Friday, August 19, 2011

Conejo for my Birthday dinner.

My wife is very special.  She made me my favorite dish for my birthday yesterday and I want to share it with you. The dish has its origins in the mountain areas of Mexico where I first experienced real Mexican food devoid of all that CalMex and Tex Mex spin.  This cuisine deals with the flavors that are found on the land, cactus, peppers, banana, wild game.  It is very sustainable.  It is very real.  My favorite of that cuisine is Conejo in Guajillo sauce.  Chef Hugo in Houston had perfected the recipe and his dish has been my favorite for years at his restaurant on Westheimer Road in Houston..  My wife found his recipe online and has made her own modifications to celebrate my birthday.  Chef Hugo's Mixiote de Conejo Recipe.  Yeah!
Conejo in guajillo pepper sauce with nopales cactus wrapped in banana leaves, black beans, jicama salad
 She did have to ask me to go shopping while I was on a business trip to Houston.  That let the cat out of the bag.  There is not much available in Little Rock, so needed me to bring back essential supplies.  She asked me to pick some cactus, jicama, banana leaves, guajillo peppers, ancho peppers, dried avocado leaves... The list pretty much gave the surprise away.  The Hispanic girls in Fiesta Grocery were tickled that this white boy was trying to shop for all this.  They all suspected that I was about to embark on tamale making and each gave me their favorite recipe.  Still, none of them knew where or why to find dried avocado leaves.  The closest substitute was bay leaves and ground star anise.

I already knew I needed to harvest some of our rabbits when I got back into town.  This meal also marks the first meal from meat that we have raised on our homestead.  That is the primary reason for calling the meat by its Spanish name, so as to distance it from the animals that we tend.  Our original intent on raising rabbits was to produce manure for the garden and to supplement the dogs' diet.  Our Aussies, however, are great culinary snobs apparently.  They do not like the meat that we produce on our own homestead.  We switched out the common feed we were buying from the farmers' association and started buying various organic grains and seeds and mineral blocks.  Our new custom blend of rabbit food now looks positively delicious.  We subscribe to the adage, "You are what you eat eats."  Now that the rabbits are finished on this blend of feed and the fresh greens of the summer garden, we are comfortable trying the meat ourselves.  Let the dogs eat... whatever they eat.
Prepared conejo, paddles of cactus, and sauce combined in a banana leaf wrap to steam in the oven

She prepared the meat, paddles of cactus, and sauce all separately and then combined them in a banana leaf wrap to steam in the oven.  The banana leaves did not fare well on the trip from the market but we managed to pull off the steaming.  I had to help in that I had to take care of the 2 year old munchkin while mommy cooked.  I took that to mean that I would direct the munchkin to hold the cook's cord while daddy tied the square knots on the banana leaf bundles of joy.

Daddy needed some additional help to do this.  He had picked up some Mexican beer and made his own Michalada as a summer time beer cocktail.  Directions are easy.  In a tumbler, add 1 tablespoon sea salt, 2 tablespoons line juice, 1 tablespoon chili powder, dash of black pepper, 4 large dashes of hot sauce, dash of coconut aminos (we don't have soy sauce in the house), ice and one Mexican beer.  It has to be Mexican, or the flavors won't understand each other and there will be quarreling.  This is for relaxation I tell you!! and for reminding me of good times with friends who taught me the drink back in San Luis Potesi.
Banana leaf bundles and Michalada
Afterwards, she complied with my selection of birthday cake ... well er, begrudgingly acquiesced to my request of flan.  A traditionalist, she wanted something to put candles in.  I still wanted flan.  It went with the dinner, and the two number candles stayed in the flan long enough for me to make my wish and blow them out and over.
Real flan made with honey, fresh whole milk, and pastured eggs.
She made my birthday the best!  Thank you!  I love you Christi.

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