Here’s what to make for your next Sunday brunch. It’s mostly bread, milk, and eggs baked into savory Italian bread pudding. A rustic sourdough loaf works best. It soaks overnight in the milk and eggs, so the bread needs to be sturdy. As with an omelet, you can fill a strata with whatever you like, but if you’re not a born-and-bred Southerner, here’s the perfect place to get more comfortable with dry-cured country ham. Onions, peppers, and Parmesan complement the ham. I like some chopped collards in there too. The strata comes out almost like a cake that you can cut into slices. A little salad on the side makes the perfect go-with.
Here’s another one for the backyard barbecue. It’s like Spanish surf and turf with shrimp and pork. The idea came from a Brazilian steakhouse in Atlanta, Fogo de Chao. They roast whole pork loins and carve them for you tableside. It’s good, but I always thought it would be better with some surf to go with the turf. Classic Spanish garlic shrimp is just the thing. The dish is pretty lean overall, but there’s nothing lacking in the flavor department. Garlic, olive oil, sherry, sherry vinegar, and smoked paprika pack tons of flavor into the grilled tenderloin and shrimp. It’s pretty quick too. Once everything’s marinated, it cooks in less than 15 minutes.
I was never much of a beer or wine drinker. I prefer cocktails. And while I admire the skill set required to make the amazing cocktails that are cropping up around the world, I unfortunately do not possess that skill set. I use whatever ingredients I have lying around to make drinks. I employ simple techniques. The inspiration for this cooler is agua fresca, the fresh fruit juice drink found on Mexican menus. It has spectacular flavor. I’ve always loved the taste of watermelon, especially with some added acidity to spark it up. Grapefruit juice and lemon juice are just the thing here. For the liquor, I prefer white whiskey. People always ask me, “Are you a brown liquor man or a white liquor man?” I’m usually a brown liquor man, but here I like the whiskey white so that it doesn’t darken the drink. If you can’t find unaged white whiskey, use white rum or silver tequila.
Poblanos are like the Russian roulette of peppers. You can get one as mild as a bell pepper and another as hot as a jalapeño. Either way, a ricotta stuffing improves them. The milk fat in the cheese mellows the tannic, astringent quality of mild poblanos and cools down the spiciness of the hot ones. I roast the poblanos, then core them and trim them so they lay flat, like a thin sheet cake. That allows you to stuff and roll the peppers jelly-roll style into a neat looking roulade. Underneath the roulade rests a quick sauté of ripe summer vegetables including corn and summer squash. Beneath that sits one of my favorite sauces ever, roasted tomato sauce. I learned it from Jordan Davis, my old sous chef at Woodfire Grill. He would roast summer tomatoes in the wood-burning oven and then pass them through the food mill to create a rustic tomato sauce with awesome fire-roasted flavor but none of the bitter black flecks. As a whole, the dish puts the spotlight squarely on ripe summer vegetables. It makes a great vegetarian entrée if you use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
These are my gringo Mexican pigs in a blanket (choncho means “chunky” or “chubby”). I brought them to a Cinco de Mayo party one Sunday, and they disappeared in seconds. It’s a very highbrow recipe that starts with Pillsbury crescent roll dough. You know it’s classy when you start with that! Just slit some smoked sausages, stuff them with Jack cheese and jalapenos, and then wrap them in the dough. Brush with garlic butter and bake the little piggies. A final sprinkling of cheese and smoked paprika is the gourmet touch. Viva Mexico!