A Feast For The Day Of The Dead

Toloache, a plant used in love potions in Mexico, is also the name of Chef Julian Medina's new "contemporary Mexican bistro" in Manhattan. After almost 12 years of working in other New York City restaurant kitchens, Toloache is first solo venture - a dream come true for this Mexico City native who learned to cook from his father and grandfather.

Medina interned and worked in several Mexico City restaurants, eventually becoming a sous chef. He met New York chef Richard Sandoval, who helped him relocate to Manhattan to work in one of his restaurants. Sandoval later promoted Medina to chef de cuisine for Maya, an upscale restaurant that eventually was given two stars from The New York Times. He later helped launch another two-star Mexican restaurant for Sandoval, Pampano.

In 1999, Medina decided to branch out to new cuisines and became the Executive Chef of SushiSamba, a popular Japanese-South American restaurant in New York City. He later helped open SushiSamba7, also in New York, and SushiSamba Dromo on Lincoln Road in South Beach, Miami. He was also the Executive Chef of Zocalo, an Upper East Side Mexican restaurant, and opened Toloache in August 2007.

Medina decided to show Saturday Early Show viewers how to celebrate The Day of the Dead, which is the Mexican equivalent of Halloween. His "Chef on a Shoestring" menu serves four people three courses for under $40. In addition to a great variation on guacamole, Medina is preparing a posole, a thick hearty soup usually eaten as a main course. It's often served with chopped lettuce, radishes, onion, cheese and cilantro, which diners can add to the soup themselves. And for dessert, Medina is putting together a bread pudding with cinammon sauce.

Don't be frightened - it's a menu anyone can tackle.

Guacamole con Calabaza

Chunky Avocado with Pumpkin, Pomegranate Seeds and Apple
(Serves 4)

2 mini-pumpkins (approximately 1 pound each)
2 tablespoons
2 ripe Hass avocados (preferably from Mexico), halved with pits removed
2 tablespoon chopped sweet onion, such as vidalia
2 tablespoon pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoon of Granny Smith apple, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon, seeded and chopped jalapeño
Salt
1 bag of tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the stems from the pumpkins, cut a 1-inch hole around their top and scoop out the seeds. Pour one tablespoon of oil into each pumpkin cavity, season well with salt, then place each pumpkin upright on a sheet pan and roast for 25 minutes, or until the flesh is tender. Let cool completely, then carefully scrape out the flesh, leaving the pumpkin shells intact to be used as serving vessels.

Scoop the flesh of the avocados out of the rind and into a bowl. Mash the avocados with a fork, making sure to leave plenty of chunks. Mix in the remaining ingredients plus the cooled, cooked pumpkin and salt. Fill pumpkin shells with guacamole and serve with corn tortillas chips.

Shrimp Pozole With Fall Corn, Zucchini, Tomato and Radish-Red Onion Salad
(Serves 4)

4 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups romaine lettuce, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoon chopped Spanish onion
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Kernals from two medium husks of fresh corn (or one cup of thawed frozen corn)
1 medium zucchini, diced (approximately 1 cup)
1 large tomato, diced
1 tablespoon jalapeño, seeded and diced
2 cups clam juice
4 cups water
1 pound medium shrimp, shell-off, cleaned and deveined
1 lime, quartered
Salt

Mix the radishes, red onion and lettuce together in a bowl and set aside. Pre-heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onions are soft. Add the tomato paste, corn, zucchini, tomato and jalapeño. Stir well and season with salt.

Add the clam juice, water and simmer for five minutes or until the vegetables are soft, then add the shrimp and cook for an additional five minutes, or until the shrimp are pink and cooked through. Ladle pozole into four bowls then squirt a dash of lime juice into each and garnish with red onion, radish and lettuce salad.

Day of the Dead Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Sauce
(Serves 4)

8 cups brioche bread (approx. 1/2 loaf) cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 stick unsalted butter
8 eggs, lightly beaten

For the sauce:
2 cups milk
3 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large sauce pan, bring the milk, heavy cream, sugar, ground cinnamon, ginger and butter to a boil, then set aside to cool. Once the mixture has returned to room temperature, mix in the eggs, fold in the bread cubes, then divide the mixture evenly among four buttered six-ounce ramekins (see note below) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

For the sauce: As the pudding bakes, fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Then place the milk, heavy cream, sugar and cinnamon sticks in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Place the egg yolks in a separate bowl and rapidly whisk in the hot cream mixture.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a low flame, stirring the sauce constantly with a wooden spoon until it reaches a medium-thick consistency and coats the back of the spoon. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and place that bowl in the larger in the ice water bath, strain the sauce into the smaller bowl using a fine colander, cool, then set aside.

To serve, place ramekins on a plate and drizzle with the cinnamon sauce.

  • Note: If you don't have ramekins, you may substitute a medium-size casserole dish.