By JOHN DeMERS
Falling between my first mystery novel, Marfa Shadows, and my second, Marfa Rocks, coming out this spring, this weekend’s Super Bowl cries out for a couple recipes from my hero, Chef Brett Baldwin of Mesquite restaurant.
The fact that I made up both the guy and his Far West Texas restaurant hardly means he can’t come up with a great menu for Super Bowl. Or, as the NFL insists that all of us non-sponsors call it – The Big Game. Imagine if Disney (long a champion of the legal remedy) insisted winners announce excitedly: “I’m going to that big theme park in Florida that isn’t Universal or Sea World!!”
Brett actually likes to watch the football game, having played halfback for the Marfa Shorthorns way back when he was in high school. So both of his main food contributions, which he serves in a back dining room at Mesquite since his house is too small for major company, are finished in advance.
For a main dish, Chef Brett cooks up one of his favorite brunch buffet dishes – Frito Pie Fritatta, a spin on the Italian response to the oh-so-French quiche. Here in Texas, Brett observes, there aren’t many things that aren’t improved by the addition of Frito Pie. For dessert, he borrows his popular peach upside down cake from summertime and spins it into an apple-happy winter classic.
Since none of our Texas teams is playing, Brett isn’t sure who he’ll root for in The Big Game. He says he’ll probably just root for big tequila and beer sales in the bar at Mesquite while the game is on the big-screen TV.
FRITO PIE FRITTATA
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
½ cup finely chopped carrot
1 1/2 cups chopped green chiles, such as Hatch (fresh or canned)
1 can cooked navy beans
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup plus ½ cup chunky tomato salsa
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
½ cup plus 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup plus 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped green onions
Chopped raw onion
Brown the ground beef in a large pot, then drain off as much fat as you can. Add the garlic, onion, and chiles and saute with the beef for 5 minutes. Add the beans, chicken stock and salsa, and bring to a boil over high heat. Season with the chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic and onion powders, pepper, white pepper, red pepper flakes, and cilantro. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the frittata by beating the eggs until frothy and folding in the ½ cup of each cheese, bell pepper, green onion and remaining ½ cup salsa. Pour mixture into a large, deep casserole or baking dish – the eggs should reach no more than 1/3 up the side. Bake until set, risen slightly and almost cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove dish from the oven and top with Fritos, chopped onion and the chili. Cover with the remaining 1 cup of each cheese. Return to the oven until the cheese melts and turns golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Serve hot with additional Fritos for fancy garnish. Serves 10-12.
APPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE
1 cup of firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sliced apples
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons cake flour
6 tablespoons ground almonds
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
¼ cup Calvados apple brandy
Calvados Whipped Cream:
2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1-2 tablespoons Calvados apple brandy
Make the caramel topping. Take brown sugar and butter and combine and melt in a saucepan on medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbly, this should take several minutes. After sugar melts, don’t stir. Pour mixture into a 10 inch diameter stick-free cake pan with 2-inch high sides. Arrange apple slices in a single layer on top of the caramel mixture.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Whisk the flours, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the sugar and butter together until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream and apple brandy in 2 additions each, beating well after each addition. Pour cake batter over caramel and pineapple in pan.
Bake until tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto a platter. Using chilled beaters in a chilled metal bowl, beat the cream until fluffy with the sugar and Calvados. Serve cake warm or at room temperature with whipped cream. Serves 12-14.