As America Online is conducting a survey for America's favorite chef, I realize that some chefs, and those who think of themselves as up-and-coming chefs and food writers, are searching for ideas. Because of that I realize they will come up with some outlandish ones, and one of them is on the AOL Food page lately: grilling avocados.
Anyone who appreciates the delicate texture of avocados, not to mention their considerable nutritive value when served fresh, would never put this particular food on a hot grill. Grill marks be hanged--avocados do not survive grilling. Even peaches and pineapple will fare better, even though their nutritive value will take a hit.
My vote for America's favorite chef went to Emeril Lagasse. I would have liked to have the opportunity to vote for Martha Stewart, who has contributed an awesome amount of information to her followers through her magazine, books and her television show. The guest chefs who have appeared with her have been impressive as well, but it appears that she does not want to limit herself to her chef creds, which is all right with me. But she's right up there.
I was strongly motivated to vote for Chef Alton Brown, and I would have chosen him if he had been content to rest on his laurels as the star of his Good Eats programs and his continuing appearances on food television. But lately he has decided, for some reason I cannot fathom, to change his persona. You will now see him looking devilish in promotional ads for a show called Cutthroat Kitchen, which is simply another indication that food television has peaked and is now running out of ideas. I can't tell you why Brown decided that nice guys finish last, or something, and now he seems to find it just terribly amusing to pull the rug out from under young chefs who are trying to win contests.
Just keep in mind that finding that you need to run to the store is about as bad as it gets in the kitchen--seldom do we find our spouses or children doing outright sabotage as we prepare dinner. They want to eat--why would they be hindering their own meal? The obsession that food television has with contests is their death knell, because the writers and producers have forgotten that America is not panting to know what kind of crazy antics young chefs are up to.
Based strictly on their merits, the contest is between Lagasse and Brown as far as I am concerned. Of course my opinion is just one among many--probably thousands--coming in from AOL members. But chefs who specialize in one kind of food such as ethnic cuisine are not in the same league with those two. The chefs who deal in down-home cooking that is heavy on calories and not necessarily tasting any better for it are also out, in my opinion. I was looking for a chef who cooks on his or her program, as opposed to doing some prep and then removing a dish from the oven that was prepared beforehand. Lagasse pointed out frequently that he actually cooked on camera, and it was easy to see that if you followed his programs.
So I voted for Emeril, and in his honor I am sharing one of his recipes. Living in the Southwest as I do right now, I did not grow up learning how to make one of our most famous dishes: Tamales. This recipe will give you some delicious ones, and in addition to the fresh corn, you can also expand their vegetarian nature by adding some frozen mixed vegetables, thawed, to the corn and cooking them until they are all tender. Enjoy your shopping in one of Tucson's Food City supermarkets, or in the Latino section of the supermarket.
If you wish, you can spread the tamale mixture on the corn husks and then sprinkle the vegetables down the middle. Then fold the masa mixture over the filling and you have created vegetarian tamales. They can be garnished with chili sauce or another Mexican topping such as sour cream, cheese or salsa.
2 cups corn kernels, fresh off the cob
1-1/2 cups masa harina
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 Tablespoons softened butter
1/3 cup lard or solid shortening
3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons water
10 fresh corn husks
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook the corn in a skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is sweet and golden brown -- you want the natural sugars to come out.
Mix the dry masa, baking powder, salt, and cumin thoroughly together. In another bowl, beat the butter and fat together until very light and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the corn and beat for 1 minute. Lower the mixer speed to Fold or its lowest setting and gradually beat in 3 Tablespoons of the masa mixture, then 3 Tablespoons of water until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Continue beating in the masa and water alternately, until the dough is very smooth and of spreading consistency, about 5 minutes.
Place 1 open husk on a flat surface and put about 3 tablespoons of dough in the center. Form it into a cylinder, leaving 1 inch on each end. Fold the sides of the husk to the center to overlap. At this point you can tie them or fold the pointed end over the center of the tamale. Repeat with remaining husks and filling.
Place each tamale seam-side down on a 4-inch square piece of foil. Fill the foil with 1 Tablespoon of water and seal it closed, seam on top. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.