a little while.

If you have a baking stone, place it in the middle rack of your oven. When dough has risen, preheat oven to 425. Punch dough down. Press it into the pan. Sprinkle marinated vegetables and bacon over top, pressing lightly into dough with fingertips, making dimples. Let rise an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt to taste. Bake 20 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes or until dough is light brown. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.