Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Coronado Concerts in the Park Culinary Challenge: Peruvian Cuisine

Labor Day weekend is celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer. In Coronado, it marks the end of the tourist season when the locals can reclaim their island. The holiday is often regarded as a day of rest and parades. But for these two cuties, it was no day of rest. Dad needed help getting the wagon to the Park for the second to last concert of the season.

September is also one of the hottest months on the island. We usually get hit with a few weeks of 90+ degree temperatures. Without air conditioning, it's not an enjoyable time. I've been zapped of energy and not too excited about cooking. Dooley and Diver have been hit hard by the heat. This photo of Dooley pretty much says it all.

The good news, as I sit here Tuesday morning, is that we seem to be on a cooling trend. We had almost ideal Newfy weather during our morning walk.

Now, let me tell you about our spread of Peruvian cuisine for this past Sunday's Concert in the Park! We had just the right number of people and everyone came through with incredible dishes. As noted by Food Gal on my recent Challenge Greece post, you've clearly been picnicing with the wrong people unless you've joined us for one of our picnics!

Soon after everyone arrived at the park, we kicked off the evening with Pisco Sours, a cocktail invented in the early 1920s by American expatriate Victor V. "Gringo" Morris at the Morris' Bar in Lima. The cocktail quickly became a favorite of locals. Soon many of the grand Lima hotels at that time began serving pisco sours to their international guests, helping the drink become an international hit. Alec & Nina and Jim & Carmen poured Pisco Sours for the group.
While Pisco originated in Peru, Alec found a Chilean version, Capel Pisco Brandy, bottled in this Easter Island decanter.
Jim skillfully mixed his pisco sours with Pisco, lime juice, egg whites, simple syrup, and bitters.

John and I didn't run out and buy a copy of The Art of Peruvian Cuisine, but we were tempted. Several of the recipes in the book are featured here, and that's where we found our inspiration.

John saw the beautiful presentation of Aji de Gallina, a hot and spicy chicken dish made with ají amarillo paste and ají mirasol paste. Alec was on the same wavelength this week and we were fortunate for the opportunity to taste two versions. John's version was a little spicier...ok, John's version was much spicier, but both were magnificent.

John's Aji de Gallina for our pre-park photo shoot

At the park, John served it family-style, in our interesting, oblong bowl, over rice, and garnished with Peruvian olives and hard-boiled eggs.

Here's Alec's Aji de Gallina, garnished with sliced potatoes and olives

Kai shared his rendition of Papas a la huancaina, sliced boiled potatoes served with a slightly spicy cheese sauce with olives.

Carmen's dish certainly had the wow factor! She presented this beautiful Causa, a layered, chilled, potato salad, with Huancaina on the side.

Bradley was pleased with himself, and his version of this Quinoa Salad. Quinoa, a grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds, originated in the Andean region of South America, where it has been an important food for 6,000 years. Brad tossed in some cucumber, jalapeno chiles, grapes, mint, lime juice, honey and olive oil.

Mike and Zarina joined us for the first time this summer. Zarina taught Mike how to make Empanadas.

I couldn't decide between Rocoto Rellenos and Alfajores. When you can't choose, do both!

Rocoto Rellenos are an Arequipa dish made from stuffed rocoto chilis, one of the very spicy chilies of Peru. In this dish, they are stuffed with a mixture of spiced beef and pork, onions, tomatoes, olives, raisins and hard-boiled eggs. Unfortunately, I was unable to find rocoto chiles or a suitable substitute. However, the Rocoto Relleno stuffing did sound somewhat similar to an empanada filling. I switched gears and decided to use the Rocoto Rellenos stuffing for my version of Peruvian Empanadas, which are also baked rather than deep fried.

The recipe for the Rocoto Rellanos can be found here. The stuffing contains ground chuck, ground pork, red onion, garlic, tomatoes, raisins, Ají Panca paste, olives, and hard-boiled eggs. The sauce traditionally served over the Rellanos contains white wine, heavy cream, and Rocoto Paste. I also made the sauce for my Empanadas.

Here's the stuffing, ready to be transformed into my empanada filling.

For my empanada dough, I used the recipe in Cindy Pawlcyn's Big Small Plates. This cookbook has so many incredible recipes! The dough easily came together in the food processor and was light and flaky, like a buttery pie crust.

Now, for my dessert. I've been attracted to Alfajores for quite some time. I first learned about these cookies while working on a trademark prosecution case, when the United States Patent & Trademark Office examiner refused registration to our client based on "likelihood of confusion" with a registered trademark owned by a South American company, well known for its Alfajores. Since then, I've seen a few recipes out there in the blogsphere and have been wanting to try them.

My first thought was to flavor the cookie dough with espresso. I did a search for espresso shortbread and stumbled upon Smitten Kitchen's Espresso Chocolate Shortbread Cookies, which she adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. The only change I made was to cut the cookies into 1 1/2 inch rounds.

Then, I made the incredibly easy and addicting Dulce de Leche recipe, by David Lebovitz. A can of sweetened condensed milk, poured into a glass pie plate, set in a water bath, covered with foil, and baked for an hour and 15 minutes. After cooled and refrigerated, it provided the ultimate filling for my Alfajores.

I filled a pastry bag with the Dulce de Leche, piped it between two Espresso Chocolate Shortbread cookies, and dusted them with cinnamon-powdered sugar...my version of Peruvian Alfajores

Brilliant and over the top, I must admit! I WILL be making these again, and again! In fact, gift boxes filled with these and Baci di Dama "Lady's Kisses" Babbo-Style will make wonderful Christmas presents this year.

Sunday is the last Coronado Concert in the Park for the Summer 2009 season. The Sophisticats will entertain us and we've decided on "Last Supper" as our culinary theme. This should be interesting to see how everyone interprets the theme.


Rose said...

What a lovely reminder of how GOOD the food is in Peru! Out of all the countries that I have traveled to, Peru has some of the BEST and most unique cuisine. For almost 3 weeks we had the most magnificent food. The variety of what they grow and the perfect climate for growing food result in beautiful meals that delight the palate!

Kai said...

How do I get on the Christmas cookie list? Those cookies only had one flaw: There was not enough of them. Can't wait for Christmas!

Gretchen Noelle said...

WONDERFUL spread of Peruvian food! You did it justice!