Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recipe: Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Anytime I lack the time or energy to make a full-on meal, I tend to fall back on pasta. It's quick to make, and even better, nearly foolproof to execute.

Of course, just because it's easy doesn't mean it has to be boring! If you have fresh tomatoes on hand, you can make homemade sauce in less than ten minutes. It'll take at least that long to boil the water and cook the pasta, so why not make fresh sauce instead of opening a jar?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recipe: Beet "Hash Browns"

A somewhat shocking fact: I have never in my life eaten a beet until this week.

Last Saturday, I was intrigued by all the beets I saw at the farmer's market. At one particular stand, they were so ruby red and vibrant that I couldn't help buying a bundle of them. What was I going to do with them? Well, I would figure that part out later.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recipe: Sauteed Beet Greens

I've recently become a big fan of beet greens. I bought a bunch of beets last weekend at the farmer's market, and I was thrilled to find that the greens are just as tasty as the roots - it's so nice to be able to use the beets for one dish and the greens for another without throwing anything away.

Wilted, garlicky greens couldn't be easier to throw together, and are especially good if you have some extra vegetables on hand to throw into the pan. I like to add carrots for a little sweetness, and French breakfast radishes for crunch. (French breakfast radishes are sweet and mild without the acidic tang of traditional radishes - I like them raw, but if you cook them lightly they'll lend a nice crisp texture to a dish like this one.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Recipe: Brown Sugar and Banana Ice Cream

Just a few short weeks ago, I unexpectedly found myself in possession of a "vintage" ice cream maker (read more about that here), and immediately started researching recipes. When I read this article on the ReadyMade website, I knew I'd found a recipe worthy of my first batch of ice cream. The article is packed with great flavor combinations, but I instantly zeroed in on the Brown Sugar and Banana Ice Cream recipe. Anything that's described as "a delightful variation on Bananas Foster" is right up my alley.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I Scream, You Scream...

For most of my life, I never knew it was possible to make ice cream. The prevailing philosophy in my mother's kitchen is, "why bother making it when you can just buy it?"  As a consequence, a gallon of Schwan's mint chocolate chip was far and away the most exotic thing in our deep freeze. Of course, I was a big fan of that ice cream and would eagerly await the one day of each week when the Schwan's truck would stop at our door.  More often than not, my mom didn't want to buy anything and made us hide from the Schwan's man ("Ssshh! Pretend we're not home!"), but occasionally we would get lucky and end up with a stash of frozen treats. Choco tacos, ice cream sandwiches, drumsticks... these were my formative experiences with ice cream.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Recipe: Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Whether they're fried, baked, mashed, or roasted, I think potatoes are the ultimate comfort food.  My longstanding love affair with potatoes stems from my mother, who derives no particular joy from cooking but will make an exception when it comes to potatoes. I remember eating a lot of baked potatoes as a child, but occasionally - and this was a real treat - we'd have them tossed with dried rosemary and roasted until the skins attained a satisfying crunch. Other than peas (yes, really), I think roasted potatoes were my most often-requested dish growing up.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Recipe: Homemade Popcorn

OK, everyone. It's time for a pop quiz... literally!

Raise your hand if you eat microwave popcorn. Don't lie. Do you make it at work? Do you eat it while you watch movies at home? Wait... is there a box in your kitchen cupboard RIGHT NOW? There is, isn't there?

Homemade popcorn is my favorite snack. It's simple, healthy, and almost as fast to make as the microwave variety. Of course, you'll have to give up that gritty, chemical-tasting "butter" that clings stubbornly to your fingers, but you can add almost anything else you like: savory spices, parmesan and herbs, sugar and salt... and you don't even need special equipment. All you need to make your own delicious popcorn is is a heavy lidded pot, a little oil, and some good quality popcorn.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Recipe: Chiles Rellenos stuffed with Picadillo and Queso Fresco

There seems to be a lot of confusion over the proper terminology for the dish I'm about to describe. Is it chile relleno? Chiles relleno? Chiles rellenos? To tell the truth, I don't really know. My high school foreign language experience was limited to four years of German, so I'm far from an expert on proper Spanish conjugation. Mexican cooking, on the other hand, I can handle.

There are just as many variations for making chile rellenos as there are for spelling the name. I've had chile rellenos stuffed with beef, chicken, pork, or just cheese, and I've tasted batters ranging from a soft eggy coating to a crisp fish-and-chips style crust. I'm not a big fan of the fried-egg batter; I like my chiles rellenos to have a light coating with a just a little crunch. The recipe below has a light, crispy crust that comes from whisking the egg white separately, then combining with the yolk to make the traditional egg batter. Dipping the chiles into the flour twice gives you the desired crispiness, while the whipped egg whites keep it from being too heavy.

My favorite chiles rellenos are stuffed with picadillo, a stewed meat dish that usually includes nuts and raisins. I had canned pork from the meat locker in my pantry (occasionally my saving grace on busy weeknights), which I combined with homemade queso fresco, tomatoes, onions, garlic, golden raisins, walnuts, and spices.  You can stuff chiles rellenos with just cheese, but I like a more substantial filling if I'm making them as a main dish.

Recipe: Chiles Rellenos stuffed with Picadillo and Queso Fresco 4 large poblano peppers
1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 of one onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb cooked, shredded pork
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
1 peeled, diced tomato
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne

For Batter:

1 cup corn masa flour (you can use all-purpose if you like, but corn flour tastes much better)
Salt and pepper
2 eggs, separated

For Salsa:

2 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 of one onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
2 jalepenos
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
Juice from 2 limes

Blacken the chiles and jalepenos by placing them directly on the burner of the stove, turning them frequently until the flesh is evenly charred and blistered. Place chiles in a plastic ziploc bag for 5-10 minutes - this will make the skin much easier to peel.

Once the chiles are cool, peel away the blistered skin and make an incision in each, starting just under the stem and ending about halfway down the length of the chile. Cut out the seeds and membrane from the inside with a paring knife, then scoop out any remaining seeds with a spoon. Be careful not to tear the chiles; they will be very delicate.

For salsa, toast 1 tsp cumin in saucepan until it begins to smoke, then add onion, 1 tbsp olive oil, and garlic. Cook until onion begins to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients except the jalepenos and simmer over low heat. Meanwhile, seed and chop the jalepenos. Add them to the pan and continue to simmer until salsa thickens slightly.

In a saute pan, toast walnuts with a little cumin until fragrant. Add the onion and garlic and cook for five minutes, or until the onion softens.

Stir in the shredded meat, tomatoes, raisins, nuts, and spices. Saute until meat mixture is dry, about 10-15 minutes, then remove from heat.

Stuff chiles with cheese, then with meat mixture.

Secure the slits with toothpicks - this will keep the filling inside the chiles while frying. You can remove the toothpicks before serving, so don't worry if this isn't very pretty!

Mix flour with salt and pepper. Dredge each chile in flour, then set aside on a plate.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In a separate bowl, stir egg yolks just until combined. Gently fold yolks into whites, then transfer into a shallow container. Dip floured chiles into egg mixture, then into flour mixture again.

Keep all chiles on a plate until ready to fry.

Heat 1-2 inches of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. If you do this the non-scientific way like me, you can test the oil temperature by dipping a dry toothpick into the skillet - if the oil bubbles around the toothpick, it's ready.

Fry chiles two at a time, turning frequently, for a few minutes each. Chiles are done when the crust is flaky and golden brown.

Drain chiles on paper towels, then remove to a warm oven until all are finished frying.

Serve warm, topped with salsa and crumbled queso fresco.  Serves two as a main course, or four as an appetizer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Recipe: Make Your Own Queso Fresco

I'd like to make a confession: I'm addicted to cheese. Doesn't matter if it's hard, soft, or blue. I love it all. Gruyere, Manchego, Emmental, Brie... the mere utterance of one of these words makes my mouth water. Given my strong affinity for cheese, I decided it was high time I made my own.

Queso fresco, the crumbly cheese that's a staple in Mexican food, literally means "fresh cheese." It's quick and simple to make - the only ingredients you'll need are milk, vinegar, and salt. Get the best quality milk you can find; since the recipe has so few ingredients, the milk's taste will be amplified when it turns to cheese.

At the end of this process you'll have a cup or two or cheese on your hands, and well over a quart of whey. While most people drain the whey down the sink, it can also be refrigerated and used later to make ricotta cheese. You can even substitute it for the water when cooking pasta or bread. It's full of nutrients and protein, so go ahead and save it if you're so inclined.

Queso Fresco
2 quarts very fresh milk
1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt or sea salt
3 tbsp white vinegar

Combine milk and salt in a pan and slowly turn up the heat to avoid scorching. Once milk is at a boil, immediately turn the heat to low and stir in the vinegar. The milk will start to curdle; gently stir with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes until curds are fully developed.

Strain milk into a cheesecloth-covered strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the whey.

Squeeze any remaining liquids out of the cheesecloth.

That's it! The cheese is basically ready to eat now, but if you prefer, you can press it to make it more firm. To do this, squeeze out all liquid and shape the ball of cheese in a bowl, then cover with weighted plates and dishes to press the cheese.

Above: my makeshift cheese weights.

Store cheese in a closed container in the refrigerator.