Sunday, January 25, 2015

quesadillas

In an effort to incorporate even more cheese into my diet, I had a couple of quesadillas for lunch.  I like that quesadillas are pretty easy to make but allow you to incorporate some interesting flavors.  I remember as a kid it was easy to make a quick snack with a couple of tortillas, cheese, and whatever random meat there was leftover in the fridge.



Today I made a couple of quesadillas with different fillings.  The first is epazote, an herb with a somewhat lemony pungent herb quality that goes well with cheese.  The second quesadilla I decided to fill with chorizo and mushrooms.


The epazote quesadilla was very straightforward: cheese and herb in between two tortillas on a hot skillet.  I flipped a couple of times until the cheese melted and they were ready to eat.  Tasting this made me think that I need to try more types of herbs as a fillings, maybe tarragon or thyme.



The next quesadilla had a couple extra steps.  I began by frying chorizo with garlic and onion in a pan.  After cooking for a few minutes, I added sliced mushrooms.  They cooked in the fat that rendered from the chorizo for about five minutes, until they lost some moisture and got meatier.


These quesadillas were definitely much more dense than the previous ones.  The chorizo and mushroom are a great combination with the cheese.  I would probably like to incorporate even less chorizo in this and just let the mushrooms shine through a bit more.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

sweet sweet corn

It is that magical time of year where sweet corn is at its best and I just want to eat it all the time. I picked up a dozen at the Geneva farmers market over the weekend and was excited to eat it. Since corn chowder is one of my favorite soups, I could think of no better way to use it up. I also decided to try something out and make an horchata with sweet corn or what I like to call cornchata :).

I started by making a corn stock which will serve as the basis for both the soup and the drink.  I shucked the corn, discarding only the outer husk and silk.  I set aside the more tender and juicier inner husk which will be part of the stock as well.


I then removed the kernels from each ear of corn.  The corn was so fresh and sweet I found myself just snacking on the kernels as I prepped.  I had to put it away so I could still have enough left for dinner.


To make the corn stock, I placed all the cobs and husks in a large pot and covered with water. I let this come up to a boil, then lowered and simmered for an hour.


This is what the stock looks like after an hour.  It has a yellow and slightly milky quality to it.  The whole kitchen smelled amazing by the time this was done. 


I first got to work on the chowder.  For this I used(more or less):
 1/2 a pound of bacon
3 poblanos, chopped up
1 onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 yellow potatoes, diced
6 cups corn kernels
4 cups corn stock
2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp of corn starch
salt & pepper


I first fried the bacon to render out some of the fat.  All of the additional ingredients will be fried in the fat as I didn't use butter for this recipe.


After removing the bacon, I added the onion, celery, and garlic and fried until softened. I then poured the corn and chicken stock into the pan along with the potatoes and half of the corn.  I let this simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes softened slightly.  I added a slurry of the milk and corn starch and using a stick blender I slightly pulsed the mixture to break up some of the potatoes and corn.  This along with the corn starch will help to thicken the mixture. 


I added the remaining corn kernels and poblanos and let it all simmer together for about 15 more minutes.  Below is the finished product.  I was worried it would not have much flavor since it was pretty white after adding the milk, but simmering the remaining kernels seemed to bring it around.  The soup was delicious, slightly spicy thanks to the poblano and the kernels still had a sweet snap.


On to the cornchata! I began by taking 4 cups of corn kernels and letting it sit in the hot corn stock for about 30 minutes.  The ratio I used was 1 cup of kernels for 1 cup of stock. I then added a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon and began to blend.  I was eventually going to strain the mixture through a cheesecloth so I made sure to blend for a while so I could make sure to get as much corn liquefied as possible. It was at this point that I added sugar while it was still warm so that it would dissolve.  The finished drink is pretty refreshing and slightly sweet so I did this to taste, I think I added 2 tablespoons of sugar in the end.


After completely blending, I strained through a cheesecloth. After letting it strain for about 30 min I wrapped up the pulp in the cheese cloth and squeezed out as much of the remaining liquid as possible. Below is the finished product, yellow and milky and slightly rich.  This was very refreshing over ice.  I saved some in a jar to try with some booze over the weekend!


Saturday, May 3, 2014

chichilo negro

I have to admit, I have never made mole from scratch and I get asked about from time to time. Meaning "sauce" or "concoction", mole is a laborious dish, involving individual preparation of any combination of chiles, vegetables, spices, herbs, seeds, and nuts which are either toasted, fried, or charred.  These ingredients are then blended together and fried in lard or some other sort of fat and combined with meat broth to coomplete the final sauce.  Though they seem to involve an excessive amount of ingredients, they all meld together to create one unique sauce. I guess it is the complexity of mole that has held me back, but I want to change that.  I want to challenge myself and take the time it requires to make good food. I want to explore and keep learning new things in the kitchen, to really experience these the smells and the sounds of new procedures, and to keep honing my skills.


The recipe I chose to go with to begin my mole journey is from Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking. This book is more a collection of family favorite dishes from different regions of Mexico.  Many of these recipes I have never seen, and are specific to each cook. There are various mole recipes with their own variations and special touches. One of my other goals is to work through this book in it's entirety so I'm also glad to get started on that.

The dish I chose is chichilo negro or black beef stew. It is a darker sauce due to the charring of various of the components and it's traditional use of a black chile, the chilhuacle.  I was not able to find this chile, but Kennedy offers guajillos as an option of which there are plenty here. This mole was also interesting in that it uses primarily beef and some pork.


The cut of beef I used was beef short ribs.  The recipe called for either ribs or brisket.  I definitely want to give brisket a shot for the next time I make this. I also used about a pound of cubed pork shoulder meat.  I placed the beef and pork into a large pot with one chopped onion and 1 crushed clove of garlic.  I added just enough water to cover the meat and let it simmer for about 1 hour.  The resulting liquid will be used as the final component in the mole.


My first group of ingredients to prepare were the chile pasilla, chile guajillo, onion, tomatillos, and garlic.  I prepared the chiles by slicing lengthwise and removing all the seeds.  I saved the seeds as these become a component of the sauce itself.  19 dried chiles can be somewhat tedious but I found with each chile, the process became more familiar and seemed to go a bit more quickly. I heated up a wide skillet over high heat to begin toasting the chiles.


The smell of the chiles as they cooked on the skillet was amazing.  It is a smoky fruity aroma that is just every comforting and welcoming.  I tried to get a decent char on each side.  Actually, Kennedy suggests toasting each side of the guajillo until completely blackened.  I didn't take them this far unfortunately and will probably try getting them darker next time.  I would imagine this adds a bit more of a bitter and smoky flavor of the sauce. The chile in the back is the lone pasilla, the flesh got a bit more tobacco brown as it heated up in the skillet.


After removing from the chiles from the skillet, I rinsed them in cold water, then covered them in hot water for 15 min.  They'll soften during this time, so that they can be blended into the mole.


After I was done with the chiles, I added the onion, unpeeled garlic, and tomatillos to the dry skillet. As with the chiles, the goal was to get somewhat of a char on each side. I got a bit impatient during this step but eventually the vegetables got cooked through after several minutes of turning on the skillet.



I first removed the garlic, notice how the skins get black in certain parts.  The clove just slips right out at this point. The garlic was sweet and sticky but still pungent, I kind of wanted to just eat one at that point.  The tomatillos onions softed and got blackened in places.  I wanted to let these go further but was getting some seriously smoke coming from the skillet.  Next time, I'm going to try a combination of cooking in the skillet on the stove top as well as in the broiler to get more of a consistent roast all around.



I saved the seeds from 1 pasilla and 18 guajillos.  It ultimately didn't seem like a lot considering how much seemed come out of each individual chile.  The recipe called for toasting these until black.  New smells came from the seeds as they cooked, nutty and sweet, it almost smelled like bread was baking. On the other burner, I began toasting a tortilla over an open flame.  As the recipe suggested, I let the tortilla burn until flaming and then tossed on top of the seeds in the pot.



I did this with one more tortilla before dousing in cold water. I let this combination sit for about 5 minutes before draining. Considering that this particular mole doesn't have any other nuts, it seems that the chile seeds would serve this purpose.  I was curious to see how this flavor plays out in the final dish. This along with the other previously roasted ingredients are used to start the base for the mole.


It was interesting to find out that there is a specific type of oregano used for this dish that is Oaxacan oregano.  Apparently this is different from Mexican oregano.  Thankfully, the recipe showed an alternate measurement for the latter.  The other spices and herbs I used were cumin seeds, cloves, allspice, and thyme. The recipe also called for marjoram, which I unfortunately didn't have at the time.



I added all the ingredients except for the chiles in a large pitcher and combined using a stick blender. It was interesting to see the sauce at this point.  It was gray, the color of the seeds and tortillas at the time really showed through.



I added the chiles a few at a time and blending in between additions.  I think this is because makes it easier to really grind down the chiles and properly combine them into the rest of the mole.  To loosen the sauce as I blended it, I added a bit of broth from boiled chayote and green beans that are later added to the dish.  Once, all the ingredients were combined, I added a couple of tablespoons of lard to a large pot and fried the mole on high.  I scraped the bottom of the pan to make sure it wasn't sticking. After about 25 min the sauce thickens, and the flavors concentrate.



After simmering for about an hour, the beef was tender and the bones easily slid out.  I set these aside along with the pork to cool down.  I later chopped these into large chunks to be later added to the mole.




The second to last component of the dish is a ball of masa that is first blended with some of the beef broth, then added to the mole. The original recipe calls for masa made from cooking dried corn in water and powdered lime.  I hope to make this at some point, but for this recipe, I used masa harina mixed with water. The masa acts as a thickening agent while imparting some additional corn flavor.   After stirring in the masa and broth mixture, I cooked for 5 min, before adding in the remaining beef broth. I added the beef and pork that I chopped earlier, then simmered for an additional 15 minutes.


I served the chichilo negro with white rice that I cooked in vegetable broth along with boiled chayote and green beans.  The sauce was rich and had a nutty taste to it.  It wasn't as spicy as I had expected, but I still got a good touch of heat at the end.  The guajillos added some degree of sweetness that you sometimes expect in a mole as well. Overal it had a wonderful and complex taste.  I definitely got the roasted flavor, but can see that I needed to do a bit more charring during my preparation.

There were various components to this dish, and I felt it was a good introduction to the process involved in creating a mole. I felt that I learned some things I can't quite pinpoint, maybe it was the patience to prepare each individual ingredient.  I also feel a lot of it was tied to the smells that came from each ingredient, or the way the chiles changed texture when they were being toasted then again after being soaked. I was impressed with the flavor the seeds brought to the dish, it is something I never did before, but can definitely see using from now on. It is one of those things I kind of assumed I knew how it would go, until I actually tried it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

coconut milk braised pork

I love pork and I love coconut so obviously both together would be amazing.  I had a spare can of coconut milk in my cabinet and wanted to use it.  I initially thought of other recipes I've done which basically involve braising pork shoulder in liquid. Most recipes I found seem to incorporate ginger and lemongrass. That sounded good so I went with that. I also wanted it to be fairly spiced with cumin and coriander.


I began by first adding ginger, lemongrass, chile serrano, and garlic cloves to a molcajete.


I smashed all the ingredients together until it formed somewhat of a paste.


These are pork shoulder steaks.  These seemed easier to manage versus a full shoulder for a weekday meal.


Adding salt to the pork steaks before browning in the dutch oven.


After flipping the second steak.  I'm getting better at not checking it and just letting it get nice and brown.


I removed the pork steaks after cooking at set to the side to prepare the rest of the stew ingredients.


I added coriander and cumin seeds and heated through in the remaining oil and pork fat to extract the flavor.


I added my garlic/ginger/lemongrass/chile paste and sliced onion to the porky spices in the pot.


I added the can of coconut milk along with a canful of water and scraped the pork pieces stuck to the pan.
I placed the pork steaks in the coconut mixture then let it boil slightly before covering and braising on low.


The pork was falling apart after a few hours. It was tender and and the coconut came through.


Not wanting to waste the delicious porky coconut goodness, I added kale to the leftover broth.


I broke the pork up into pieces and placed over rice.  I then ladled kale and coconut broth over.  The dish is rich as expected so to counteract that a little bit I squeezed limed juice before serving.  The spices really came through well and I especially the cumin coming through in the coconut milk.