Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pan de Muertos y Caldillo de Bruja

October is my second favorite month of the year, December being the first. Ghosts; goblins; witches; vampires and Day of the Dead. These things fascinate me. Why? Maybe because I believe that there is so much more to life than what we perceive with our eyes.

The Day of the Dead has been celebrated throughout time by many cultures, the most prominent one being Mexico. Altars are built; drawings by Jose Posada are displayed; parades leading to cemeteries; sugar skulls. While macabre, these traditions have meaning.

Sugar Skulls have a particularly special meaning for me. The first time I made them was with my daughter for her to take to her Spanish class in high school and share with her friends.

I posted the recipe last year under Dia de Los Muertos.

There is some magnificent artwork created by Jose Posada commemorating Dia de Los Muertos. If you follow this link, I'm sure you will recognize some of his painintings like Calabera de la Catrina.
I’ve had several experiences with the afterlife that can’t be explained rationally. Believe me I’ve tried. When I finally accepted that, just like “faith”, there are some occurrences in this world that must be embraced without physical evidence, I achieved peace with the beauty that the afterlife has to offer. My only regret is that it took me so long.

There is a children’s animated movie (and a book as well) by the name of “The Halloween Tree”. It was written by Ray Bradbury. A cartoon??? Yes, an animated feature. This story tells about a group of young friends who, through their magical journey with Mr. Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), discover the history of Halloween and in turn strengthen their bond of friendship to each other. Excellent story narrated by Mr. Bradbury himself. Really worth seeing, but might be best viewed by children who are at least seven or eight years of age.

Here’s a music video montage to the Halloween Tree with music by Siouxsie And The Banshees.

And for your musical entertainment, here’s a video of Bette Midler doing “I Put a Spell on You” from the movie “Hocus Pocus”, another great one to see with your kids.

Back to the food. I wanted something appropriate to go with my frame of mind, so I made some Pan de Muertos. Believe me when I tell you that this was an accomplishment. This is only the second time I make anything with yeast. I was brought up using baking soda and baking powder. But after the first time I used yeast to make some MONSTROUS dinner rolls, I realized it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.

To go along with this delicious bread, I also made some Texas Red Chili, which, because of creative license, I renamed Caldillo de Bruja – Witches Stew. Time and health permitting, I hope to post some additional October and Halloween recipes over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, enjoy.

Pan de Muertos
Day of the Dead Bread,
(Aprovecho a Mexican American Border Cookbook)

¼ cup milk
¼ cup plus 2 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup (half a stick) butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Scald the milk in a small pan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup sugar, butter and salt. Let cool.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in the large bowl of an electric mixer and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture. Separate 1 egg and add the yolk to the yeast mixture, reserve the white. Add the remaining egg and 2 1/3 cups flour. Beat until blended.

Knead on a well floured surface until dough is smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed. Place in a greased bowl and turn to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours. Punch down the dough and knead briefly.

Cut off ½ cup of the dough and set aside, wrapped in plastic. Divide remaining dough into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a rope about 12 inches long. Braid the ropes pressing the ends to hold securely. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet joining the ends to make a small wreath. Divide the reserved dough into two pieces and shape into 2 bones. Cross the bones and place across wreath.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover the bread and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 30 minutes. Lightly beat the reserved egg white and brush over the bread. Mix the cinnamon and remaining sugar and sprinkle over the wreath avoiding the bones. Bake until richly browned, about 35 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Caldillo de Bruja
(Texas Red Chili, MS LIVING Mag, Oct. 2009)

8 whole dried chiles (ancho, about 3 ounces)
3 tablespoons oil
3 pounds beef chuck cut into small pieces (1/2-inch or smaller)
Course salt and fresh ground pepper
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
7 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
2 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, puréed in their own juice
4 cups water
2 to 3 teaspoons white vinegar
Sliced avocado, optional

Toast dried chiles in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and blistered, 2 – 3 minutes per side. Remove stems and seeds. Transfer chiles to a bowl and cover with hot water. Keep chiles submerged with a small bowl and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove from bowl and puree in a blender with ½ cup of soaking liquid.

Heat a large heavy pot over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Season beef with 2 ½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Brown beef in batches adding more oil as needed, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add remaining tablespoon oil to pot, onions, garlic and minced jalapeño chiles and cook over medium high heat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Deglaze with a little bit of water and scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Add cumin and oregano and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in browned beef and chile puree. Add tomatoes, water and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered, until meat is very tender and juices are thick, 2 ½ to 3 hours. Check pot every hour and if chili is dry add some more water. Season with salt and stir in vinegar. Top with sliced avocado if desired. Serves 6 to 8.

Did you check out my Halloween Centerpiece. It’s a glass tube inside the vase to hold the flowers. The vase itself is filled with candy corn. I made something similar at Easter using jelly bellies. Candy corn was on sale and I had everything else on hand. The flowers are artificial so the centerpiece will last all month.


Ivy said...

Happy Dia de Los Muortos Teresa. I have seen a few documentaries about this festival on T.V. and it is very interesting. I am not very expert on making bread nyself but the few I have made are quite simple but still delicious. Your bread looks delicious it's like tsoureki which we make during Easter, the only difference we add sugar in it as well.

ARLENE said...

Teresa, I've missed you!!! Your bread looks heavenly and I'm sure it was a great accompaniment to the chili. What an incredible post, querida. Glad to see you back.

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

October is my very favorite month Teresa for all the reasons you mentioned and so much more. I love the Hocus Pocus movie - it's one of my favorites! Your bread looks delicious - so soft and golden on the outside. Perfect with your spicy chili!

Kelly said...

MMmmm. The color on that bread is gorgeous. That looks like quite the cozy meal.

Maria said...

I love your October posts. They are my absolute favorites--one can really tell how much you enjoy the month's Holidays and how much meaning the food involved has for you.

Foodycat said...

That is such a delicious-sounding bread! And the chilli looks wonderful with it.

I'm glad to see you posting. I figured you were stuck in cooking-for-two mode!

bonnie said...

I just found your website and am really enjoying reading your post. I am also close to the border and am getting ready to move even closer to Edinburg, Texas. Great blog- great recipes.

Anonymous said...

This bread & the chilli sound excellent! Definitely perfect for October!

Debinhawaii said...

Lots of great dishes in this post. I am a Hocus Pocus fan as well--fun movie. ;-)

ValleyWriter said...

Hey Teresa! I love that centerpiece - so creative! And your bread looks like a great success!
I hope you are feeling better these days. I'm keeping you in my thoughts.

Nazarina A said...

Fascinating this "day of the dead" tradition Teresa!
Death is the one thing that we can all be sure of and I do not think that we shall ever know what happens in that realm. Can you imagine the consequences if we did!!! I believe though that we shall be held accountable for what we did on earth!
Anyway on a much more lighter note, a person that can bake such good bread the way you did here is pure of heart!!
Much love!