Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gingerbread Pear Upside-down Cake

Yes!  A post!  I've been so busy lately with my dissertation, teaching, and job applications that I haven't had any time to think about blogging.  Cooking still happens though and we've been loving curries and all things with rice.  I think I could happily be a vegan if I ate vegetable jhalfrezi every day too.

So for Thanksgiving, some friends of ours hosted a vegetarian-themed potluck.  No turkey, but plenty of goodness.  It was the best tasting Thanksgiving I've ever had.  Take a look at this:

So very good.  Friends, wine, food, a great Thanksgiving.  Very tasty.

Back to the cake.  This is an epicurious recipe.  I was looking for an alternative to the pumpkin pie.  Well, not an alternative, we had pumpkin pie too.  Gingerbread is such a nice, festive holiday flavor.  Bosc pears give it a nice sweetness and different texture.  The best part is that you start out in a cast-iron skillet and end up in one too.  I guess maybe that's typical of upside-down cakes.  I've never been a fan of pineapple upside-down cakes, but this is really great.  

(the recipe calls for more butter and brown sugar but I made the cake for a test-run and the first time the topping was a little goopy. It's best to cut back on the butter and sugar)
2 1/2-3 Bosc Pears, sliced
1/4 stick of butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or really just enough to cover the skillet well).  

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
1 cup mild molasses
1 cup boiling water 
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened 
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar 
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Peel and slice pears, set aside.  Melt butter in an 11-inch cast-iron skillet on medium heat until foam subsides.  Reduce heat and sprinkle brown sugar over butter.  Cook undisturbed for 3 minutes.  Arrange pears on skillet and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar, and egg in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, then alternately mix in flour mixture and molasses in 3 batches at low speed until smooth. 

Pour batter over topping in skillet, spreading evenly.  Be careful not to disturb pears, and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 40 minutes.
Cool cake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes. Run a knife around edge of skillet, then invert a large plate  over skillet and invert cake onto plate (just like what you'd do with a tortilla española). Replace any pears that stick to skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature.  We served it with fresh whipped cream.  Enjoy! 



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vegetarian Posole

I love posole.  The thick rich spicy soup broth, the hominy (nixtamal in Spanish, or technically Nahuatl), and of course the additions.  Cilantro, shredded cabbage, radish, avocado, lime juice, baked tortilla strips, and on and on.  The beautiful thing about the stock is the introduction of ancho chiles (dried poblanos) that are reconstituted and pureed in the blender.  It makes for a complex and spicy broth.  Of course posole normally has pork or in some cases chicken and so the broths are normally a little heartier.  I honestly thought it would be impossible to make a vegetarian version but this comes so close to the real thing I can't say I missed the meat at all.  I can't say how happy I was that this worked. 

In place of chicken, I used dried shitake mushrooms.  They take a while to soften so if they only sit for a couple of hours in the soup, they'll still be a little chewy (which I was okay with because it reminded me of posole's cousin 'menudo', but for reasons I won't get into).  By the second day they were much softer and oh so good.  The broth was hearty and spicy and everything was perfectly balanced. 

This recipe is for the Souper Sunday blog hop hosted by Kahakai Kitchen.  Soup... what a great theme.  I'm relatively new to making posole so I got my help from girlichef, an excellent blogging chef for all things Mexican (and otherwise) and Bobby Flay.  See their recipes here and here.  I like girlichef's addition of tomatoes and onion to the blender with the anchos and then cooking them on the stove.  It's definitely my new method - I just added a little oregano to the mix because it's one of my favorite flavors in Mexican cooking.

For the base, start with three ancho chiles.  Put them in a small bowl (put small cuts in the chiles so they don't float) and cover them with boiling water.  After twenty minutes, remove chiles from water (saving the water) and pull the stems out.  I like to save a few seeds for the heat.  Place chiles in a blender with 1/2 cup of the reserved chile water and the following items:
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
2 t. fresh oregano leaves

Blend for a couple of minutes, pausing to scrape sides of the blender down with a rubber spatula.  Heat one tablespoon oil in large soup pot and add chile puree.  Cook for about 10 minutes, letting mixture thicken.  Add six cups of vegetable broth and heat through, bringing to a boil.  Add:

1 28-ounce can of hominy (don't drain, include all the liquid in the can)
2 cups (loosely packed) of dried shitake mushrooms. 

Simmer for about 20 minutes and add two tablespoons of chopped cilantro.  Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so.  Garnish with any (or all!) of the following.

Freshly chopped cilantro, green onions
Quartered lime wedges
Chopped or grated radishes
Shredded cabbage
Dried oregano
Avocado slices

Enjoy!  I'm going to be making this again and again!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Very Excellent Vegetable Broth

The elitist taco has taken a back seat these past few weeks as I get re-accustomed to the school year, teaching two classes and actually working on my dissertation.  While I'm still cooking (enchiladas de mole and posole this week!), not many things are that new or postable.  But the posole has been a real discovery.  I'll be posting that in a couple of days.

Officially, both the elitist taco and its author are now 100% vegetarian.  The blog was mostly vegetarian already, but now it is for sure.  It's nice to give it an identity and I'm happy to make my own vegetarianism official.  I've been headed this direction for awhile and I'm feeling great about it.  There are a variety of reasons, but none really matter much to the blog.  What matters now, is how to creatively adapt recipes and still have a great flavor.  I might miss late night hamburgers from Rally's or bacon but truthfully, it was the homemade chicken broth that I had gotten used to that I was saddest about.  A good chicken broth has so many great uses.  When I came across Bobby Flay's method of reducing a chicken broth for an hour or so after it was already done, something that intensified the flavors, I was sold.  We've been making our own vegetable broths for a while now, but for the most part they're clear and have little in the way of body.  So I set out to make a great vegetable broth that could be used in a soup like posole, which really depends on a good broth.  In an effort to give the broth some depth of flavor, I threw in a couple of potatoes and a few mushrooms.  For a final step I took a boiled potato, threw it into the blender with some of the stock and blended it until smooth.  The texture it added to the broth was awesome and it really made a difference. 
So here's the recipe.

3-4 stalks of celery, washed
2-3 carrots, scrubbed (not peeled), split down the middle
2 potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
4 garlic cloves, smashed (skins left on)
1 large onion, quartered (skins left on)
1 poblano chile, halved and seeded
white button mushrooms (small box - washed and sliced)

Of course, a vegetable broth can have pretty much anything you have on hand.  Often we'll keep the tough spine from kale and throw that in.  Some nice additions are black peppercorns, fresh thyme, fresh cilantro etc. 

Place all the vegetables into a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil and turn to medium low, cooking uncovered for an hour.  Remove vegetables and let cool (save some potato for later).

When I was ready to use the stock, I heated it up on the stove, while I combined some broth with a few potato pieces in the blender.  Once that was reintroduced into the broth, I added salt to taste and... there you go.  For a little extra flavor, I added 2 cups of 'chicken broth' (Better than bouillon brand, vegetarian) that I mixed up. 

This is my new go-to broth.  Even before I introduced chile for the posole base, it had a nice, complex flavor.  I'm sure it'll be a little different every time I make it, but I think the potato will make constant appearances.  

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Zucchini Crust Pizza: Real Food

My wife discovered this recipe in search of something to do with our zucchini and wow, what a find.  Who would've thought that zucchini could be grated and baked into a flatbread.  We stay pretty faithful to the crust recipe (originally a Moosewood recipe, but find another version at this great blog here), and our own gluten-free sympathies have moved us toward to finely-ground polenta.  And let me just say, with cheese mixed into the zucchini, this is amazing - and smells really good as it bakes.  I would say, based on the criteria of the challenge, this satisfies the soul (as well as the waist-line) and I think it's got a complex flavor while helping you get a couple servings of your veggies at the same time.  It's been a good year for zucchini (from the farm share - I got one zucchini and then little pests attacked my plant) and tomatoes, so this is perfect. 

You can top it anyway you like.  We used a homemade tomato sauce made from cherry tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh garlic, basil, oregano and thyme.  We had so many fresh cherry tomatoes that we ended up using it again for eggplant parmesan a couple days later. 

Finally, we topped it with some grated mozarella and paremsan and there you have it.  Here's the recipe:

2 cups grated zucchini
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely ground corn meal (plus some more for the pan)
1/2 cup grated mozarella
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1-2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter and flour a cookie sheet.  Mix together all the ingredients and spread out into pan.  Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.  Brush with olive oil at about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for about ten minutes.  Work on loosening the crust from the pan with a large spatula.  Top as desired and place back into the oven until cheese has browned. 



Cooked salsa #2, end of the summer...

First week of classes - Summer is officially gone in Bloomington.  It's a good thing for my productivity so I can't complain.  Last weekend was our Farmers' Market's salsa contest.  I've entered a few times in the past, getting second once before and first place also.  I made a salsa that I've been working on for most of the summer.  Most recently I've tried pureeing half of the roasted tomatoes and coarsely chopping the other half.  I put both sets of tomatoes into a saucepan and cook on low with three crushed garlic cloves and a tablespoon of dry white wine for about an hour to cook out the water (which there is always a lot of) while intensifying the tomato flavor.  The wine adds a nice element and I find a little garlic is always necessary. 
So on to the contest.  I entered a cooked salsa into the salsa contest and it was not my best one, but it was still pretty good and it took second. I couldn't get my hand on any anaheim green chiles, which are my favorite, so I'm making sure to include them in this recipe.  For the contest I used hungarian and cayenne which are pretty good but not anaheims. 
So here's my salsa recipe. 

8 large heirloom tomatoes, roasted and peeled
5-6 anaheim chile peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped*
2-4 jalapeño peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. dry white wine

4 green onions, chopped
1/4 c. cilantro chopped
1 lime, juiced

Sea salt (depends on you) and 1/2 t. dry oregano (crushed finely)

Start with half of the roasted tomatoes and put them in the blender and mix at a low speed for about 30 seconds.  Coarsely chop the rest of the tomatoes.  Add all tomatoes to a sauce pan and turn heat to low.  Add wine and garlic to the tomatoes and cook on low for about an hour. 

When hour is up, add diced chiles to the tomatoes.  At this point you can add a little salt and taste the salsa to see how it's faring.  Continue to cook for another 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.

When salsa is cool, stir in onions, cilantro, lime juice and oregano.  While I imagine everyone has different ideas on what goes well in a salsa and what doesn't I am a huge fan of dry oregano.  It holds its own against all the spice and even the cilantro.  I love it.  Give it a try if you haven't before. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vacationing in the madre tierra

Photo grabbed from here.

I'm back in Arizona visiting with my family and enjoying a reprieve from the Indiana humidity.  In my opinion, the hot, dry weather is great and not as tiring as the humidity back in the midwest.  Then again, I'm always in air-conditioned areas, or my parents' pool, so that probably has something to do with it.

Tomorrow I'm going to make green rice for our traditional Sunday dinner.  Generally that involves my dad grilling outside, my sisters' amazing pies or cakes, and everything that is good about food.  I'll post the green rice recipe tomorrow and then maybe later on next week I'll get back to some more recipes once I'm back in IN. 

A pic I took of a storm coming over the Estrella mountains.  I definitely miss the mountains when I'm in the flat midwest.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tostadas and a dissertation on cultural relativity

Okay, not a dissertation in the sense of the doctoral dissertation I'm not writing but one none the less, just shorter.  But first tostadas.  Tostadas are one of my wife's favorite foods.  I grew up eating them pretty frequently and they never excited me that much.  I don't make them too differently these days, but Rosie's excitement must've been contagious because they are now one of my favorite meals.  For one, they are a healthy dinner.  Baked corn tortillas, homemade refried beans and all the lettuce, tomato, avocado (and homemade salsa) you can pile on.  And they're incredibly satisfying.  What's not to like?  They're also very leftover friendly.  If you wanted to use up some leftover chicken, just chop it up and throw it on.  Also, if you want the extra protein and want to make them a little heavier add a fried egg.  Awesome...
So what is a tostada?  Tostada means 'toasted' in Spanish but here it's a noun, not an adjective (since it's feminine, it's probably referring back to tortilla - 'the toasted tortilla/the thing that is toasted').  I've just finished teaching a 2 month long course on Spanish grammar for non-Spanish speakers (grad students who need to fulfill a language requirement who learn how to translate academic articles) and as a result my mind is stuck in the intricacies of the Spanish language.  So back to that big what is a tostada question, and my whole thing.  Cultural relativity is the kind of thing I think about when I'm writing about European colonization of the "New" World.  So when I frequently hear that a tostada is an "open-faced sandwich", I have to disagree.  An open-faced sandwich is an open-faced sandwich, a tostada is a tostada.  Or, instead of submitting a culturally distinct cuisine to our own culinary standards, we could say that a tostada is like an open-faced sandwich.  An obsession with political correctness?  Maybe.  But at the same time, why not let terms have their own referents?  By the way, did you know that the pineapple, indigenous to the Americas, so astounded 16th century Spanish historian and 'ethnographer' Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo that he found himself unable to describe it?  So astounding and original was its flavor that Oviedo could find no European referents, no equivalents and literally no words to describe it.  Face to face with something so foreign (okay, so the Indians were much more foreign to him and he was a pretty ignorant dude), Oviedo named the fruit based on its appearance - piña, because it looked like a pine cone.  Imagine, he could have named it 'artichoke fruit' because he also thought it looked like an artichoke.  Wow, okay.  Tostadas are tostadas, enough.  Maybe Gertrude Stein would say a tostada is a tostada is a tostada.  Hah hah...
Let's get on with the recipe!

Tostada Shells:
We bake our corn tortillas to cut back on the oil from frying while keeping the nice crispy texture.  Set the oven on 400 degrees, and lightly brush tortillas with some vegetable oil.  Place tortillas on a flat baking sheet.  To avoid tortillas curling, I put an upside down cooling rack over the tortillas while they bake.  It keeps them nice and flat.  Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven, turn tortillas over and bake for another 8-10 minutes until brown and crisp.

When crisp, top with any of the following ingredients (pay attention to the order!)
Refried Beans
Sour cream
Sliced avocado
Grated cheese of your choice
Chopped lettuce

Rosie has the system all figured out.  Forget the picture you see in the post, salsa and sour cream on top only cause messy tostadas and fingers.  Put your runny stuff down first and then the loose ingredients.  Rosie's good at figuring these things out, although she has to remind me about her system every time we have them.

Buen provecho!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friijole beans (easy ones!)

So, refried beans are a necessary accompaniment to a lot of the eating we do around here.  Sadly, I only recently stopped buying the canned stuff.  In the years that I've been cooking I've never really gotten the recipe down right.  Last Summer a friend of mine made some great cooked beans (not refried) that went really well with the barbecue chicken and rice.  So I took his recipe and changed it a bit and now we eat them all the time.  They fry really well and the recipe is pretty adaptable.  Cooked slowly with garlic, onion, and cilantro (and a bottle of beer) the beans take on a nice rich flavor.  Right before I mash them I add a little butter, cumin, and dried chile powder.  Extra bonus, they freeze really well for future eating.

1 lbs pinto beans
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro
3+ garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle of beer
freshly ground pepper
2 t. guajillo chile powder

extra possibilities for flavoring: reserved bacon fat, cumin, butter

Rinse beans and sort out for stones or the dried up, cracked beans.  Put in a large soup pot and add onion, cilantro, garlic.  Add pepper and chile powder.  Empty beer into the pot and add about 15 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then turn heat to low.  Simmer for 3-4 hours (if I'm going to mash them up, I generally let them go about 4 hours). 

(No worries, I still have ones to drink).
When they're soft, stir in a tablespoon of sea salt (at this point I also added a tablespoon of bacon fat). 
To re-fry: Put two cups or so of the beans into a pan with a little liquid.  Mash them with a potato masher over medium heat.  If there's a little excess liquid, just continue to heat until liquid has reduced. 

Another good thing is that you can freeze beans (with a little liquid) for future use.  No more canned beans!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Banana Oatmeal Pancakes

A brief rest from Mexican food today.  One of my favorite blogs is Ameet Maturu's Rice of Life.  He comes up with really creative, healthy and mostly gluten-free recipes.  While he doesn't post too often, it's always quality when he does. 

This recipe comes from Ameet's Oatmeal Kefir Pancake recipeKefir is like yogurt although thinner and with a slightly sour flavor.  But, it's got tons more probiotics than yogurt.  Forget Activia, this is the stuff (and it doesn't have the artificial sweeteners).   Normally we make smoothies with it, adding bananas, strawberries or any other fruit.  Most recently, we've been making whole milk kefir smoothies with peaches and bananas.  They're great and keep you full for a while. I found the recipe last Spring when I was searching for gluten-free pancakes that might use kefir.  Ameet makes the very good observation that kefir has a buttermilk-like quality to it which makes it great for pancakes.  I was sold on his recipe and I've made it so many times since that I realized it has to show up here.  When Rosie and I first started thinking about cutting back on wheat, gluten etc, I thought I wouldn't be able to stop eating pancakes.  There's something really wonderful about pancakes for breakfast, and yet I'm not all that thrilled about loading up on flour for breakfast.  So these pancakes, which are predominately oats (and in this case almond meal), are full of protein and fiber and a great way to start the day. 

Don't be turned off by the kefir in this recipe.  If you don't make it, or want to buy it, yogurt should work pretty well.  Because I make so many smoothies with it, I decided to try using kefir smoothie in place of the kefir.  I love banana pancakes so banana-kefir smoothie was the logical choice.  I was right, these were great.  Topped with some toasted walnuts or blueberries, this is an awesome breakfast. 

1 cup of whole milk kefir/yogurt
1 banana
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. agave nectar or other sweetener (honey, maple syrup)
1 t. vanilla extract

1/4 cup almond meal (I use Trader Joe's brand ground almond meal)
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. cinnamon
chopped toasted walnuts for garnish

Blend kefir and banana until smooth.  Since Ameet's recipe calls for a cup of kefir (and you end up with a little more after the addition of fruit), measure out just a cup (you can always drink the rest).  Put the oats in a bowl with kefir and let sit for 20 minutes.  Beat egg, oil, agave and vanilla in a small bowl and add to oats. 

Combine almond meal, baking soda, salt and spices in a small bowl with a fork.  Add to wet ingredients and mix well. 

Spoon onto the griddle.  Cook over medium-low heat until bubbles begin to open.  (Note: these pancakes are a little harder to turn than wheat pancakes so keep your eye on them.  I'm used to the difficulty of pancakes with a gas stove).  Top with chopped walnuts and or blueberries and real maple syrup.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sweet Potato Ricotta Enchiladas in Chipotle Sauce: Real Food

Elitist enchiladas!  This is my first attempt to expand my blog into the greater online world of cooking blogs.  I made this recipe for Two for Tuesdays Blog Hop Carnival (something I was originally made aware of by another blog that I read from time to time).  The theme is 'real food' and girlichef describes it like this:

...slow food, traditional food, hand-prepared food, nourishing that is NOT that doesn't come from a that your great-grandmother would have made &/or eaten.  REAL food is homemade. REAL food is from scratch.  REAL food has recognizable ingredients.  REAL food is made from traditional ingredients.  REAL food is food you make with your own hands...from food grown, milled, raised by you or by people (not machines).  Think family farmer.  Think farmer's market.  Think garden.  Think local grain mill.  Think REAL.


I'd like to think of the food I like to eat and cook as real food, but the challenge was a good one.  And I try to support local growers whenever possible: the sweet potatoes come from our favorite co-op, poblanos and onions from our Farmers' Market, and the chipotles from a local Mexican restaurant/grocer.   I believe pretty strongly in local and organic ingredients and I always avoid processed foods with ingredients I can't pronounce.  That said, I don't think my grandmother ever made sweet potato enchiladas.  But the flavors work together really well.  I think the idea came to me a year ago when Rosie and I made pumpkin filled ravioli and then reused the filling for an enchilada 'casserole' of sorts.  It was such a great combination and I've been wanting to try it again, but with sweet potato instead of pumpkin.  While I guess these enchiladas are sort of enchiladas meet manicotti, the truth is that I don't believe in culinary essentialism: no one country has ever produced a great dish without other influences, right?  But anyway...
Alright, on to the recipe.

Sweet potato filling:
1 large sweet potato, cubed and roasted
2 garlic cloves, roasted
2 roasted poblanos, peeled and chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup ricotta (or cottage cheese)*
Chipotle Sauce
8 corn tortillas

To make filling:
Peel and cube sweet potato.  Drizzle with a little vegetable oil.  Roast at 400 for about 20 minutes or until crisp.  You can put the poblanos in at the same time if desired (they will take longer, up to a half hour).  Garlic takes little time to roast (maybe 8-9 minutes).
Once cooled, place sweet potatoes, coarsely chopped poblanos and garlic in a food processor.  Process until smooth, scraping down the sides when necessary.  Add cilantro, green onion and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and process again.  Finally add the cheese and process until smooth.  (This can be done in advance and refrigerated for 24 hours).

To make enchiladas.  See my post here to read how I prepare corn tortillas for rolling in a way that cuts back on oil.  Ladle enough sauce to cover a 9 x 13 baking dish.  How much filling you want to use is up to you, I'd say about 1/4 cup.  When you fill the dish (8-10 enchiladas), ladle the rest of the sauce over the enchiladas and garnish with some grated cheese if desired.  Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.
Enjoy!  We sure did!

* - So while it may be less of a foodie ingredient, I've found a cottage cheese that I love and I think it offers a great alternative to ricotta.  But ricotta sounds a little more upscale so it's in the title.  But if you are cottage cheese-phobic (as I once was), you should know that the Michigan Brand cottage cheese is great with a nice sharp flavor and not at all watery.  We eat it with corn chips, mix it with eggs, bake it into quiches, etc. etc.  Give it a try, you won't even notice a cottage cheese texture in this.  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

chipotle sauce

It was definitely time to try a new enchilada sauce.  This sauce goes with an enchilada recipe I'll be posting shortly.  I decided to throw out the chile powders for this one and use actual dried chiles.  Chipotles are a spicy, smoky dried chile that work in a lot of dishes.  This one worked well with the addition of a little cinnamon and some oregano. 

The veg route:
So we have some friends who are vegetarians and great cooks.  They shared this bouillon with us and it works pretty well.  When simmering the dried chiles on the stove, I put a small teaspoon full this base into 2 cups of water.  It helps flavor the chile water (which you'll use later on to thin out the sauce).  It's a little salty so get to know it before you use it in place of regular chicken broth.  If you want to go the veg route, I do suggest this.

4-6 chipotles (the dry ones, number varies depending on how hot you want it)
1 guajillo chile
1 small onion, chopped coarsely
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 can tomato sauce
oregano, cinnamon, white wine, salt for taste. 

Stem and rinse chiles.  Remove any seeds that you can.  Put chiles in a pot with 2 cups of broth (vegetarian, regular...).  Throw in the onion and garlic.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.   When soft, pull out seeds and place in blender with tomato sauce with 1/2 cup of chile water.  Process until smooth adding chile water until desired consistency is reached. 
After this step, I put the sauce onto the stove in a sauce pot and add a dash of cinnamon, 1 t. finely ground oregano and 2 T. white wine.  Simmer for a few minutes tasting the sauce until it tastes right.  If you get it terribly hot, you could always add some more tomato sauce or if it's too mild you can add some dried chile powder. 


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Mad Scientist Infusion Experiments: Rasberry, strawberry vanilla and more craziness...

Seeing as it's berry season, a season which is much too short, I've been thinking of things to do with my raspberries, strawberries, blueberries etc.  A few months ago, searching for various recipes for how to make your own vanilla extract from vanilla beans and vodka, I came across some infusion recipes that were pretty intriguing.  Of course, the idea is to drink the vodka and have it taste like fruit, but I'm not a big fan of fruit-tasting alcohol or even really vodka.  I do, however, really like whiskey.

Returning to the point, I had thought that these infusions might make great 'extracts'.  You can make orange essence from orange peel and vodka, why not just let the raspberries sit longer and have raspberry flavoring in addition to (or as an alternative to) vanilla?  I'm a big fan of the chocolate ganache on top of a chocolate cake.  What if it were raspberry flavored?  Triple sec in a chocolate ganache was a breakthrough to me and it's worth exploring these ideas some more.
So today, after the obligatory trip to the farmers' market, I made three infusion/extracts.

#1.  (Far left): Raspberry extract.  I placed a little more than a cup of raspberries in a pint jar filled with vodka.  I figured this will be a nice way to flavor pretty much any kind of chocolate frosting, sauce, or even baked brownies.  We'll see how strong the raspberry flavor is.

#2. (Middle and pictured here again to the right, sorry for the poor quality): My real mad experiment: Cinnamon orange extract with vanilla beans and part of a dry guajillo chile (torn up a little, seeds preserved).  I can't even give this one an easy title because of all of the ingredients.  But I thought this one through pretty well.  Of course orange and cinnamon go well together, and vanilla would help make this richer.  But I'm most excited about the guajillo chile.  It is a pungent chile and I think it's really versatile.  In its powdered form, it always ends up in my red chile sauce and I've also pureed it into my chicken stocks for posole or just a nice hearty stew.  I believe it's necessary to strain at least the orange after a few days, but I'll leave the other ingredients in, hoping they don't overpower the orange flavor.  I thought this would be a great flavoring for rice pudding, shortbread cookies or pretty much anything.  I will update on how this turns out.

#3. (Far right and pictured again here): Strawberry vanilla extract.  What would you not use this for?  Again, it seems like a nice way to flavor melting chocolate, possibly a pudding, or who knows what else.  This one just had to happen because we had a huge box of strawberries and I wanted to make sure we eat them fast enough.   The vanilla beans are recycled from a pint of vanilla extract I started back in January.  The stuff you make is really a lot better than store-bought vanilla and a lot cheaper.

Okay, enough madness.  Coming up next is an enchilada 'casserole' based the call-out I read in this blog post.  I'm looking forward to trying to interact more with the cyber world.  We'll see how it goes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mexican Rice

I love Mexican rice.  It is the perfect all-purpose side dish.   The flavors in this work together really nicely and make for a well-textured, flavorful rice.  An added benefit is that it freezes really well, making a nice, re-heatable portion of rice when you need it.

2 cups long-grain white rice
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 small onion, chopped finely
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 T. vegetable oil

Saute rice and onions in vegetable oil over medium heat until rice begins to brown.  Add tomato sauce and stir to evenly coat rice (be careful adding tomato sauce to hot pan, try to avoid putting sauce onto dry pan which will end up in a lot of steam, and cover the rice first).

Add broth to rice and bring to boil.  Turn the heat down to low and cook for 20-25 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.


Tamale Pie

This is a great recipe that comes from a friend of mine who brought it to a pot luck at our place a month or so ago.  The flavors went really well together and I had to try it.  I made it for Rosie's Macedonian class, which came to our place last Friday for dinner.  I served it with Mexican rice, which was a pretty good compliment. 

My change to the recipe was to make it vegetarian.  It's excellent with shredded, seasoned chicken, but a nice alternate is braised artichoke hearts, tossed with a little red chile sauce. It was a great meal (one we're still enjoying!).  Otherwise, I stayed pretty faithful to the recipe.

Tamale Pie
2 cups dry polenta
3 cups cheese (I used monterey jack) 
1 cup canned corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can green chiles, drained
2 cans artichoke hearts, drained
5 T. butter 
1/4 cup red chile sauce for artichokes

Over medium heat, saute artichokes in 2 T. of butter until brown.  You can break them up a little as they cook.  Once cooked well through, toss in about 1/4 of sauce.
Bring 6 cups water to a boil.  Add polenta, decrease heat, and stir frequently for about 15 minutes. 
Remove polenta from heat.  Add the butter, beans, corn, chiles and 1 cup of the cheese.  Stir until well-mixed.
Scrape half of the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and smooth out.  Add artichokes; spread evenly.  Scrape the remaining mixture over the top of artichokes and smooth out.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until firm.
After chilling, add the remaining cheese to the top and bake at 450 until the cheese is bubbly, about 15 minutes. 


Saturday, July 17, 2010

A brief interlude for my other hobby

Before I post recipes for tamale pie and mexican rice (two of the excellent pieces of last night's potluck dinner with Rosie's Macedonian class), I thought I'd share some pics of my other hobby - house plants.  Today I went to a bonsai class and learned some techniques for shaping trees into a bonsai form.  We were given a 3 year old tree (I'll have to double check on the name) and worked on potting it correctly, trimming it and training other branches.  This class was good because we had inherited a ficus bonsai a few years back that I've neglected severely but I think I'm finally figuring out how to fix it. 

In other good news, I think I figured out how to play around with my camera and get better pictures (at least of plants).  Hopefully playing with the aperture and shutter speed will help me with my food pictures.

First the bonsai from class:

These next ones are frequently called 'dwarf jades' but in fact they aren't really jades.  They're called 'portulacaria afra' or Elephant's food, since in South Africa, apparently elephants eat these.  They grow fast and I think they look pretty nice. 

This last one will hopefully be a bonsai tree, we'll see how well it thickens up with time.

And a new purchase I was unable to turn down:  

I'm a real sucker for these guys.

Okay, back to food. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I think my wife discovered chilaquiles on our honeymoon in Puebla, MX.  We were at a hotel that had been a convent back in the colonial period (probably for some really rich nuns because the place was very impressive).  They had a great breakfast buffet and we had our choice of different types of the dish almost every morning.  While I had never thought much about them before, my wife was so excited, I think she ate them for every breakfast.  So of course they show up every once in a while around our house!

Chilaquiles (chee-lah-key-les) are small, corn chip sized pieces of corn tortillas that are lightly fried and served with a chile sauce and cheese.  In a sense, it's like a tasty casserole that can be eaten either for breakfast or as a regular meal.  The sauces can vary from red to green chile or mole sauce.    

Instead of frying the corn tortilla pieces, I prefer to bake them, brushed with a little vegetable oil.  They crisp nicely and don't soak up all the oil that the traditional method does.

For corn chips:
12 corn tortillas.
1 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Brush both sides of the tortillas with oil and cut into eighths to make chips.  Spread out on a baking pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes (stirring/turning the chips at about 7 minutes).

For chilaquiles:
3 cups red chile sauce
1 cup grated cheese
cilantro and green onion for garnish

Place corn chips into a greased casserole dish and toss with half of the cheese.  Add sauce and stir slightly to coat the chips evenly.  Toss the rest of the cheese on top and bake (350 degrees) for 15 minutes or until cheese has begun to brown.

Buen provecho!
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