Saturday, January 19, 2008






Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger

Crossing the Border

Two chefs play with the strong, sweet flavors of Mexico




Shivani Vora


THE CHEFS: Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, owners and chefs of Border Grill, modern Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas and Santa Monica, Calif., and of Ciudad, a Latin restaurant in downtown Los Angeles.

KNOWN FOR: Putting a twist on authentic regional Mexican dishes. Instead of preparing skirt steak without a marinade as can be the norm in Mexico, for example, the pair rub their version with a paste of garlic, toasted cumin seeds, cilantro and chilies. "These flavors make the steak so much more delicious," says Ms. Milliken.

THE MEAL: In the chicken dish, breast meat can be used but using dark chicken meat gives a richer flavor that better complements the sauce.

KITCHEN TIP: Using freshly squeezed lime and lemon juice is key in emphasizing the strong, spicy flavors of Mexican cooking. The acidity from the juice -- or sometimes vinegar or wine -- can bring out and balance all the complex flavors.




Chicken with Figs, Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes



Yield: 6 servings

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes


1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or legs

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 Tablespoons minced garlic

2 cups white wine

1 cup chicken stock

8 ounces sun-dried tomatoes (not the ones stored in oil),

cut into strips (about 2 cups)

8 ounces dried Mission figs, stemmed and quartered (about 2 cups)

1 cup pitted green olives, halved

1/2 cup caper berries, stemmed and halved

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup packed brown sugar, or to taste

1/2 cup red wine vinegar, or to taste

1 bunch fresh oregano leaves, chopped

4 to 6 cups cooked couscous or rice


  • Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large nonreactive skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add chicken to the hot pan without crowding. Brown chicken on both sides about 10 minutes total per batch, transferring chicken to a plate as they are ready.

  • Add the remaining oil to the skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add garlic to the pan and saut, stirring constantly, until soft but not brown, about 1 minute. Return heat to high, add white wine, and simmer, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon, until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add any chicken juices that have accumulated on the plate, chicken stock, tomatoes, figs, olives, and caper berries and bay leaf, and cook for 5 minutes.

  • Stir in the brown sugar, vinegar, and oregano. Adjust salt and pepper, and sugar and vinegar as necessary. There should be a good balance of sweet and sour.

  • Return chicken to the pan and simmer gently until chicken is just cooked through, in about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and serve immediately over a bed of couscous or rice.



Pear and Ginger Crisp with Golden Raisins


Yield: 8 servings

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 to 45 minutes



6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

cup sugar

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root or chopped candied ginger

teaspoon ground mace

pinch nutmeg

teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

cup medium-fine chopped pecans or walnuts



1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup rum

6 medium Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and sliced

2/3 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons minute tapioca

juice of 1/2 lemon

whipped cream or ice cream


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.


  • To make the topping, in a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, ginger, mace, nutmeg, and salt. Add the flour and pecans or walnuts and gently mix just until crumbly.

  • To make the filling, combine the raisins and rum in a small pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside to plump and cool.

  • Meanwhile, put the pears, sugar and tapioca into a large mixing bowl and toss to mix well. Add the lemon juice, raisins, and rum and toss until combined. Spoon the fruit mixture into a 9-inch round baking dish, preferably glass. Sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the top.

  • Bake until bubbling and golden, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes and serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream.





Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher suggest wine pairings for this meal.

With the chicken, Chefs Milliken and Feniger recommend a Spanish red -- and are you in for a treat. With this very special dish, we'd have one of the hottest wines of Spain right now, Ribera del Duero. This distinctive red wine comes from a 70-mile-long region along the Duero river in north central Spain and, like Rioja, is made primarily from the Tempranillo grape. It's a pretty small region, but the wines have become increasingly available. In a tasting last year, we found them consistently good and an excellent pairing with full-flavored dishes. As we wrote last September: "These aren't shy wines. They tend to be dark and smell like wet, rich earth. Their tastes are big, with dark fruit, like blackberries and blueberries. There's often a hint of chocolate and often quite a bit of sage, with a splash of lemon and abundant oak. Sometimes, there's a little bit of leather, cedar or tobacco on the nose. This big wine holds two surprises. The first is how very dry the good ones are. Considering that they just about burst with ripe fruit, you might expect them to seem sweet, but they're beautifully dry, especially on the finish. The second surprise is that, for such big, earthy wines, the best ones also have a great deal of Bordeaux-like structure -- nice edges and complex layers of tastes. All of this adds up to a very interesting, soulful and tasty mouthful of wine that requires fairly lusty food." Some good names to look for are Emilio Moro, Torres de Anguix, Legaris, Pago de los Capellanes, Bodegas Aalto, Bodegas Felix Callejo, Bodegas Los Astrales, Bodegas y Viedos Valderiz and Bodegas Vizcarra Ramos. Prices are all over the map on these, from $10 to $60, but you should plan to spend at least $25.




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