Real vegetarian food, served in an imaginary world...

Monday 18 July 2016

TEXAS COOKIN' - A Meal for James Dean

"He played a boy without a home, torn with no tomorrow, reaching out to touch someone, a stranger in the shadow." ('James Dean of Indiana' by Phil Ochs).

The Event

Here I am in the kitchen.  I am told that I look a bit serious but I was thrilled to take part in Greg's fabulous challenge, inspired by his book and website Recipes for Rebels.
My Cowboy Cookalong took place on Monday 11th July 2016. Dave and I invited our friend Simon around. The fact that he has worked as a chef was a bonus as he was an excellent help in the kitchen.

I set up my 'cantina' in advance and, while the 'Spirit of Dean' was watching over the preparations, and listening to 'This Old Porch' by Lyle Lovett, I wopped up a good mess of vittals. ("And this old porch is like a steaming, greasy plate of enchiladas/

With lots of cheese and onions/ And a guacamole salad.")

Then my boys came back from riding The Goodnight-Loving Trail; having stabled 'Old Paint' and 'Old Dan', weary from feeding the little dogies in the coolie, watering 'em in the draw and throwing the hoolihan...and we were ready to begin.

First up was Eddie Albert's Guacamole, served with some nachos and sour cream. I wasn’t overly pleased with the colour once the tomatoes had been stirred in as I like my guacamole to look green but the flavour was superb. I’m not sure how many Eddie intended it to feed but the amount was just right for the three of us. I had a normal portion and the boys ate the rest. 

All plates were cleared.  

At this point we were listening to ‘The Beautiful Waitress’ by Terry Allen (“And it's not rude/ When she takes away your food/ To touch her fingers/ And let them linger awhile with your loneliness.”)


As Dave sang raucously along to'Gamblin' Bar Room Blues' by Jimmie Rodgers

("Ho! He! Ho! He! You're just as drunk as me/ Ho! He! Ho! He! Heading for the deep blue sea")...

...Simon and I prepared 

the next two dishes. 

We had Old Borunda Cafe's Enchiladas Montadas with Ronald Reagan's Rancho California Rice as a side.

There had been an argument in the supermarket about the size (diameter) of the tortillas to choose. Dave tried to convince me that large ones were needed. I remembered that we were stacking them and I thought that smaller ones would be better. We bought both, knowing that we could freeze whatever was not needed and use them for another meal next week. Guess who was right?

But Dave did try to be helpful when I asked him to get the 'Mexican' plate.

The fried egg provided us with a dilemma. We made one stack with and one without.

And then there was Ronnie's Rice: 
This was the scary one. Simon and I know a thing or two about cooking and were very sceptical; Dave knows nothing but also thought it would be awful. In actual fact it was incredibly tasty and was a perfect accompaniment to the enchiladas.

I am not sure that I presented it as it would have been at the Old Burunda but it worked for us.

While he was waiting,Dave insisted on playing his live version of 'Hey Good Lookin' from the 'Live at the Grand Ole Opry' album. (Note that Jimmy has found his way into the dining room.)

This was my plate without the egg...

...This was Dave's with the egg.

While we were eating, Simon had to put up with Dave telling him for the hundredth time of how he shot Billy the Kid. 

("Me and Billy the Kid never got along/ I didn't like the way he buckled his belt and he wore his guns all wrong" - Joe Ely)

After the main course, Simon had to let his belt out. (Dave didn't even bother to wear a belt!)

And for dessert...Jane Withers' Chocolate Roll.

This had quite an unusual texture (I was left wishing it had included flour). It was, however, very rich and chocolatey and was a lovely sweet ending to the meal.

The boys had a drink to celebrate the conclusion of a very enjoyable evening.

In fact, Dave got so carried away that he decided to bang a nail in the wall ready for the James Dean Commemorative Plate!

And, guess what? By the time we had finished the meal it was 'Cowboy Time'.

Cowboy Time? (Ten to ten to ten to ten to ten to ten...) 

It was that point in the evening when it became necessary to listen to 'The Last Gunfighter Ballad' by Guy Clark, pour three glasses of Wild Turkey, and sing along.

And now, here is the serious bit.

The Food

The Starter:
The Justification:
Eddie Albert was a contemporary of Dean’s. They starred together in an episode of General Electric Theatre.

The Ingredients
3 very ripe medium-sized avocados
2 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
1 medium-sized onion, diced
salsa Jalapena         
wine vinegar or lemon juice to taste
salt to taste

My Variations
I used a green chilli pepper, peeled, de-seeded and chopped instead of the salsa Jalapena as we have a glut of them in the freezer from the greenhouse last year. I added a tablespoon of shop-bought salsa.
Greg says it doesn’t need the salt but I added some when I tasted it (but then again, all my friends will tell you I am a bit of a salt fiend!).
I also used freshly squeezed lime juice instead of lemon/ wine vinegar.

The Shopping
Most of the ingredients were easy to source from the local supermarket.

The Method
Remove avocado flesh and mash with a fork so it is not too smooth.
Add the other ingredients and mix well.

The Cooking
Very easy to make. Just a case of chopping, mashing and mixing.

The Main:

The Justification
James Dean regularly ate at the Old Burunda Café while shooting Giant.

The Ingredients   (serves 4)
For the sauce:
12 red chilies, seeded and stemmed
½ onion
3 cloves garlic, minced (pressed)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp flour (I used plain)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground black pepper
For the enchiladas:
3tbsp vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese (I used Cheddar)
1 cup chopped onions
4 eggs

My Variations
Dave thought that 12 red chilies would kill a herd of buffalo even after they had drunk the Colorado River dry. I am guessing, therefore, that Mexican ‘chiles’ are a lot milder than the ones we grow. I knew that I needed the same bulk, so I used three chilies and one large red pepper.
I used one small red onion as I had a lot of small ones and it made sense to do this rather than to use half a large one.

The Given Method (slightly adjusted to fit my oven and utensils)
Preheat oven to 450˚F (This is my Gas 8 and I don’t need so much pre-heating).
Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil, then add the chilies. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until softened.
Remove chilies from the heat and allow to cool.
Place chilies, onion, garlic and 3 cups of water in a blender. Blend until well pureed.
Strain the puree, extracting as much pulp as possible and discard the rest.
In a large flat-bottomed pan, heat the oil and add the flour. Mix to make a blonde roux. Add the strained puree, salt, pepper and oregano. Stir until it thickens, then set aside.
To make the enchiladas
Heat the oil in a small pan. Place a tortilla in the hot oil for about three minutes. Place on absorbent paper towel and allow to cool.
Ladle a thin layer of sauce onto a baking dish large enough to hold 4 tortilla stacks. Place 4 tortillas in a stack and ladle sauce over each.
Sprinkle with cheese and chopped onions.
Add another tortilla and repeat. Top with a third tortilla and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and onions.
Bake for 10 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts.
While the enchiladas are cooking, fry the eggs “sunny side up”.
Place each stack on a plate and divide the remaining sauce among the plates. Serve immediately with an egg on top.

The Cooking
I gently cooked the onion and garlic in a little oil before I put it in the blender.
Following the recipe, I sieved the puree but it seemed such a shame to throw away the best bits so Simon and I decided to put it all back in and we were glad we did. The sauce had flavour and texture.
On a gas stove top, it took less than the suggested 3 minutes to cook a tortilla. I would say it took only 1 minute.
I always find it hard to measure in cups, when using a solid rather than a liquid. I know it is 250 ml but what is it in grams? If talking about cheese or onions, how tightly do you pack them? In order to try to keep as close to possible to the original recipe, I therefore used cups (lightly packed, bone china ones), even though I had converted all other measurements to metric. In the grand scheme of things it made no difference at all.
It was also a slight dilemma whether to crisp up all the tortillas before assembly or to do them as I went along (just like making a lasagne). I checked out Greg’s wonderful blog which told me all I needed to know about the origin of the café and the recipe but even this did not enlighten me on this particular point. I decided, therefore, to cook and assemble as I went along. This was made possible by the fact that I had Simon helping me in the kitchen.
The concept of ‘stacking’ was also not that clear – should there be four together or interspersed with the sauce. I went for tortilla, sauce, tortilla, sauce, etc.
Not being a fan of raw onions, and not trusting that they would be cooked enough later, I used chopped tomatoes.
We tried it with and without the fried egg. Opinion was mixed: Dave loved the egg but there is not much he doesn’t like.
I served it in the cooking dishes rather than removing it onto plates.

The Side:

The Justification
In his early days, Reagan worked with Dean on TV’s General Electric Theatre and was renowned for his role as General Custer in The Santa Fe Trail, thus establishing his credentials as a contemporary of Our Man Dean and a screen cowboy.

The Ingredients
1 onion, chopped
4 tbsp butter
4 cups cooked rice
1 cup cottage cheese
2 cups sour cream
1 bay leaf, crumbled
16oz can whole green chilies
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
My Variations
There were several. We argued for a long time about ‘chiles’ in a can. Yes there were some made by ‘El Paso’ but I thought that these would probably be fairly mild and also a bit of a cheat, so I used three home-grown green jalapenos and a green pepper to make up the same bulk.
I also had more cottage cheese than sour cream as we had used some with the starter so I changed it to 2 cups cottage cheese and 1 cup sour cream.

The Shopping
I was a bit extravagant in my shopping as I searched for an alternative to the huge can of chilies which Reagan used. I bought a jar of jalapenos in oil but apart from the fact that we can store them until 2019, they were a bit of a waste of time.
I made up for it by helping myself to a few fresh bay leaves from the tree in next door’s garden.

The Given Method
Saute onions in butter until limp.
Add rice, sour cream, cottage cheese, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Mix well.
In a greased casserole dish put a layer of rice mixture, a layer of chilies (seeded and cut into strips) and half a cup of cheddar.
Repeat, saving 1/3 of the cheddar, ending with a layer of rice.
Bake for 25mins in a 375F oven (Gas 5).
Top with remaining cheese. Bake for 10m more.

The Cooking
I cooked an estimated amount of rice to work out how much would be 4 cups. I am guessing that Ronnie had some rice left over from the night before when he made Nancy a curry, otherwise I think it would be better to specify a dried weight.
Simon and I worked out the rest of this recipe as we went along. He gently fried the chilies and the pepper in a little oil then added the chopped bayleaves while I cooked the onions and made the rice mixture.
Then we assembled it with rice, chili mix, rice, chili mix, rice.
In my particular oven it needed Gas 8 for 20m to brown the cheese at the end.

The Dessert:

The Justification
 Jane Withers was, apparently, one of the world’s most famous child stars. She was in Giant with James Dean

The Ingredients
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup of sugar (I used caster sugar)
6 squares (6 oz) chocolate
3 tbsp strong coffee
1 ¼ cups heavy cream (whipping cream)

My Variations
Jane says that 6 squares of chocolate is the same as 6 ounces. Not by my scales! (Maybe the size of a ‘square’ of chocolate was different then.) I weighed 10 squares of cooking chocolate at 3oz. I added this to a whole cup of coffee and considered that the 3tbsp from the recipe would probably contain the right amount (or somewhere near) of chocolate.
NB Please, please, please make this with free range eggs.

The Given Method
Butter a large baking sheet (18 x 12 inch), line it with waxed paper and butter again.
Melt chocolate in with the coffee and allow to cool.
Beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale in colour. Mix in choc/ coffee
Beat egg whites until stiff and fold in.
Spread mixture evenly over prepared sheet and bake in 350F (Gas 5) oven for 15mins or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove and cover with a damp cloth for about half an hour, until cool.
Loosen cake from baking sheet and dust generously with cocoa.
Turn out on wax paper, cocoa side down, and carefully remove paper from bottom of cake.
Spread with the whipped cream, sweetened to taste and roll up like a jelly roll.
Dust top with a little more cocoa.

The Cooking
This was done in advance. I kept thinking, “Where is the flour?” As it was cooking it was very ‘eggy’ but I was pleasantly surprised by its appearance when it came out of the oven.
When it was ‘rolled up’ it looked a bit plain so I cut it into slices and arranged them on a plate with a bit more cream and cocoa powder.

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