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Fall in Southern California is a sunny, cool oasis of color and scent. The last of the year’s bounty spills from our gardens and farms; markets are loaded with gold sweet potatoes, crisp stalks of broccolini and artichoke, snowy mountains of cauliflower trimmed in vivid green, bunches of pale leeks and red-veined curly chard, deep orange pumpkins, oddly-shaped gourds and squash. Apples perfume the air near pyramids of leathery red pomegranates. Hard, papery-skinned onions, bone-white parsnips, fat purple turnips and beets invite us to taste the earth, as do a carnival of potatoes in red, yellow, purple and white. Suddenly tempting are serious wines, and dessert possibilities using the warmth of caramel and cloves and cinnamon, pink-cheeked pears, early citrus, dried fruit and nuts.

Creating a holiday menu to honor such a harvest always comes down to hard choices. Fortunately, they’re all good ones. I’m one of those holiday heretics who always prefer the side dishes to the main event, particularly as the taste of the year shifts subtly from summer’s herby softness to fall’s complex and mature palette of earthy, sweet, bitter, spicy and rich flavors.

With all these glorious fruits and vegetables to enjoy, one must be careful not to overlook the essential turkey: it should be a free-range, fresh turkey, roasted and bathed in butter and herbs and wine, fussed over and pampered like a rich dowager in a spa until borne to the table glowing and golden.

Even the most iconic occasions can benefit from a fresh perspective. If you feel compelled to recreate your traditional ‘must-do’ holiday menu, liberate yourself. Introduce one new dish a year. Play with new ideas at a fall dinner party. Create your own traditions. Remember, too, that perfection is too much to ask of anyone, especially on a high pressure day. These recipes are simple, delicious, forgiving and can be largely made ahead.

Lobster Posole

Glorious tastes from south of the border come together in this riff on traditional posole- luxurious and flavorful, yet light enough to leave plenty of room for the main event. Keeps refrigerated for two days, or can be made weeks ahead and frozen. Makes 12 eight-ounce (soup cup) servings.

Lobster Stock

3 medium Maine or spiny lobsters (total 5-6 pounds) frozen raw, or live
¼ cup olive oil
½ head garlic, in one piece (remove loose skin only)
2 medium onions cut into 1-inch chunks
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 stalks celery, trimmed, cut into ½ inch slices
6 roma tomatoes, washed, cut into large chunks
1 ½ cups white wine
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried epazote, or a six-inch sprig fresh epazote*
6 quarts water
2 tablespoons kosher salt or sea salt
5 oz tamarind paste with seeds* (about one-third package)
2 limes, cut in half


5 Guajillo chiles (dried red chiles) 2 tablespoons oil
½ cup onions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can white hominy, drained and rinsed
Garnish: small bowls of finely shredded white cabbage, chopped cilantro, diced tomato, lime wedges and diced white onions (optional)

Prepare the lobsters: If live, kill them by placing them in plastic bags in the freezer for two-three hours, or until they are frozen but still a bit flexible. Working over a bowl to catch all juices, remove tails and claws, crack and extract the meat. Refrigerate raw meat. Reserve all firm green material from the body (this is roe and tomalley.)Break the bodies into smaller pieces with a cleaver.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed, 8-quart stock pot over medium high heat. Add the lobster shells and cook, stirring, until they change color. Add the onions and garlic and celery and cook a further few minutes until lightly colored, while stirring. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat; cook for a minute.

Add the wine, bay leaves, water and salt. Bring to a simmer. When the stock is hot break up the tamarind as best you can and toss it into the stock. Add the cut limes; do not squeeze. Let the stock simmer briskly for one and a half hours; do not boil hard. Strain into a large stockpot through a fine strainer, pressing down hard to press out as much of the liquid as possible.

While the stock is working, prepare the chiles: Seed and stem the guajillos. Heat a frying pan over high heat. Put the chiles in, press flat quickly with a spatula; turn immediately and repeat, then remove from the pan. Cover with 1 cup boiling water and let stand for 30 minutes. Puree in a blender with some of the liquid. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the minced onion and garlic, stirring, until softened. Add the chile puree and fry the paste until thickened. Set aside.

Bring the lobster stock to a simmer. Add the hominy and the Guajillo paste. Taste for seasoning. Dice the lobster meat and add to the pot; it will cook within five minutes. Do not boil after adding the lobster meat.

Serve the garnishes on the side, in bowls.

*If epazote is unavailable, substitute 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano.
**Available at Asian and Latin markets

Arugula Salad With Pomegranate Seeds And Goat Cheese

Classically Californian and a colorful first course for a holiday dinner. The sweet-tart dressing is made with pomegranate syrup, and crunchy seeds garnish the salad. Pomegranates are in season from October through January. Serves 10-12.


4 bunches mature, peppery Arugula leaves
3 small heads limestone or butter lettuce
2 small heads radicchio
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup golden raisins
8 ounces Montrachet or other firm goat cheese, crumbled
1 basket cherry tomatoes, cut in half, for garnish

Pomegranate Dressing

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses*
2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, crushed or coarsely ground
¾ to 1 cup extra virgin olive oil (to taste; start with the lesser amount)
Separated pomegranate seeds**

Wash and stem the arugula, wash the other lettuces, and tear all into bite-sized pieces. Spin dry, place in a plastic bag with a paper towel and chill thoroughly. Toast the pine nuts in a hot skillet until lightly browned.

Blend all the vinaigrette ingredients together and correct seasoning (can be made a day ahead, and re-emulsified just before serving; this is easier if the dressing is at room temperature.)

Toss the greens and raisins with just enough of the dressing to lightly coat each piece, and serve the remainder of the dressing on the side. Serve on chilled plates, garnished with the pines nuts, halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and pomegranate seeds.

*Pomegranate Molasses is available in Middle Eastern markets. The Sadaf brand is particularly good.

** To separate, crack the pomegranate apart in a bowl of cold water and clean the seeds, known as arils, under water.

Roast Turkey With Chardonnay And Herbs, Fig & Fennel Stuffing And Roasted Shallots

18-20 pound turkey, preferably fresh and free-range*
1 recipe Fig and Fennel stuffing (recipe follows)
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
2 tablespoons soft butter
1 herb brush (see directions below)
¾ cup chardonnay
¼ onion, diced
¼ cup butter
16 large shallots, peeled, root end trimmed, but left on

The day before, make the Turkey Stock. It will be used in the stuffing and Pan Gravy (recipes follow.)

Five hours before serving time: preheat the oven to 325 degrees and set the rack on the lowest level. Wipe the turkey dry inside and out. Combine the salt and white pepper and rub the turkey with it inside and out, topside and back. Stuff the turkey cavity and the neck cavity fairly loosely with the Fig and Fennel Stuffing (any extra can be baked separately.) Tie the turkey’s legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wings back behind the neck. Rub the turkey breast with the softened butter. Set the turkey on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan, and place the pan in the oven.

Combine the wine, butter and onions in a small saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes over medium low heat. Make the Herb Brush of eight sprigs of fresh woody herbs such as thyme, rosemary, savory and even lavender, tied firmly with string at the stems to make a handle.

Use the Herb Brush to baste the turkey every half hour or so with the wine mixture. Add the shallots during the last hour of cooking.

The turkey will take about 4 to 4 ½ hours to cook. If the breast browns too quickly, shield with foil. The turkey is done when the thickest part of the thigh and breast reach 180 degrees. (I always ‘shake a leg,’ when the drumstick feels loose, the turkey is done.)

When done, remove the pan from the oven. Carefully transfer the turkey to a large platter, surround with the shallots and cover tightly with foil. (The turkey must rest for at least 30 minutes before carving.) Add any juices from the platter to the gravy.

Note: If you can’t get a fresh turkey, frozen birds should be thawed in the refrigerator, one day for every four pounds. Be careful that the turkey does not drip onto other food.

Turkey Stock

Makes about 1 ½ quarts

Neck, heart, gizzard and wing tips from a large turkey, plus any turkey bones you can cadge
½ onion, peeled
½ stalk celery
½ peeled carrot
1 large bay leaf
6 peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 spring fresh thyme or 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup white wine
6 cups filtered water

Combine all ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan. Slowly bring to the simmer over medium heat; reduce heat to low and cook for one hour. Strain and chill.

Pan Gravy

Pour off the fat and juices from the roasting pan into a gravy separator or other tall, narrow container (this encourages the fat to rise to the surface.) Pour a small amount of turkey stock or water into the roasting pan, set over moderate heat and scrape up all of the browned bits stuck to the pan. Add to the gravy separator.

Skim off 3/4 cup of the turkey fat and return it to the cleaned roasting pan. Set over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup of flour and cook, stirring, over moderate heat for 3-5 minutes to make a roux (do not burn!) Skim remaining fat from the pan juices, and add the juices from the separator to enough turkey stock to make up four cups of liquid (you may want to add ½ cup of white wine.) Whisk the liquid into the cooked roux and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 15 minutes. (For thicker gravy, add a little cornstarch mixed with water. For thinner gravy, add more stock. ) Season to taste with salt and pepper and strain into a sauceboat. Cover and keep warm.

Note: To reduce fat in this recipe: Skim all fat from the separator and discard. Combine stock and pan juices and bring to the boil. Thicken with cornstarch that has been mixed with a little water. Strain

Fig And Fennel Stuffing With Italian Sausage

Different, but not too different, with a fine flavor from the figs, sausage and herbs.

12 ounces mild Italian sausage (3 large links)*
¼ pound butter (divided use) **
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium stalks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
1 bulb fresh fennel, trimmed, finely chopped
½ red bell pepper, diced small
11/2 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon coarse-cracked black pepper
½ teaspoon dry thyme
20 small dried black figs, stemmed, cut into ½ inch pieces
10 dried white figs, stemmed, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 pound loaf of stale, firm white bread, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1 small bunch Italian parsley, washed, stemmed and finely chopped
Zest of 1 washed orange, finely chopped (optional)
2 ounces Madeira wine or dry red wine
4-6 ounces Turkey Stock, chicken stock or water

In a 10” sauté pan, melt half the butter. Remove the sausage from its casings and crumble into the pan; cook thoroughly, breaking up into smallish pieces. Add the onions, celery, fennel, red pepper, fennel seed, pepper and thyme, and cook slowly until the vegetables are soft, but not brown. Add the remaining butter and the cut-up figs, and stir until the butter is melted. Let cool for a moment before proceeding (do not refrigerate.)

Place the cubed bread in a bowl and pour the sausage mixture over. Toss well. Season with the kosher salt, parsley and optional orange zest. Combine the Madeira and stock, and sprinkle over the stuffing while stirring. Season well.

Note: To reduce fat in this stuffing, sauté the sausage in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until cooked thoroughly, add vegetables and cook for one minute; add ½ cup water and cook over high heat until nearly dry.

*Chicken sausage can be substituted: add another ½ teaspoon fennel seed to the recipe.

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

Though simple, great mashed potatoes are one dish that everyone loves, especially smothered in rich Pan Gravy. Yukon Gold potatoes have a naturally rich flavor and creamy texture when mashed or pureed. Serves 10-12

10 pounds large Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup milk (use more milk for looser potatoes)
More salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper or white pepper
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg

Peel the potatoes, cut in half and place in water to prevent browning.

Barely cover the potatoes with fresh, cold water. Add the kosher salt. Bring to the boil then reduce heat until the potatoes cook at a fast simmer, not a roiling boil. Cook until a knife runs easily through the center of the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes well in a colander, and return. Add the milk and butter to the pot, and set over medium heat until the butter is melted, and the milk is very hot, but not boiling. Return the potatoes to the pot, turn heat to low and mash the potatoes using a hand masher to the desired consistency. Season to taste with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. (Note: using a hand mixer or food processor makes gummy, stringy potatoes. For a smooth puree, an inexpensive food mill is recommended) Cover and keep warm until serving time.

Note: Garlic lovers may want to cook and mash three or four peeled garlic cloves with the potatoes. To reduce fat in this recipe, eliminate the butter and increase the amount of hot milk.

Roasted Root Vegetables With Rosemary And Honey

Root vegetables are naturally high in sugar and roasting intensifies their complex, earthy flavors; you’ll never feel the same way about parsnips again. Serves 10-12

5 parsnips
5 carrots
5 white turnips or rutabaga
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup mesquite or sage honey
2 tablespoons melted butter (optional, but good)
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary (use tender tops only)

Ideally, the vegetables should be cooked at 400 degrees, but if you want them in the oven with the turkey, they cook very nicely at the lower temperature but will, of course, take longer to caramelize.

Peel the vegetables and cut into 1- inch chunks. Toss with the oil, salt and pepper.

Spread the chunks out on rimmed baking sheets; do not crowd.

Roast until softened and starting to brown, turning the pieces once halfway through Remove to a serving dish. Drizzle with the honey and butter, and sprinkle lightly with the rosemary. Keep warm, loosely covered, and serve as soon as possible.

Yam And Sweet Potato Puree With Thai Red Curry And Ginger

A different side dish with lots of personality. Rich-tasting, fat free and highly addictive. Serves 10-12.

3 large sweet potatoes
3 large jewel yams
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
Reserved cooking liquid
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
2 tablespoon Thai red curry paste*
½ cup brown sugar (or to taste)
Juice of 1 lime (or to taste)

Peel the vegetables and cut into chunks. Place in a saucepan just large enough to hold them along with the ginger and 1 tablespoon of salt. Barely cover with cold water. Cook over medium heat until very tender.

Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Mash the vegetables to a smooth puree or run through a food mill, adding enough of the cooking liquid to make a smooth mixture. Mix the red curry paste with a very little of the reserved liquid and stir in half. Add salt, brown sugar and lime juice. Taste. Add the remaining red curry to taste; if you use all of it you will want to adjust the sugar, salt and lime also.

*Thai curry paste is available at Asian markets. Buy as small an amount as possible; a little goes a long way. Keeps for months refrigerated.

Stirfried Three Vegetable ‘Slaw’ With Almonds

This is a great excuse to buy a mandolin. The vegetables should be removed from the wok while still slightly crisp. Serves 10-12.

3 pounds baby French beans (haricot verts) or Blue Lake beans
3 large carrots
2 large red bell peppers
¼ cup canola or other vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Bring 1 gallon of lightly salted water to a boil in a large pot. Nearby, set up a large bowl with 50% ice, 50% water.

If the beans are small, trim the stem end only. If they are large, cut them in two. Peel the carrots and cut into matchsticks about 2 inches long, and ¼ inch square (a mandolin in a great labor saver!) Cut the top and bottom from the peppers, and remove the core. Slice down one side to open the pepper into a long, rectangular piece. Trim the white ribs out of the pepper, then cut the pepper along the short edge into thin strips, about the same width as the carrots.

Blanch the beans (you may want to do this in two batches) When the water is boiling drop the beans into the water. When the water boils again cook for one minute. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or a sieve with a handle, and drop into the ice water bath. Leave the beans until they are completely cold. Drain well, pat dry. (Can be done ahead to this point and refrigerated.)

Just before serving, heat the oil in a large wok or skillet. Add the garlic and stir in the oil for 30 seconds; do not burn. Add the carrots and cook, stirring, one minute; add the bell peppers and cook, stirring, another minute; lastly add the beans, and heat through. Sprinkle with the salt and cook until the vegetables are just crisp-tender. Remove to a serving dish and sprinkle with the almonds. Serve immediately.

Note: You may need to cook the vegetables in two batches to prevent overcrowding.

Warm Upside Down Spice Cake With Pears

A great old-fashioned cake: rich, moist, and sweet-plus it makes the house smell fabulous while it bakes. This recipe makes one cake that can be cut into 8 or 10 slices, but can be doubled—or tripled-- as long as you make several 8-inch cakes instead of one big one. It’s unlikely you will have leftovers, but if you do, wrap closely and refrigerate. Makes one 8-inch cake.


4 ounces milk
1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar
1 cup all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground dry ginger
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup corn syrup
¼ cup melted butter, cooled


¼ cup butter
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 firm, ripe Bartlett pears
16 walnut halves
Vanilla Ice Cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the milk and lemon juice together, and set aside for 15 minutes to sour. Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, and combine well. In a separate bowl thoroughly mix the soured milk, egg, brown sugar, corn syrup and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and beat for one minute, until smooth.

Peel the pears and cut lengthwise into quarters. Trim the cores, and carefully cut each quarter into three lengthwise wedges.

Make the topping: Take a straight-sided cake pan 8 inches across and 2 inches tall (1 ½ quart capacity.) Lightly spray the sides with cooking spray. Set the pan directly over very low heat and melt the butter. When it is melted add the brown sugar and stir until well combined, and spread evenly over the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

Arrange the pears in a neat circle around the outside of the pan, ends facing into the center. If you have any left, put them in a row across the center. Set the walnuts into the spaces between the pears.

Pour the batter carefully onto the pears, smooth it and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until firm and springy in the middle.

When done, remove from the oven and run a knife around the edges. Center a serving plate upside down over the pan. Quickly turn the cake and the plate together, upside down, and tap the pan firmly to release the cake. Lift off pan; if a pear or walnut sticks to the pan, replace it on the cake.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or unsweetened whipped cream.

Note: Cake can be made ahead, but it must be removed from the pan immediately. Let the cake come to room temperature before reheating, wrapped in foil, in a 150 degree oven for about five minutes just before serving.


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