Friday, November 30, 2012

Truly Mexican!

Concluding my week of essential Mexican recipes, I must include "Guacamole Taquero (Taco-Shop Guacamole)." Guacamole Taquero is more a silky sauce than a chunky guacamole. Made with tangy tomatillos, epazote or cilantro, creamy avocado, and spicy serrano chiles, it adds a spicy kick to tacos, like Pork Carnitas, as well as grilled meats. This recipe is so simple, and because of the acidity of the lime and tomatillos, it does not oxidize like guacamole, and can be stored in the refrigerator and brought to room temperature before serving. 

This recipe comes from Truly Mexican, by renowned Chef Roberto Santibanez of Fonda in New York City. If you like Mexican food, this beautiful cookbook would be a welcome addition to your collection! (Just thought I would throw that out there with Christmas coming soon!)


Guacamole Taquero (Taco-Shop Guacamole)

Makes about 2 cups.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound tomatillos (5 or 6), husk removed, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
6 large (about 3 1/2 inches long) fresh epazote leaves or 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 small garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
2 fresh serrano (preferred) or jalapeno chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped, including seeds, or more to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon fine salt, or 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 small ripe Mexican Hass avocado, halved and pitted

Directions:

Put the tomatillos into a blender jar first, then add the epazote or cilantro, garlic, onion, chiles, lime juice, and salt. Puree until very smooth, at least a minute. Scoop the avocado flesh with a spoon into the blender jar and blend until smooth. Add a little water, if necessary, to achieve a pourable texture. Season to taste with additional chile, lime juice, and salt (if needed), and blend once more.

Told you it was easy and the color is fantastic!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rinse and Repeat!

Now that I have provided an outstanding recipe for Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo), I will share my favorite recipe for "Mexican White Rice (Arroz Blanco)." When I first came across this recipe from Pati Jinich, I was on it like white on rice. (Sorry, I had to throw that in!) What first caught my attention was the addition of celery and lime, which I have not seen in other recipes. Not only do these additions provide essential vitamins and minerals, they also provide fantastic flavor to what sometimes can be pretty bland. This recipe uses only 1 serrano chile, which provides a hint of flavor and almost no heat. If you want it spicy, add more chiles. 

As I discussed before, all good Latina cooks know to wash the rice in a colander under cool water until the water runs clear. Because this recipe is for white rice, I soak the rice in warm water for about 5 minutes, then rinse under cool water. Not only does this remove impurities (you'll be amazed at what is released!) and phytic acid (which inhibits the absorption of nutrients), it is essential to produce perfect, light and fluffy rice. Why not give it a try alongside Enchiladas Suizas? You'll love it!


Mexican White Rice (Arroz Blanco)

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

2 cups long-grain white rice, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes, then rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear and drained (I like La Preferida or Texmati brands.)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock
1 celery stalk, cut in half
1 fresh parsley sprig
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt, or more to taste
1 serrano chile

Directions:

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmery. Add the rice and cook, stirring softly for 2-3 minutes. Incorporate the onion and stir, from time to time, until the rice begins to change to a milky-white color and feels and sounds heavier, as if it were grains of sand; about 3-4 more minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, along with the celery, parsley, lime juice, salt and whole chile.


When it comes to a rolling boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and cook until the rice is cooked through and the liquid has been absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. If the rice grains don't seem soft and cooked through, add a bit more chicken broth or water and let it cook for another 5 more minutes or so.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork when ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Demystifying Mexican Rice

I hope everyone had a fabulous Thanksgiving! I did! My husband smoked our turkey this year and it turned out moist and flavorful, and it made the most delicious The Great-After Thanksgiving Turkey Enchiladas! Yum! The traditional accompaniment to enchiladas is rice, not any rice, Mexican rice. Traditionally, tomato based dishes are served with "Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)," and non-tomato based dishes, like Enchiladas Suizas, are served with "White Rice (Arroz Blanco)." Mexican rice should not be confused with the pre-packaged rice mixes labeled "Spanish Rice," loaded with dehydrated bits of bell pepper and tastes nothing like authentic Mexican rice.

Although I am not of Mexican heritage, I did spend a lot of my youth lingering in many Latina kitchens. The version of Red Rice I always saw was rice simmered in a tomato broth, enhanced with chiles and parsley or cilantro, and flecked with cheerful diced carrots and peas. The secret that all good Latina cooks know is to wash the rice in a colander under cool water until the water runs clear. In addition, some Latina cooks soak the rice in warm water for 5 minutes or so, then run the rice under cool water. I don't know why, but I just rinse the rice for Red Rice and soak and rinse for White Rice. Either way, Mexican rice is easy, seductively delicious, and perfect along any Mexican faire.



Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1, 15 ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons chopped white onion (it must be white, not yellow!)
2 small garlic cloves
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup medium or long-grain white rice, rinsed in a colander until the water runs clear and drained (I like La Preferida or Texmati brands.)
2 cups chicken broth or water
1/3 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup peeled and diced carrots (diced to approximately the same size as the peas)
3 serrano chiles, slit down one side
6 fresh cilantro sprigs, tied together (or parsley, if you don't like cilantro - gasp!)
Kosher salt
Lime wedges, for serving

Directions:

Put the tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a blender and process until smooth. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmery. Add the rice and stir regularly until it just starts to change color and looks milky-white, about 5 minutes. Try not to allow the rice to brown. Add the tomato mixture and stir gently to blend. Add the chicken broth or water, peas, carrots, chiles, cilantro or parsley, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Taste the broth and add more salt if needed, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes.


Uncover and stir carefully so that all of the broth is mixed in (most will have been absorbed). Re-cover and cook until all the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Before serving, remove the cilantro and fluff the rice with a fork. You can remove and discard the chiles if you like, or use them as decoration on top of the rice. Serve with the lime wedges to squeeze over the rice.

The rice keeps in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat it in a 350 degree oven with a sprinkle of water, covered, until heated through, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! Good Luck with the Turkey!



With all the "fun" in the kitchen this week, sometimes it's easy to forget that you need to feed your company breakfast! Don't worry, I've got the best recipe for "Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere!" This is one of my all-time favorite recipes! The best part is that you make it ahead (always smart with company lingering!) and can be successfully doubled for larger crowds! Everyone always loves it! Don't forget to check my Recipes page for other excellent recipes, e.g., The Great After-Thanksgiving Turkey EnchiladasGratin Dauphinois, and Boursin Creamed Spinach, just to name a few!


Breakfast Strata with Spinach and Gruyere

Serves 6 (or 12 if doubled)

Ingredients:

8-10, 1/2" slices supermarket French or Italian bread (I always make a few extra.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 medium shallots, minced
1, 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 large eggs
1 3/4 cups half-and-half

*If doubled, double the ingredients and use a 13"x9" baking dish greased with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and bake for about 60 minutes.*

Directions:

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 225 degrees. Arrange the bread in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake until dry and crisp, about 40 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through the drying time. When the bread has cooled, butter the slices on one side with 2 tablespoons of the butter, set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Saute the shallots until fragrant and translucent, about 3 minutes; add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, until combined, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; set aside. Add the wine to the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup, 2-3 minutes; set aside.

Butter an 8" square baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter; arrange half of the bread slices, buttered-side up in a single layer in the dish. (Don't worry if the bread doesn't completely cover the bottom, it will swell as it sits overnight.)


Sprinkle half of the spinach mixture, then 1/2 cup grated cheese evenly over the bread slices.


Arrange the remaining bread slices in a single layer over the cheese; sprinkle the remaining spinach mixture and another 1/2 cup cheese evenly over the bread. (The remainder of the cheese will be added right before baking.) Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until combined; whisk in the reduced wine, the half-and-half, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread layers; 


cover the surface flush with plastic wrap, weight down with whatever you have in the pantry, and refrigerate overnight.


Remove the dish from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature 20 minutes. Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Uncover the strata and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese evenly over the surface. Bake until both the edges and the center are puffed and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the dish, 50-55 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; serve.

Recipe adapted from The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chinatown - It's a Wrap!

Concluding my week of chicken salad recipes, I thought I would throw you a curve ball, specifically "Chicken Lettuce Wraps!" These saucy concoctions are so savory and delicious, I truly crave them regularly. With the combination of ground chicken, ginger, scallions, water chestnuts, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and oyster sauce, all nestled in beautiful butter lettuce cups, they make a perfect lunch, appetizer, or with a bowl of rice, noodles, or soup, an excellent dinner!

This recipe comes from San Francisco's Chinatown, via Joanne Weir, which got me thinking... Are these an American bastardization or are they authentic Chinese? Turns out, lettuce wraps are an authentic Cantonese dish called "sung choy bao," as well as similar lettuce wrapped dishes showing up in Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisine! So, wrap away without condonation! Not only are these quick and easy to make, but a welcome addition to any home-cook's repertoire!


Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 pound ground dark meat chicken (Pork or turkey work well, too!)
8 scallions, white and green parts, minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup water chestnuts, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (I grate mine on my microplane.)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce, or more to taste
1 large head butter lettuce, leaves separated

Directions:

Warm the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, scallions, and cornstarch and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is cooked and broken into pieces, 3-4 minutes. Add the water chestnuts, soy sauce, ginger, oyster sauce, and chili garlic sauce and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

To serve, take 1 lettuce leaf at a time and spoon a heaping tablespoon of the chicken mixture into the center. Wrap the lettuce around the filling and serve.

Recipe adapted from Weir Cooking In The City, by Joanne Weir.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ultimate Chicken Salad

Chicken salad has been popular in America since colonial times. According to food historians, the first American version of chicken salad was served by Town Meats in Wakefield, Rhode Island, in 1863. The original owner, Liam Gray, combined leftover chicken with mayonnaise, tarragon, and grapes. It became so popular, that the meat market was converted to a delicatessen! Sadly, Town Meats closed a few years ago.

For an excellent and dressed up version of standard chicken salad, try Tyler Florence's recipe for "Chicken Salad and Cranberry Brie Toast." It is absolutely delicious! Tyler recommends poaching a whole chicken for this recipe, and I agree! Not only is the chicken moist and fall off the bone tender, but you get the bonus of having a very tasty chicken stock to use later. (Might come in handy with Thanksgiving almost here!) This chicken salad is fantastic on its own; but, with the addition of cranberry sauce, apple slices, and brie, it is outrageously good! I like it open-faced (as I saw him do on his show), with a piece of buttered sourdough, a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, apple slices, chicken salad, and brie, run under the broiler to slightly melt the cheese, and garnished with parsley. This recipe is for sandwiches, so do whatever you like.


Chicken Salad and Cranberry Brie Toast

Makes 4 sandwiches.

Ingredients:
For the Poached Chicken
1, 2-3 pound whole chicken
1 gallon water
2 carrots, cut in 2" pieces
3 celery stalks, cut in 2" pieces
1 onion, halved
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
2 turnips, halved
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
10 peppercorns
3 bay leaves

For the Chicken Salad
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Kosher salt
About 1 cup mayonnaise
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 celery stalks, small diced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded chicken meat, roughly chopped
8 slices sourdough bread, cut 1/2" thick (or 4 if you make it open-faced)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup cranberry sauce
1/2 pound brie
1 green apple, thinly sliced

Directions:
For the Poached Chicken
Put the chicken in a large stockpot and cover with 1 gallon of cool water. Add the vegetables and herbs and bring the pot up to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim well; then simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming frequently as the oil rises to the surface. When done, remove to a platter and set aside to cool. Strain the liquid and reserve it for use as chicken stock. Shred the chicken meat and discard the skin and bones.


For the Chicken Salad
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Roughly chop the walnuts and then gently toast in a dry skillet over medium heat until they brown and are slightly fragrant. Season walnuts with salt once they are finished toasting. Add the walnuts, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, celery, parsley, olive oil, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a large mixing bowl and combine. Fold in the shredded chicken and set aside while you prepare the bread.

Toast the bread in a hot oven until golden. Smear each piece with a little butter and then a tablespoon of cranberry sauce over 4 pieces of bread. Lay the 4 cranberry-smeared pieces out on a sheet tray and top each piece with 2-3 slices of thick-cut brie. Pop this back in the oven for a minute or 2 so the cheese is slightly melted and creamy. Remove from the oven and top with a few slices of green apple. Top with a scoop of the chicken salad and cover with the other half of the bread to complete the sandwich and serve.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Techno Chicken!



Kids are picky and sometimes it's difficult to get them to eat stuff that's good for them. I know! However, there is nothing technical about getting your kids to eat this "Kid-Approved Chicken Salad," full of chicken, apples, and celery! This chicken salad makes a perfect lunch, tucked inside mini-pita pockets or mini-ciabatta rolls lined with some butter lettuce! Perfect for small hands and packed with all they need to get them through the afternoon! For more adventurous kids, feel free to add chopped fresh herbs, chopped walnuts or pecans, or even swap the mustard for 1 teaspoon curry powder! The variations are endless!


Kid-Approved Chicken Salad

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cooked chicken, small dice
1/2 cup apple, small dice
1/4 cup celery, finely diced (so they don't recognize it!)
1/4 cup plain yogurt or mayonnaise
2 teaspoons grainy or Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mini pita bread or ciabatta rolls, for serving
Butter lettuce, for lining the bread (keeps the bread from getting soggy!)

Directions:

In a bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, and lemon juice and mix until smooth. Add the chicken, apple, and celery and toss until evenly distributed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Open one side of your mini pita or cut almost all the way through your mini ciabatta roll (leave some of the bread intact to keep the chicken salad from falling out), Line with a lettuce leaf, and fill with some of the chicken salad. Wrap with some aluminum foil and tuck it inside a sandwich bag. Refrigerate until ready to go!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-Election Depression?

Last weekend, I was listening to NPR about how passionate both sides were for Romney and Obama. One story was about a man who apparently makes excellent bbq and was resolute for Romney. Upon learning that his brother-in-law was voting for Obama, the man declared that if Obama won his brother-in-law could still come over to his house and eat whatever his wife made, but would NOT be allowed to eat his fabulous bbq for the duration of Obama's term! Ha! Ha!

Being a native Texan, I'm naturally inclined to not wanting the government controlling every aspect of my life, so I'm disappointed. Plus, the economy sucks! So to help deal with my shock and melancholy, I made a perfect anti-depression dinner: "Camembert Salmon with Leeks." Salmon, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to combat depression as well as being good for your heart and blood pressure, and leeks, containing flavonoids that help prevent the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine, two key brain chemicals responsible for happiness. This outstanding dish really did make me feel better and the Pinot Noir didn't hurt either! 

(Even my picture looks sad....)

Camembert Salmon with Leeks

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Leeks
6 leeks
canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Salmon
4 salmon fillets (about 1/4-1/2 lb each), with skin
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon canola oil (also good for depression)

For the Camembert Sauce
8 oz Camembert
1/2 cup cream (or more if needed)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cider vinegar, or more to taste

Directions:
For the Sauteed Leeks
Slice 5 of the leeks into rings and wash in bowl of warm water, allowing the grit to sink to the bottom of the bowl. (For more, see Techniques.) Melt the butter in a large skillet and gently saute the leeks until tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.


For the Fried Leeks (optional, but is delicious!)
Cut the remaining leek into very thin slices, wash, drain, and separate with your fingers. Heat about 1 1/2" of canola oil in a saucepan over high heat. When the oil is very hot and a test leek slice sizzles immediately upon entering the oil, begin to deep-fry the thin leeks in batches until they're crisp and golden, about 30 seconds. Remove the batches with a slotted spoon or tongs and drain on paper towels. Season with salt. Set aside.


For the Camembert Sauce
Unwrap the cheese, remove the rind (or your sauce will be lumpy), and cut into large pieces. Place with the cream in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, to melt. When smooth, season with salt and pepper. Taste, then add the vinegar. If you'd like it slightly more acidic, add a bit more vinegar.

For the Salmon
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet over high heat until the skin of the salmon touched to it sizzles immediately. Cook the salmon skin side down until done to your liking, about 6-8 minutes. (This technique, known as "unilateral," is common in France, and keeps the salmon slightly rare and very moist inside. If you don't want to try it, just flip the salmon over halfway, and cook until done to your liking.)


Plating the Dish
Rewarm the sauteed leeks and sauce, if needed. Divide the sauteed leeks evenly among 4 plates, forming a circle, leaving the center of the plates clear for the salmon. Lay a salmon fillet in the center of each plate. Spoon around the sauce and garnish with the fried leeks. Serve immediately. Yum!

Recipe adapted from French Food at Home, by Laura Calder.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Perplexing Pork

Let's be honest, people overcook pork! It was always the USDA standard to cook pork to a whopping 160 degrees. This was due to Trichinella spiralis, a nasty parasite that was prevalent in pork in the early- to mid-20th century. However, due to changes in feeding, hygiene, and strict meat inspection requirements, trichinae is virtually non-existent. So much so, that the USDA officially lowered the temperature recommendation for cooking pork to 145 degrees. According to the USDA, trichinae is killed at 55 degrees C or 131 degrees F. (Ground pork should still be cooked to 160 degrees.) With that in mind, we must consider that the internal temperature of any meat, when left to "rest," will not only let the juices be reabsorbed but raise the internal temperature. Even a small steak or single piece of chicken will rise at least 3-4 degrees, while a larger cut of meat, like a large roast or turkey can rise as much as 10-15 degrees. So while the USDA recommends 145 degrees, many chefs like Bourdain, Keller, and Ruhlman recommend internal temperatures of about 135 degrees and letting it rest 10 minutes, to create perfectly moist, delicious, and safe pork. 

Don't believe me? Try Ruhlman's excellent recipe for "Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Garlic, Coriander, and Thyme." Pan roasting is the combination of two dry-heat techniques: saute and roast. Meat is first seared on the stove in a saute pan, then is turned and finished in the oven. Keep in mind that you will need a heavy oven-safe pan. I like to use my cast-iron frying pan. Love that pan! This is my new "go-to" recipe for pork tenderloin which can be successfully altered with different herbs and spices. It's a fabulous technique and the results are quick and delicious! Roasted vegetables make the perfect accompaniment.


Pan-Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Garlic, Coriander, and Thyme

Serves 4

Ingredients:

One 1 1/4 pound pork tenderloin
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a mortar with pestle or on a cutting board with a pan, or roughly chopped with a knife
1 teaspoon canola oil
4 tablespoons/55 grams butter
3 garlic cloves, partly smashed with the flat side of a knife to open them up but not flatten them
3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/2 teaspoon picked thyme
Zest from 1 orange

Directions:

About 1 hour before cooking the pork, remove it from the refrigerator and season it with salt and pepper and the coriander seeds. Pork tenderloins have one end that tapers. Consider folding the tapered end over onto the meat and tying it with butcher's string so that the tenderloin has a uniform thickness. (I tied mine.) Alternately, you can leave it as is (it will be medium-well done by the time the tenderloin is medium-rare), or you can cut off the end and save it for another use.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C/gas 4.

Put an ovenproof saute pan that's large enough to contain the tenderloin over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, lay the tenderloin top-side down in the pan. Let cook, without moving it, until it is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. (It took about 3 minutes for me.) Add the butter, garlic, and thyme sprigs to the pan. Turn the tenderloin.


When the butter has melted, spoon it all over the tenderloin and slide the pan into the oven. After several minutes, remove the pan and baste the tenderloin.


Squeeze it. It should still be fairly squishy (rare). Return it to the oven for another few minutes. Baste again if you wish.

Remove the tenderloin from the oven. The total cooking time should be about 10 minutes. The tenderloin should still be somewhat pliable but beginning to show signs of firmness. If you must, check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer; it should be between 130 and 135 degrees F/54 and 57 degrees C. (I must, and I pulled it out at 135.)


Baste the tenderloin again, add the thyme leaves to the butter in the pan, and set the pan aside for 10 minutes.


To serve, cut the tenderloin crosswise into slices about 1/2" thick. Drizzle some of the herbed basting fat over the slices and sprinkle some orange zest over the top before serving.

Recipe from Ruhlman's TWENTY, by Michael Ruhlman.