June 28, 2010

6/27: Germany v England, Argentina v Mexico

With England sure to take the beating of the day, our menu takes a German, Mexican and Argentinean touch to a traditional English tea. Although the English once dropped whatever they were doing to break for afternoon tea, the modern teatime has been replaced by a simple snack throughout much of Britain. Luckily for royalty and tourists, the grandiosity of a formal high tea still prevails with its trays of scones and clotted cream and decadent pastry carts.
The tea, a classic Earl Grey, is served steeping in the pot alongside a small pitcher of milk. Classic accompaniments consist of tea sandwiches, particularly the cucumber, scones and their lovely accessories, and an assortment of petit forts and pastries.
English fans may argue with Argentina fans here, as I leave it up to you to serve your tea with Earl Grey or maté
German Gurkensalat English Tea Sandwiches
The traditional cucumber sandwich, with its paper-thin slices of cucumber gently laying in a bed of crustless, light bread, is a delicate creature reflecting the era in which it was invented. With little nutritive value, these nibbles were a thing of pride for the Victorian upper classes whose lives of leisure did not require the hearty meats of the coarser working classes. Cucumbers are always peeled, crusts of bread removed, and sandwiches neatly cut in diagonally into four small triangles. Our German version uses the popular Gurkensalat cucumber preparation in place of the simple salt and lemon of the English cucumber.
Prepare the Gurkensalat:
1 Cucumber
1/2 C vinegar
1/2 C water
1/4 C sugar
2 T oil
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
Sour cream, to taste
Handful of fresh parsley
Peel and thinly slice the cucumber. Sprinkle each slice with salt and let sit for an hour, then rinse and dry. The salting crisps the cucumbers, drawing out their water. Pour the vinegar, water, sugar and oil over the cucumber slices and toss to coat. Stir in sour cream until a thick, creamy consistency.
Assemble the sandwiches:
Neatly remove the crusts from a loaf of white bread. Arrange cucumber slices atop each slice of bread, top with a sliver of onion and a pinch of parsley, or use dried chervil. Cut diagonally twice to create four triangles.
Photo by Flickr: Dear Sweet Deer

Scones a la Mexicana
Few give Mexico the credit it deserves for bringing chocolate into the world, truly one of the greatest gifts every bestowed upon mankind. Originally a religious ritual drink, the xocolatl, the original Nahuatl word from whence "chocolate" was derived (it makes more sense if you say "chocolate" in Spanish), it was often flavored with vanilla, chili pepper and achiote. It continues to play an important rule in modern Mexican cuisine, from savory dishes such as a vast array of mole sauces to the thick, spiced hot chocolate that for me, characterizes the joy of a Christmas morning.
We use Ibarra brand chocolate for our Mexican scones, but you can make your own version by melting down bittersweet chocolate and stirring in cinnamon and vanilla.
Prepare the scones:
2 C AP Flour
1/3 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 T butter
3/4 C Mexican chocolate, coarsely chopped 
3/4 C buttermilk
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven to 400F. Whisk together the dry ingredients then cut in the butter and mix until a fine meal. Whisk buttermilk and yolk together, then add to the dough and knead until the dough just begins to come together. Add the chocolate. Press into a ~8 in. disc and cut into 6 wedges. Brush with milk if desired and bake ~20 min. until set and crumbly.
To serve, top each scone with a dollop of lightly sweetened Crema Mexicana.
Crema Mexicana 
A delicately sour version of crème fraîche with a sensous drizzle, it can be purchased at any Latin grocer. Having spent 4 years in Boston before Texas, I understand that can be easier said then done if you live outside the Southwest. Luckily you can prepare your own crema by simply letting cream and yogurt sit out overnight. Simply bring 1 C heavy cream to 100-110F, then stir in 2 tsp buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt and let sit 12-24 hours, loosely covered, until thick. Then refrigerate a few hours to thicken further. You can use more buttermilk/yogurt to speed the thickening, but a longer fermentation process slowly develops more complex flavors that will be well worth your while. It will keep in your refrigerator for ~1 week.

Argentinean Alfajores
Coated in chocolate or meringue, rolled in coconut or dusted with powdered sugar, alfajores are lusty creatures of deceptive cookie-like appearances. They taste as though made from the fat rendered from the tenderloins of cherubs. 
Having originated in the Arab world, their name derived from Arabic for "fancy sweets," alfajores have been popular in Argentina since the early 19th century and have spread across the Spanish speaking world as the cookie of choice. Dozens of varieties exist but the Havanna brand from Mar de Plata, Argentina, sells the most well-renowned and traditional alfajores. Houstonians can pick up an assortment at Central market and avoid the complexities of baking. 
1/2 C shortening or butter (manteca for purists)
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 C fine ground almond flour or corn flour
Dulce de leche such as La Salamandra from Argentina
Preheat oven to 325F. Cream the shortening/butter and sugar, then add the egg, yolk and vanilla. Whisk together the flours and baking powder, then whisk into the shortening. Refrigerate the dough for a couple hours until workable, then roll out and cut into cookies. Bake 5-6 min. until lightly golden.
Once completely cooled, assemble the alfajores by spreading dulce de leche across one and topping with another. For a truly authentic Havanna alfajor, coat in melted chocolate.

While some poor refereeing calls might have cost England and Mexico dearly in their Cup aspirations, fear not, as the only poor call you can make here is to not engage in these tasty eats.

HEY! We've seen that cuisine before! Cook the foods of today's competing countries using other recipes. While it may be World War on the pitch, Käsespätzle (German mac 'n cheese) makes a great addition to our English Ploughman's Lunch, albeit with an Algerian twist. Earl Grey Ice Cream, however, would be an unlikely topping for our bananas Ghana take on German Black Forest CakeWhile Argentina will always hold a special place in our hearts for blessing us with Chimichurri and Malbec, we'd find it tough to live without tacos, margaritas and Arroz Mexicana. They both win when filled with Duck confit in the form of empanadas and tamales, and while, sure, its all fun and games when we're all beat France, but only one will walk off the pitch a winner.

Prefer to eat out instead? Our Dining Guide tells you where and why.

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