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A SALUTE TO THE SOUTHWEST New traditions update the taste of the Fourth

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As wise and prophetic as our founding fathers were, chances are they did not plan the signing of the Declaration of Independence around a particular time of year. But how fortunate for us that it happened to be during the most dependable weather for sprawling out on blankets and watching parades and fireworks.

Early American picnics were called "frolics," and hampers would be filled with such delicacies as sausage, corn pone and wild game. After World War II, when families moved to the suburbs and cooking over coals became a national pastime, barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs surpassed cold meats at outdoor suppers. Although almost every country uses some form of grilling, only in America has it caught on like a kite in a wind storm.

Barbecuing is believed to have originated with the Indians of the Caribbean, who smoke-dried meat on woven green wood strips over slow coals. The Spanish dropped anchor, liked this form of cooking, adopted it and called it barbecoa. They took the idea to Mexico, added their own distinctive touches, and barbecue became a Southwestern specialty. The Spanish influence explains why many barbecue sauces are so heavily spiced. In recent years, however, thick, robust, red sauces have given way to light, fruitier marinades.

In celebration of our country's independence and barbecue history, here is a menu with a Southwestern slant guaranteed to spice up your grilling repertoire.

Flank steak, one of the most economical, tastiest and lowest in fat cuts of beef, is greatly underused. To ensure that stuffed flank steak Santa Fe is tender enough to cut with a fork, ask the butcher to run it through a tenderizing machine twice and pound it to 1/4 -inch thickness. (Or pound it yourself -- it only takes a few good whacks with a meat pounder.) You can marinate it in the jalapeno-spiked lime dressing from five hours to overnight, depending on your schedule. Spread the meat with zucchini salsa, creamy cheese and ribbons of red pepper, roll up and close with skewers. If desired, the roll can be refrigerated for several hours before grilling.

Because the salsa and marinade include many of the same ingredients, make them at the same time. One steak serves four to six people; for a large gathering, it is easy to make two or more recipes. Or, double the marinade and use half for the steak and the remainder for boned and skinned chicken breasts. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for four to five hours, grill, baste with jalapeno pepper jelly, and serve with the zucchini salsa.

To contemporize Tex-Mix Baked Beans, a hearty mixture of thickly glazed, sweet and smoky beans, I've eliminated the regular bacon (100 grams of fried and drained bacon contains 49 grams of fat and 575 calories) and replaced it with Canadian bacon (100 grams fried and drained contains 17.5 grams of fat and 277 calories.) The melange is made with canned beans, bakes in only 45 minutes, and is just as tasty as those that use dried beans and simmer for hours. The dish may be refrigerated up to two days or frozen.

To add a patriotic twist to tamale pudding, make the bread-like custard ahead and when cool, cut out stars with a cookie cutter. Reheat them on a greased baking sheet at 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes or until heated through.

Add your favorite coleslaw or mixed green salad and tip your toque to our sagacious ancestors, our great Southwestern heritage and 216 years of freedom.

Stuffed flank steak Santa Fe

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

THE FLANK STEAK:

1 flank steak (about 1 1/2 pounds), put through the butcher's tenderizing machine twice

jalapeno-lime marinade (see below)

zucchini salsa (see below)

4 ounces sliced Provolone cheese, at room temperature

1 roasted red pepper (from a jar or fresh), cut into 2-inch-wide strips

3 tablespoons jalapeno pepper jelly (mild or hot), melted

Cover steak with plastic wrap and pound approximately 1/4 -inch thick. Place in a large, non-metal dish.

Reserve 2 tablespoons marinade for salsa; pour remainder over meat. (The steak may be folded over, if necessary; just make sure all surfaces are coated.) Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 5 hours or overnight, turning once or twice.

Remove meat from marinade, place on work surface and blot dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and spread with zucchini salsa. Top with overlapping slices of cheese. Place strips of red pepper down one long end. Beginning at end with red peppers, roll up tightly, jelly roll fashion. Using metal skewers and/or turkey lacers, skewer seam and both ends closed.

Prepare coals. Brush seam side of meat with jelly and grill seam side down, 3 inches from hot coals, for 4 minutes. Turn and grill on other 3 sides, brushing with jelly, for 3 minutes per side, for a total cooking time of 13 minutes. Let stand at least 15 minutes before removing skewers and carving into 3/8 -inch slices.

JALAPENO-LIME MARINADE:

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 small pickled jalapeno with seeds (1 to 1 1/2 inches, according to your taste), quartered

2 tablespoons cilantro leaves

1/4 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons honey

To make the marinade, in a food processor with the metal blade, process garlic and jalapeno until minced. Add cilantro, broth, lime juice and honey, and process until well blended.

ZUCCHINI SALSA:

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 small pickled jalapeno (about 1 to 1 1/2 inches, according to your taste), quartered

1/4 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed

2 medium green onions with tops, cut into 1-inch pieces

1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives

1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 6 ounces)

2 tablespoons reserved marinade

To make zucchini salsa, mince garlic and jalapeno in food processor with metal blade. Add cilantro, green onions, olives, zucchini and 2 tablespoons reserved jalapeno-lime marinade; pulse until finely minced. Season to taste with salt, if desired. (Salsa may be refrigerated up to 2 days.)

Tex-Mix Baked Beans

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 ounces Canadian bacon, chopped into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 large onion, chopped (2 cups)

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons dark molasses

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 teaspoon chili powder (hot or mild to taste)

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste

1 can (15 ounces) kidney beans, well drained

1 can (15 ounces) butter beans, well drained

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, well drained

1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, well drained

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a medium skillet. Saute bacon, stirring frequently, until browned. Add onion and saute over moderately high heat, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a 3-quart baking dish or bean pot.

Stir in tomato sauce, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, vinegar, liquid smoke, salt, chili powder, pepper sauce, and beans until well mixed.

Bake in center of oven, uncovered, stirring every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes or until sauce has thickened and beans are nicely glazed. They will appear slightly soupy, but will thicken up in about 5 minutes. (The beans may be refrigerated up to 2 days or frozen. Bring to room temperature and reheat covered in the microwave, or at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, or until heated through.)

Tamale pudding

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter or margarine

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 cans (4 ounces each) chopped Ortega chilies, undrained

Place butter or margarine in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place baking dish in oven until butter melts and sizzles.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk eggs and buttermilk until blended. Mix in salt, pepper sauce, cornmeal and chilies. Swirl butter in dish to coat bottom and sides; pour remainder into batter and whisk to combine.

Pour batter into the 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and bake in center of oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until top is light golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. The pudding may be held at room temperature up to 4 hours, refrigerated overnight, or frozen. Reheat uncovered at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until heated through.

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