The Day of the Dead sounds like a morbid extension of the festively haunting Halloween season.
In fact, it's quite a bit more somber: a day to pray for deceased ancestors and fore-fathers that is celebrated around much of the Spanish-speaking world. It's closely associated with All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2) in the Catholic Church.
Restaurateur Erwin Ramos celebrated dia de los muertos as a child in the Philippines. Now the owner of some of the city's best Mexican eat-eries, he brings the holiday to Ole Mexican Grill in Cambridge and Zocalo in the Back Bay tomorrow and Friday.
He'll serve various mole dishes, complimentary spicy Mexican hot chocolate and pan de muerto (bread of the dead).
"They're all part of a very traditional way to celebrate the day," Ramos said.
The day takes on special meaning for his family this year: His wife Aileen's dad, Isaac Jabines, passed away this week back home in the Philippines. Jabines' photo hangs in the Ole dining room to honor him during the holiday.
Ole's Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)
For the glaze::
D c. white sugar
D c. orange juice
1 T. orange zest
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.
For the bread:
D c. milk
D c. butter
D c. warm water (110 degrees)
3 c. all-purpose flour
1D t. active dry yeast
A t. salt
2 t. anise seed
D c. plus 2 T. white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 t. orange zest
Heat milk and butter together in a medium saucepan until butter melts. Remove from heat and add to warm water. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise and D cup sugar. Beat in the warm milk mixture then add eggs and orange zest. Beat until well combined. Stir in A cup of flour and continue adding more flour until dough is soft. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Place dough in lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1-2 hours). Punch dough down and shape it into a large round loaf with a round knob on top. Place dough onto bread pan, loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 1 more hour, or until just about doubled. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, brush with warm glaze and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Serves 8.
Ole's Maya Spicy Hot Chocolate
For the whipped cream:
3 T. whipping cream
1 t. honey
A t. vanilla
Beat cream until it starts to thicken. Add vanilla and honey. Continue beating until peaks form and cream reaches desired consistency.
For the hot chocolate:
2 c. whole milk
5 oz. dark (bittersweet) chocolate, ground
A t. allspice
A t. vanilla
D t. ancho chili powder
J t. salt
Sugar to taste
Whisk together milk, chocolate, allspice, vanilla, chili powder and salt in a small saucepan. Whisk over low heat until chocolate melts evenly. Simmer 2-3 minutes until thickened. Whisk so foam forms on top. Taste and whisk in sugar if desired. Top with whipped cream. Serves 2.
(Ole Mexican Grill, 11 Springfield St., Cambridge; 617-492-4495; Zocalo, 35 Stanhope St., Back Bay; 617-456-7849; www.ole restaurant-group.com.)
Seeds of joy
Roasting pumpkin seeds after we carve our porch-front jack-o'-lantern is an annual tradition in our home -- as it is for millions of others- around the country.
But my pumpkin seeds are never quite perfect. So I called on chef Will Gilson, suspecting he'd have the answers. Gilson did not disappoint, pausing to offer his expertise even as he hustles to open Puritan & Co. next month in Inman Square.
The secret, he said, is blanching the seeds to soften them just before roasting. The quick 30-second dip in boiling water also helps separate the seeds from those last pesky strings of pumpkin flesh.
Gilson grew up on his family's herb farm in Groton (www.gilsonlyceum.com) and he developed a reputation as a master of local sourcing during his days at Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge. His family recently began growing heirloom squash, while Puritan & Co. will celebrate the farmers market fare of his childhood.
Gilson displays his passion for food each Halloween. One year he dressed up as Martha Stewart; another year as Guy Fieri. The 2012 costume "will be a last-minute decision," he said.
Will Gilson's Perfect Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Seeds from 1 pumpkin
Salt to taste
Optional dash each of cumin, coriander and smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring water to boil in pot large enough to hold all the seeds easily. Blanch seeds for 30 seconds. Dry seeds then toss hot seeds in a bowl with enough vegetable oil to coat all in a thin layer. Place on baking sheet large enough to hold all seeds in a single layer. Bake about seven to 10 minutes, until seeds become crispy. Toss with salt. Gilson prefers his seeds tossed with cumin, coriander and smoked paprika.
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