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Thursday, April 23, 2015

I’m telling you, I used to love Tex-Mex enchiladas.  Matter of fact, they were my go-to quick check on how good the whole menu was likely to be.  Somewhere along the line, the test no longer indicated much, except that the sauce came from a can and the ground beef sold for a dollar a pound.  Also, the red sauce version got a little bit old.  I traded red for green, but soon that came out of a can also.

Want some Mexican food worthy of the wonderful cuisine of Mexico?  Use fresh ingredients and make it in your own kitchen.  There are some exceptions.  I went into a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan (NY not Kansas!) and saw a sign over the kitchen door:  Our kitchen has never seen a can!  Now, that’s the kind of Mexican cuisine that ranks alongside the best in the world.

Ok, there are some limitations at home.  I confess I do not make my own tortillas, either flour or corn.  But, I have experimented and found the best packaged brands that suit my own taste buds.

Secondly, I do use jars of pickled jalapeños, although I also use fresh jalapeños in the summer, right out of my own garden.

So, with true confessions nakedly displayed, let’s get on with making some terrific Grilled Pork Tenderloin Enchiladas that will please your loved ones and your family.

The Ingredients:

1-2 Tablespoons Oil (I use safflower oil)

1 Medium onion diced

3 mild green jalapeños, seeded and diced (if you must, use a small can of chopped, mild green chilies, drained)

1 Heaping Tablespoon chili powder (for the meat)

1 Pork tenderloin (about 1 pound or a bit more)

1 Package cream cheese

1 Heaping cup peppered Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

6-8 Flour tortillas (depending on size)

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2/3 Cup half and half cream

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC)

Prepare the Pork Tenderloin:

Sprinkle salt, freshly ground pepper, and chili powder generously on the pork.  Grill the meat, or cut it in half, add a little oil and brown it on all sides in a pan.  Note: The meat will not be cooked through, but not to worry, you’ll fully cook it later.  Cut the meat into fairly thin slices and either chop it, or put it in a food processor and give it a few spins.  The result should look like a course grind, not finely ground like hamburger.  Set the meat aside.

Prepare the Sauce:

Put the chopped cilantro and the half and half in a bowl (or food processor) and blend well.  Put the cream sauce aside.

In the same pan you used for the meat, add the diced onion and a bit more oil.  Sauté over medium heat until caramelized.  Add the diced jalapeños, or the canned chilies, and cook until soft. 

Combo:  Add the meat to the onion/diced chili mixture and stir to cook the meat.  As soon as the pork loses its pinkness, it’s done.  There’s not much fat on a pork tenderloin, so if you overcook it, the meat will be dry.  Now add the cream cheese to the meat/onion/diced chili mixture and mix until fully blended.  Your enchilada filling is ready!

Put it all together:

Put a couple of heaping tablespoons of filling on a tortilla, wrap it and put the enchilada seam-side down in a baking dish.  Make the remaining enchiladas in the same manner and add them to the baking dish.

Pour the cream/cilantro sauce evenly over the enchiladas.

Sprinkle the shredded Monterey Jack cheese over the enchiladas and cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.

Bake for 35 minutes in the 350ºF (180ºC) pre-heated oven.

I served mine with refried beans.  The story has a happy ending.  My wife extended our marriage contract for another year, my son smiled at me between bites, and the next day he offered some to his friends.  High praise that warms an aging father’s heart.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Before I Go to Sleep, a mystery by S.J. Watson

Before I Go to Sleep is Steve Watson’s first novel, published in 2011.  Ingeniously plotted, it’s the story of a woman who’s lost her memory.  I don’t mean memory loss as in can’t remember the latest dance step, or the words to the ‘Hokey-Pokey.  This is serious shit.  It’s more on the order of “What the F is my name and who is that bastard who just boinked me?”

A nightmare?  Not quite.  She knows from her body and how she dwells on trivial things that she’s a woman, but after that?  She can’t remember last night, or yesterday, or anything past today.  The next morning is more of the same.  “What’s my name again?  You say you’re my husband?”

Of course, when you’re being boinked, being with a stranger has some erotic benefits.

But, plain panic turns to panic-and-angst, twin riders on a motorcycle of confusion, going god only knows where.  I don’t mean a real motorcycle, idiot, that’s a metaphor.

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, doubt jumps onto the page like an unsolvable calculus problem you never understood in the first place.  I’m talking ‘confusion’ with a capital T.  In a world with no absolutes and no yesterdays, whom can you trust.  Lots of people tell you things, but where do truth and trust unite?  You learn.  You forget. Suspicions creep into your life.  You embrace them, then doubt them. 

Every morning gives not a hint of who you are, or where you are, and “Why does that stranger refer to himself as my husband?”  I suspect a lot of women would like that question answered.

Before I Go to Sleep rides on a fiendish plot that sucks you in and glues you to the sharply drawn characters.  This well and smoothly written novel will keep you flipping pages faster than a preacher who’s dropped his Bible in the middle of a sermon.  Once you pick up this extraordinary mystery, don’t plan on getting much sleep.

Before I Go to Sleep is also a motion picture, which I do not plan to see, not wanting Hollywood to tell me what the characters look like and how they act.  I already know.   Nobody gets to mess with my memory.

Monday, April 13, 2015

London: Various Pubs, Various Pleasures

I admit I have my favorite London pubs.  It’s not because they know me there, or because women flock when they see me grin and pull out my wallet.  I come to London often, but not that often.  But, I do have a pattern, which sometimes appears to be more like a tangled web.  Have faith. Read on and follow my lead to the jocular sport of tipping a few in some fabulous locations.

And, by the way, if I mention a specific beer, it’s because I truly enjoyed it!  Along the way, you’ll see links to previous blogs I’ve written about specific pubs, which you have no doubt neglected to read for far, far too long.  Buck up, Buttercup! 

I always go to The Hereford Arms for my first pint.  Comfortable.  Old enough to seem proper, but not so new as to shine like freshly polished brass.  Lots of old, dark wood inside.  An eclectic and cheerful crowd that sways from old to young by the hour.     Besides, it’s the first pub I took my parents to.  Their memories sparkle when I open the door.

Hereford Arms

Hereford Arms

The Hereford Arms (Gloucester Road Tube) is a Fuller’s pub, meaning the brewery owns at least a part of it. Fuller’s owns several hundreds across the U.K.  In a Fuller’s house, I lean toward their best seller London Pride.  But, no need to limit yourself.  Other Fuller’s choices, Front Row and Spring Sprinter tantalize the palate as well.  All are 4.5% alcohol or less.  All are brewed in the time-old English method of top fermentation.  Great flavor.  Little fizz.  Little to non-existent head.  Quite a different beverage from their continental or American cousins.  Need something to nosh while you guzzle?  The Hereford Arms cheese platter is superb.

By the way, if Brit beer really interests you (and by that I mean if you walk upright), while in London try taking a tour of Fuller’s Brewery:

Besides being low in alcohol, Brit beers are generally smooth as a slide into paradise.  I’ll leave the definition of paradise up to you. The only thing that’ll stop you from having that fourth pint is the size of your stomach.

Queens Arms

About a twenty minute walk from The Hereford Arms is The Queens Arms.  Two things to remember about the Queens Arms:  Sharps Doom Bar beer, my favorite, and superb pub food, from meaty burgers to exotic roasts and steaks.

Suppose I want to wander farther afield?  How do I mine for pubs unknown?  Simple.  I use the book, FancyaPint (Amazon), which lists pubs and their location around each Tube Station.  Maps included.  Also rates pubs from one to five pints, but I’ve found the ratings somewhat misleading, having truly enjoyed several pubs rated only two pints.

Part of my pattern is to also grab a tube map and pick a tube stop where I don’t know the pubs at all.  This time I picked Holborn. The Ship Tavern hasn’t joined the favorites list yet, but it may.  The nearby, Princess Louise is a Victorian pub, reeking with atmosphere. Lots of cut glass room dividers, and even more dark, carved wood.  It’s a Smith Brewery pub.

Ships Tavern

Ships Tavern

Ships Tavern

Princess Louise

Princess Louise

Two more pubs I have to mention:  The Lamb and Flag (Leicester Square), and The Old Bank of England (Temple). 

According to The Survey of London, The Lamb and Flag is first mentioned as The Cooper’s Arms in 1772, and was renamed in 1883. It’s sometimes called The Bucket of Blood because of the bare-knuckle fights that used take place there.  Now days, tourists join locals to keep the place crowded, especially in the evenings, and I haven’t noticed any bare-knuckle brawls, or even loud and angry words.

Lamb and Flag

Bank of England Pub

The Old Bank of England pub, as you would guess, was once a branch of The Bank of England, serving the Royal Courts of Justice, just next door.  It’s a Fullers pub and absolutely spectacular, replete with soaring ceiling, a balustrade that overlooks the bar, and huge, ornate windows.  A must visit, even if you just want a glass of water.

Almost next door to Twinning’s Tea Shop and across the street from The Old Bank of England is The George.  You’ll recognize it immediately.  Old, almost black half-timbered façade.  Lengthy bar and a great selection of brews.

And, if you’re in Notting Hill, you must visit The Churchill Arms.  It’s said the Churchill family began to come here a few hundred years ago, and Sir Winston himself visited on occasion.  It’s another Fuller’s pub and I enjoyed a Chiswick Ale (3.5%).

Churchill Arms

The Uxbridge Arms is small pub near Notting Hill Gate.  A very traditional local.  It’s here we had an interesting conversation with the female barkeep and an older gentleman.  Between them, they knew of “sailing ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.”  (Tribute (4.2%) and Sussex Best Bitter (4%)).

Uxbridge Arms

Uxbridge Arms

Near The Uxbridge Arms is The Windsor Castle, a unique spot, with tiny rooms, separated by door that appear to be made for people four feet tall.  Bend down, keep going.  It's worth it!

Windsor Castle Pub

In a week’s stay, I usually hit from twenty to over thirty pubs.  That’s right.  Four to five pubs a day, and sometimes more.  A few years back, my companion and I set a goal of 50 pubs in five days.  We managed over 30, which I do not recommend, and not only because of the possibility of cirrhosis.  After a madcap race or two, downing pints and sprinting to the next watering hole, I’ve learned to take my time, enjoy my pint, and the atmosphere, and chatting with locals.  Far more rewarding, and what’s the rush anyway?  London’s not going anywhere and you can bet your last Pence I’ll be back to slack my thirst.

Queens Arms

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Martini Worthy of James Bond: Dukes Bar, London

Where in London would the fictional James Bond drink a Martini.  Lots of choices.  There’s even a bar in Covent Garden called “The Dirty Martini.”  Perish the thought.  J.B. has class.   So did his creator, Ian Fleming.  Dirty Martini?  Chocolate Martini?  Piffle and twaddle!

I know exactly where Fleming went to relax, chat with pals and slake his thirst:  Dukes Bar at the Dukes Hotel.  I’m not sure many people know all that much about Fleming himself, certainly not as much as they know about his creation.

To say Fleming lived a life of adventure is to grossly understate the case.  Womanizer, booted from this school and that, including the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.   Studied abroad briefly at the Universities of Munich and Geneva.  Stockbroker: failure.  Banker: failure.  Applied for the Foreign Office:  Couldn’t pass the exam. Royal Navy Intelligence Officer: great success.  Had multitudinous affairs, including with the woman he later married, whom was at the time married to another.

The first Bond book, Casino Royale was published in 1952 and the rest is a story of more affairs and even more success as a writer.  Fleming came from a wealthy family (Banking) and it’s no wonder he drank in the small, but elegant bar at Dukes Hotel, London.  It’s said that in Dukes Bar, he coined the phrase “Shaken not stirred.”

Although he frequently was thought of by the intelligentsia, as his wife said, “A writer of cheap pornography,” in 2008 The Times ranked him as 14th on a list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.  His lack of a writer’s prestige didn’t seem to bother him:  “I’m not in the Shakespeare stakes.  I have no ambition.”

On to James Bond’s Martini, as taken from the pages of Casino Royale:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

As we all remember, James also drinks regular gin and vermouth Martinis, as well as vodka Martinis.  But, the Vesper Martini is the one most remembered.

So, of course, being in London and ever so slightly above the drinking age, I had to visit Dukes Bar, settle into a leather armchair and have a debonair, Italian barman in a white dinner jacket, roll a cart to my table and build me an Ian Fleming Vesper Martini. I was stirred, not shaken by the experience.

Is it the same recipe as written by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale?  Close, but not quite.

The nibbles in Dukes are superb!

In the first place, the Dukes version is neither shaken nor stirred.  The glass, the gin, and the vodka are frozen for 24 hours.  No ice is used. 

3 Measures of Fortnum & Mason’s No. 3 Gin (Bond favors Gordon’s or Plymouth gin)

1 Measure of Potocki Polish Vodka

½ Measure of Lillet Blanc  (a French aperitif, similar to vermouth, but a touch sweeter and more flavorful.  It’s no longer labeled as Kina Lillet)

2 drops bitters

A long, thick twist of orange peel

Because no ice is used, the drink is not diluted, giving this concoction the power of the clean-up hitter for the 1927 New York Yankees.  In fact, Dukes places a limit of two Martinis per customer.

Good reason for that.  After just one, I found myself singing Rule Britannia, marching through Mayfair, and needing a guide dog to get me back to my hotel.  Unfortunately, it was not Vesper, the Bond Girl doing the leading.

So how do you make this concoction?

Put the drops of bitters in the frozen glass, add the Lillet, then the gin, and finally the vodka.  Carve off a healthy swath of orange peel, give it a twist and slip it into the glass.  Presto, you will be irresistible to women, lose all fear of men with guns, and remain calm, even when walking on narrow planks several hundred feet in the air.   I really like this drink! 

Of course, these magic personality enhancements don’t come cheap.  $27 per glass at today’s exchange rates.  Who cares?  M will always cough up a few more quid.

But, that’s not the end of the story.  Naturally, back home, I made a glass for my girlfriend (who insists on calling herself my wife) and one for me.  But, not having a bar stock worthy of Dukes Hotel, I made a few changes.

Liquors and glasses straight from the freezer!

2 Parts Dutch gin, 35% alcohol
1 Part cheap vodka, 40% alcohol
½ Part Lillet Blanc (given the popularity of Jimmy Bond, it should be available locally)
1 Large curl of orange peel

Didn’t have any bitters handy and given my demanding thirst, I didn’t race to the store.

Bottom Line…or should that be Bottle Line?  Excellent!  And just as it was at Dukes, one was enough.

When we arrived, the bar was almost empty.  That soon changed!