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!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Quite possibly the best food blog...

No, not this one, Elana's Pantry.
Elana's Pantry is my favorite food blog.  I don't have any food allergies and I (can) eat pretty much anything.  But, I generally feel like if I can substitute an ingredient with something healthier, I'll do it.  When I cut flour out of my diet (maybe by about 75%, not completely) I started feeling really great.  Cutting back on that and sugar have been great changes in my diet, and I feel great.  I think cooks who work with limitations (vegan, veg, gluten-free), definitely come up with creative recipes.  For sure, they have a keen awareness of seasoning and an ability to balance flavors well.  Elana's Pantry's baked recipes use mostly blanched almond flour (basically just blanched, ground almonds).  It's a lot more filling than regular wheat flour and full of all of the great things almonds are full of.  I don't really miss flour at all anymore.

Here are some of her recipes that we made last weekend.

#1.  "Bran" muffins.  These are made with a combination of ground flax and almond meal and sweetened with (in our case) about a dozen dates.  They are awesome, especially when you're hungry.  

#2.  Kale almond pesto.  Geez, could food get any better?  This is basically a spread for crackers but if you want to use it as a sauce just increase the olive oil (on pizzas we cut back on the lemon juice too).  My wife would eat this every day if she could.

#3.  Carrot cake cupcakes.  The better half's favorite dessert is carrot cake.  We double the recipe and tried this amazing recipe for the frosting.  Wow. 

Check this blog out.  Very much worth it.

Food Weekend

It seems like last weekend revolved around a lot of food.  It was a nice combination of old favorites and new creations.
I'm hesitant to re-post recipes from other blogs so I'll limit this post to a couple of the things we did on our own and create a separate post about the recipes we did that were not totally original.

Saturday started off with a trip to the Farmers' Market 

And some awesome results

Here are some food highlights (so far) from this yield:

Roasted eggplant etc with mozzarella.  No recipe really need accompany this.  We just chopped up a bunch of vegetables (3 eggplants, 2 zucchini, 6 peppers of different sizes, 1 onion).  I sauteed them in the wok (no room in anything else!) in some olive oil and then to soften the veggies I added some white wine, covered the wok, and let them steam.  Once the veggies were somewhat soft, I spread them out in a casserole dish, (added the garlic at this point), and baked in the oven on 375 for 15 minutes.  Add some grated mozzarella and bake another 10 minutes.  This was awesome.

Pancakes with strawberry rhubarb compote.


The strawberry rhubarb compote was basically a cup of chopped rhubarb, a half dozen strawberries, a small piece of vanilla bean and about 1/3 c. agave nectar.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes until it reaches a desired consistency.  A great addition to morning pancakes!

Stay tuned for tostadas and an awesome refried bean recipe. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

'Tis the season: Cooked Salsa #1

One of the first good and mildly original recipes I learned was my dad's salsa recipe.  I have great memories of weekends back home when my dad would make salsa.  It wasn't something he always did, I seem to remember that at one point, he just started and the salsa was always great.  I often helped with the chopping and lucky me, I learned how to make a great salsa.
I like all kinds of salsas, whether they are raw, cooked, fruit-based or tomatillo.  Of course the fresher the ingredients, the better.  But my all time favorite salsa is a cooked salsa.  Whether for nostalgic reasons or for the fact that cooked salsas are, in fact, complex 'sauces', they are my favorite.  Although I've tinkered with my dad's recipe, adding different ingredients and modifying the cooking technique, I rarely stray from my favorite ingredients: tomatoes, green chiles (anaheim most often), green onions, and cilantro.  Even without jalapeƱos, you can make a great salsa with just those ingredients. 

So, I've had a few years to play around with my dad's recipe and good incentive.  Here in Bloomington, our Farmers' Market has an annual salsa contest.  The categories are cooked, raw, and more recently 'specialty' (which often means a lot of fruit salsas).  I've entered in the past and depending on the year, the competition can be stiff.  Two years ago, I placed first with this recipe.  I think that this one came out so well particularly because of the heirloom tomatoes and the mild smoky flavor given by putting a couple of soaked mesquite wood chips on the grill while I roasted the tomatoes.  I named the salsa after my favorite chopper and taster.

Ramblin' Rosie's Smoky Roasted Salsa 

15  (to 18) assorted tomatoes (Roma, heirloom) 
18  cherry tomatoes 
1  red bell pepper 
3  Anaheim chilies 
2  jalapeƱos 
1/2  red onion 
1 1/2 can(s) tomato sauce 
3  green onions, chopped 
1/4 cup(s) chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
Oregano, to taste

  1. Halve tomatoes and skewer cherry tomatoes.
  2. Quarter and seed bell pepper.
  3. Brush tomatoes, pepper, chilies, and red onion with vegetable oil.
  4. Wrap onion in foil.
  5. Place vegetables on grill with 2 mesquite wood chips that have soaked in water for an hour.
  6. Cook until skins easily fall off.
  7. Chop all cooked ingredients and place in bowl (alternatively, you can put all of the cooked ingredients into a saucepan and cook on a low temperature to reduce the mix and increase the flavor of the salsa).
  8. Let cool and add tomato sauce. Stir to combine.
  9. Add green onion, cilantro, and lime juice, and season to taste 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Enchilada Sauce

A nice and spicy red sauce is a great thing. There are a variety of recipes out there, most of which involve dried chiles and a blender. I like those recipes, but I'm often too lazy to toast chiles and I always hate washing the blender. So in searching for an easy enchilada sauce that could replace canned sauces (which always have too much salt and often MSG- which can trigger migraines for those who suffer), I found Emeril's Easy Enchilada Sauce Recipe.

It's a nice recipe that's hard to mess up and very fun to adapt. If you make it, don't make the same mistake I did. I don't use 'chili powder' so I instead used 'red chile (in a powder form).' The former is a blend of spices while the latter, well, is pure chile. My wife and I love spice so we ate it (with a lot of sour cream), but I wouldn't advise it.

There are a lot of benefits to using dried chile. The major one for me is that you have a lot of control over each element and it's easy to blend flavors. We are lucky enough to be a short walk from a great local grocery store that specializes in mostly Asian foods. Their wall of spices is pretty great. So if you're lucky enough to have access to more than just cayenne or 'chili powder', I would encourage some experimenting.

One final note has to do with adding wine to the sauce. I frequently add dry white wine to my enchilada and tomato sauces. It adds a nice flavor and helps you cut down significantly on the amount of salt that's needed. This was a great discovery and I do it all the time now.

2 1/2 T. guajillo chile powder
1 1/2 T. ancho chile powder
1 t. cayenne chile powder
(You can substitute other chile powders but keep in mind that different chile powders have different heat levels so it's necessary to modify to your tastes).
1/2 T. cumin
1/2 T. black pepper
2 t. oregano (crushed finely)
1 t. coriander
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1/4 t. cinnamon

2 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 small can tomato paste

4 c. chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste

Whisk dry spices together in a small bowl. Heat oil in a large sauce pan or tall skillet. Add cornstarch and stir for about a minute. Add dry chile mix and cook for 3o sec - 1 minute (watch your nose!). The longer you let the chile powder cook, the more aromatic the sauce becomes, just be careful not to burn.

Add tomato paste and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened.
With about five minutes left, add white wine and stir well. Add salt as desired. If you start with a chicken broth made from bouillon, which is often pretty salty, you may not need any extra salt. If you're using a home-made chicken stock, extra salt will be necessary.

Mixed Green Enchiladas

I didn't eat a whole lot of enchiladas growing up, but my Nana would make them and they were always a treat. Most often she made them from shredded roasted or boiled chicken, a nice thin and spicy red sauce, and a little cheese. They were always served with the best rice and beans imaginable.
This summer my wife and I are members of a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) program which we pick up at our local Farmer's Market here in Bloomington, IN. Between the greens we get in our share each week and that sold by local farmers at the market, we are eating greens pretty frequently. Greens like kale, collards, chard, etc are relatively new to me and now I can't imagine living without them. My wife is a kale fanatic so we have it pretty frequently. But we've discovered that beet and radish greens make a great filling for enchiladas. So, having picked up a nice bunch of beets, we decided to add the greens to our swiss chard and make enchiladas. It was a great bunch of greens.
Side note: In an effort to cut down on the oil, I heat my corn tortillas over a comal, but you can use any household frying pan. Most people lightly brown the tortillas in vegetable oil before dipping them in the sauce and rolling. That method works but it's also a bit messy. I've found that heating them on the stove in a dry pan sufficiently hardens the tortillas while cutting back on the oil.

Recipe: (serves 2-3)
3 cups enchilada sauce
6 corn tortillas
1 bunch beet greens
1 small bunch swiss chard
1/3 cup+ your favorite cheese (we used monterey jack but I tend to prefer other mexican cheeses

Rinse the greens and steam them for 3 minutes (it's nice for them to be a little harder than what you'd normally eat since they're baking anyway). When cool, chop finely.
Ladle some of the enchilada sauce into a casserole dish - enough to cover the bottom. Heat tortillas on both sides over the stove until lightly brown but still pliable. Dip tortillas into pot/bowl of enchilada sauce and place into casserole dish. How you fill them is up to you. Sometimes we fill them completely with greens and leave the cheese for the top, while other times we do a mix. A mix of greens and cheese helps fill out the enchiladas a bit better. Add a small handful of greens to the tortilla, top with cheese if desired and roll the tortilla as tight as possible. Our dish fits 6 perfectly, but if I'm doubling the recipe, I'll use a glass 9x13 dish. Ladle remaining sauce over enchiladas and top with cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

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