Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cranberries at City Market

If you're looking for fresh cranberries they are now at City Market!! Get 'em while they last! (Remember to buy enough for Christmas, too...they freeze beautifully!)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Welcome, Aztec Readers!

If you've come to my blog after reading my Thanksgiving guide in the Aztec Calendar, welcome!  
(Or should I say, ¡Bienvenidos!)  
I really hope you enjoyed the information.  
(Click here to download it!)


The Thanksgiving Day Meal!
Are you looking for more recipes?  Please check out previous blog posts for my fantastic gravy recipe, as well as some ideas for leftovers

Me with my Turkey!
If you're interested in some information about Mercado de San Juan, please check out this blog post.

Need information on baking at altitude? Check out my Baking at Altitude post and More Details on Baking at Altitude.

Finally, below is the stuffing recipe that was included in the guide.  As always, please email me or leave a comment if you have any questions, ideas or responses!


Traditional Bread Stuffing 
Serves 6-8

"Stuffing" is traditionally the term used for bread stuffing that you put inside your turkey while it bakes, while "dressing" is traditionally the term used for bread stuffing baked outside of the bird.  Old habits die hard, though, so I refer to it all as stuffing.  I do not recommend putting this stuffing into the bird while it cooks as that is generally considered unsafe, given that it is difficult for the stuffing (which will have raw turkey juices incorporated) to reach the appropriate temperature (165 degrees F) by the time the turkey reaches the appropriate temperature and needs to be taken out of the oven.  

2 onions, small diced (or processed in the food processor)
4 stalks celery, including some leaves, small diced (or processed in the food processor)
1 stick of butter (8 Tbsp)
1-2 Tbsp bacon grease (can be rendered from cooking about 1/4 lb bacon)
1 1/2 lb (24 oz) cubes of bread or extremely coarse bread crumbs, based on your preference (either from a box/bag, like Pepperidge Farm brand, or made yourself from loaf French bread)
5 Tbsp dried sage
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 C butter (4 Tbsp)
1/4 C chicken broth (either homemade or store-bought)
4 chicken bouillon cubes
Kosher Salt, if needed

Dice or process the onions and celery.  Melt bacon grease and 1 stick butter in a large sauté pan, then add vegetables and sauté until tender.  (These tasks can be done ahead of time and the cooked vegetables can be stored in the fridge.)

If using fresh bread, cut into desired size (some people like large chunks of bread in their stuffing while others prefer extremely course bread crumbs) and allow to dry overnight or bake in a 350 degree F oven until crispy.

When ready to assemble dish, in a large bowl mix dried bread with vegetables (they do not need to be reheated).  Add sage and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, or in the microwave, heat 1/4 C butter together with chicken broth and 4 chicken bouillon cubes.  Whisk to make sure all the bouillon dissolves.  (Using bouillon cubes instead of more chicken broth allows you to have a concentrated flavor without a lot of liquid.)  Mix butter/chicken broth mixture into bread mixture.  It should not be too wet; add more bread crumbs if needed. 

Transfer to an oven safe casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes.  Serve hot.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Homemade Chicken Broth...The Easier Way...

I had an idea a few weeks ago after I roasted a chicken to make some homemade stock using the carcass.  Of course, the carcass from one chicken isn't enough to make very much stock so I decided to freeze the bones along with some of the onions, carrots, celery, and lemon I had roasted with the chicken and worry about it later.  I put all of that (once cool) in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, put it in the freezer and forgot about it.  A few nights later I used a leek and some mushrooms in a recipe for dinner, but had the green parts of the leek and the mushroom stems left over.  Hmm....I could feed these to the dog (ha!) or throw them away.............OR........wouldn't these add some great flavor to chicken stock?  So into the Ziploc bag they went with the bones and vegetables I'd frozen a few days earlier.  Over the course of a few weeks, and another roasted chicken later, I had a nice collection of bones and aromatics in my freezer bag, including some parsley stems I had decided to save as well instead of wasting.

My bones, fresh water, and all the yummy aromatics!
The beauty of the whole thing came together this afternoon when I was thinking about what to cook for dinner.  I'm going out and leaving the kids here with the nanny, so I thought, hey!  Why not make some chicken soup?  I dumped the bag of frozen ingredients into my stock pot, covered it with a bunch of fresh water, then added some crushed garlic, peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves.  I also added some "mushroom juice", as I call it, which was just the leftover water in which I had rehydrated some dried mushrooms for another dinner this past week.  The mushrooms impart a delicious "umami" flavor into the water that's used to rehydrate them, so I'm glad I didn't throw them away, but rather incorporated that flavor into my chicken stock. 

Once all that came to a boil, I let the stock simmer as long as I could (the longer the better...up to four hours but as little as one hour), during which time I poached some chicken breasts in it, then took them out and let them cool.  I shredded them and set them aside for my soup. 

In a dutch oven, I sweated some finely chopped onion, celery and carrots.  To that I added some dried herbs, salt and pepper.  Finally I tossed in some frozen peas to cook for about a minute.  I strained my homemade chicken stock, then poured the liquid into the dutch oven with the herbed vegetables.  Once it came to a boil, I cooked some very small pasta in the broth, seasoned to taste with more salt and pepper, and added in the shredded chicken to heat up and that was dinner!  Hope you can make this idea work for you, too!

Homemade Chicken Soup
Makes 3-4 quarts stock

For your broth, you'll need:
  • At least two chicken carcasses, raw or cooked, or about 6 lbs of chicken bones
  • Assorted Aromatics, such as onions, carrots, celery (including leaves), lemon, green-parts of leeks, mushroom stems, parsley stems, chopped tomatoes, fennel fronds, etc. (try to remember to save things you might otherwise throw away that could add flavor to your stock)
  • About 1 to 1 1/2 gallons fresh cold water
  • Crushed Garlic (3-4 cloves)
  • About 10 peppercorns
  • 2 Dried Bay Leaves
For your soup, you'll need:
  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, small diced
  • 1 large carrots, small diced
  • 2 celery stalks, small diced
  • 1 Tbsp dried thyme (or other dried herb of choice)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas (you can also use shelled edamame or even frozen corn)
  • 4 oz dried pasta (or substitute cooked rice, cold)
Make your broth:
  1. Put all your saved aromatics (fresh or frozen) in a large stock pot.  Cover with water.  Add garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves (plus parsley stems if they were not included in your aromatics).
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for as long as possible, up to four hours but at least one hour.
  3. If desired, place chicken breasts in simmering broth and poach until internal temperature reaches about 160 degrees F, about 15 minutes.  Remove from stock and allow to cool, then shred and hold until ready to incorporate into soup.
  4. Once stock is finished, strain through a very large strainer into a very large bowl or pot.  (I recommend placing your large bowl/pot in the kitchen sink with the strainer over it in case you spill/splash.  Be careful not to burn yourself!)
While stock simmers (or on another day), make your soup:
  1.  Heat olive oil in the bottom of a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed soup pot over low heat.  Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat (without browning) until soft and aromatic, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add dried thyme, kosher salt and pepper.  Cook for about 5 more minutes.
  3. Add frozen peas and cook until heated through, about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Pour strained stock over herbed vegetables.  (You probably don't need to use all the stock you made.)  
  5. Bring the soup to a boil and add pasta or cooked rice.  If using pasta, boil for as long as the package directions instruct.  For rice, just heat up.
  6. Add pre-shredded chicken and season to taste with more salt and pepper.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What Alaina Had in her Kitchen...Part 2

My Pasta Primavera
There I was again.  It was already nearly 5:30pm and I had no idea what was for dinner.  I noticed zucchini in the fridge and instantly thought.......Pasta Primavera!!!  Primavera means "spring" of course and I was definitely feeling spring and wanting a light tasty dish..........but did I have enough of the other traditional ingredients to make this work?  I found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that looked amazing and had simplified some of the traditional steps, but HARUMPH!  I had no mushrooms.......I hate asparagus (which the recipe called for)...............such as it always goes!  But no fear...I was about to use "What Alaina had in her kitchen"....! (See Part 1 here.)

My strategy when approaching recipes for which I don't have all the right ingredients is just to find suitable substitutes, but more importantly to use up the stuff I have in my fridge.  For the asparagus, I substituted bell peppers (adding more color to the dish was a plus!).  For the frozen peas, I substituted edamame (shelled).  And here was my stroke of brilliance....for the mushrooms, I substituted artichoke hearts.  Artichokes are my favorite vegetable....and I could already taste their flavor in with the other ingredients and the tomatoes.   Oh yum, this was gonna be good.  I decided to cook half of my garlic with the artichoke hearts as that combination just sounded yummy, even though the recipe called for cooking the garlic separately from the mushrooms (for which I was substituting the artichoke).

I'm also one of those people who usually doesn't cook vegetarian meals.  I have nothing against them and usually enjoy them, but many of you know that non-vegetarian spouses usually eat up a vegetarian meal with delight....and then ask "where's the meat?!"  That's my husband.  So I'm delighted to find a way to use up leftover chicken and decided to toss the 2 Cups I had in the fridge in this dish.

When you're using different ingredients than what a recipe calls for, you just have to make sure you read through the method, and make sure the way they're telling you to cook the ingredients makes sense for your substitution.  For instance, in this recipe it called for boiling all the vegetables together, but adding the green beans first, then the asparagus, then the zucchini, and finally the peas.  I knew the bell pepper would take just as long as the green beans, so I added those together in the beginning.  I also knew that the edamame would take much longer to cook than regular frozen peas, so I added those at the same time as the zucchini.  Just take into consideration the characteristics of your particular ingredient substitutions and modify cooking method/duration in accordance with that.

Finally, I'm always looking for ways to minimize the number of dirty dishes, so the recipe below reflects that and uses less dishes than they called for in the original recipe.  Phew!

Hope you guys enjoy this recipe...and have fun substituting in what's in your fridge, too!!  It turned out great...I'll definitely be making this over and over again, and I have to say that the artichoke hearts stood out like superstars in the sauce and totally made the dish.  Good luck! 
Closeup!
Pasta Primavera
Recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Serves 6
  • Table Salt
  •  4 oz Green Beans, cut into 3/4" pieces (I use the haricot verts--which is just a fancy name for thin green beans--found at Costco as the thick green beans commonly found here in Mexican supermarkets are just too stringy.)
  • 1/2 large bell pepper (preferably red, orange or yellow), medium diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, medium diced
  • 3/4 C frozen edamame, thawed
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 6 oz fresh artichoke hearts, sliced thin (I usually buy these off the street--see article--but they're also available at City Market in jars in the produce section.  I would not recommend using jarred/canned artichoke hearts, but if you try it let me know how it goes!)
  • About 3/4 lb tomatoes (preferably plum), peeled using the concasse method (see instructions below)
  •  1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional; since my 3 1/2 year old daughter doesn't love spice, I just added these flakes at the table to my own plate, but their flavor will be much more intensified if you add while cooking)
  • 1/2 C heavy cream OR 1/3 C crema (the only type of cream available here is heavy whipping cream, and I don't love using that in cooking but the traditional Mexican crema is super versatile with a neutral flavor--it's not as sour as sour cream--so you can use it almost any time a recipe calls for heavy cream that is reduced...just don't reduce as long since it's thicker)
  • 3/4 lb dried fettucine, spaghetti, or other long pasta
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • about 2 Cups pre-cooked chicken or shrimp (optional)
  • 1/4 C shredded basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (I buy the real stuff at Costco...it's expensive but worth it!)
  1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat in a large stockpot for pasta.  Bring 3 quarts of water to boil over high heat in a large saucepan for vegetables.  Add 1 Tbsp salt to each pot.  Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside.
  2. Concasse your tomatoes: Prepare tomatoes by removing stem area using a paring knife or a tomato corer.  On the opposite side of the tomato, use a paring knife to cut a shallow, small "X" in the tomato.  Blanch each tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (depending on size), then plunge into ice water bath.  Remove tomatoes and peel skin off starting at the "X" using your paring knife.  Cut peeled tomatoes into medium dice.
  3.  **Please note the following cooking times are adjusted for cooking at altitude.  If you're cooking at sea level, please reference the cooking times in parenthesis.  Add green beans and bell pepper to boiling water in saucepan.  Cook for four minutes. (1 1/2 minutes at sea level)  Add zucchini and edamame and cook for two minutes. (30 seconds at sea level)  Taste vegetables to ensure they are cooked "crisp tender" (or to your liking!), then drain them immediately and plunge into ice water bath to stop cooking.  Let sit until chilled, about 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside.
  4. Heat 3 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat until foamy in now empty saucepan.  Add artichoke hearts and 1 clove minced garlic and sauté until tender and slightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes (if using), reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tomatoes begin to lose their shape, about 5-7 minutes.  Add cream or crema and stir to combine.  If using cream, simmer until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. (There is no need to reduce your crema...add a splash of whole milk if your sauce seems too thick.)  Cover to keep warm and set aside. 
  5. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente while sauce is cooking.  Drain pasta, then (in now empty stockpot) add remaining 3 Tbsp butter over medium until foamy.  Add 1 clove garlic and sauté until fragrant and very slightly colored, about 1 minute.  Add blanched vegetables and stir to coat in garlic butter, then add chicken or shrimp (if using), stir again, and cook until all ingredients are heated through and infused with garlic flavor, about 2 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add pasta to pot with vegetables and meat, then rewarm sauce and add that in as well.  Reduce heat to low.
  6. Toss pasta and sauce with vegetables and meat until well coated.  Add basil and lemon juice, adjust seasonings if necessary and serve immediately, passing cheese separately.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Roasting Peppers or Chiles

Roasted bell peppers are an ingredient that can easily be found in any U.S. grocery store, and even in most Mexican grocery stores.  However, many brands are watered down and don't have much flavor...a far cry from the deliciousness of freshly roasted peppers.  Additionally, many traditional Mexican recipes call for roasted chiles such as poblanos or jalapeños, and those usually aren't sold jarred.  Knowing how to quickly and easily roast peppers is a great skill to have....so I thought I'd teach you how!

Most recipes that call for freshly roasted peppers will have you do them in the oven under very high heat or a broiler, turning every so often until they're charred on all sides.  This is a perfectly viable solution if you don't have a gas stove, but I've always been bothered by getting the oven all hot, getting yet another dish (the sheet tray) dirty, and practically (or literally) burning myself every time I go in to turn the peppers.  Fortunately I do have a gas stove (and nearly all professional kitchens where I've worked do as well), so I've grown to love the ease of roasting my peppers on the stove top.  Here are the steps for doing just that....but if you're roasting in the oven, follow the steps in your recipe and skip to Step #3 below.  Even if your recipe doesn't call for putting the peppers in a covered bowl before peeling, do it anyway because it makes the peeling process so much easier.

 
Step 1:  Turn your burner(s)--depending on how many peppers you're roasting--on high.  Place your peppers directly on the burners, in contact with the flames.

My Poblanos on Multiple Burners
Step 2:  Using a long set of tongs, turn your peppers every so often until they are charred and black on all sides.  Don't forget to char the top and the bottom of your peppers as well! 

Yummy!
Step 3:  Once your peppers are charred, place them in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Leave the peppers to cool and continue softening for at least 15 minutes, or until you're ready to use them.  (Sometimes I do this step very early and come back to the peppers hours later.  They'll be just fine.)

Covered in Plastic Wrap, Cooling Down

Step 4:  When you're ready (and wearing a pair of latex gloves if you're working with chiles or just want to keep your hands cleaner), remove the plastic wrap and peel the peppers using paper towels.  The skin should come off quite easily, but don't worry if you can't quite get it all off. 

Peeling...don't forget your gloves!
Step 5:  Using your fingers or a small paring knife, remove the stem of each pepper.  If the skinning process hasn't already split the pepper down the side for you, use the paring knife to make a slit down the length of the pepper and, still using paper towels, remove all the seeds and ribs from the pepper.  (If you are using chiles and want them to be extra spicy, leave the ribs in tact as that's where the heat is.  You should still remove all the seeds.)


Splitting Pepper


Removing Ribs


Removing Seeds Inside


Step 6:  Continue with your recipe, whether it calls for using the peppers whole or slicing/dicing them.  Just remember if you are going to have to use them whole, you'll need to be a little more delicate during the peeling process so they don't rip apart, particularly with thin-walled chiles like poblanos.

Cleaned Chile...no seeds!!

Slicing

Yum!  My favorite recipe using roasted poblanos...Rajas con Crema!
How to use your roasted poblanos?  Just sauté onions and season with garlic, thyme and oregano.  Add sliced poblanos and crema (or heavy cream that you allow to reduce).  Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper and serve over tacos or fajitas!!  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pot Roast in Mexico

As an extension to my previous post titled "Meat in Mexico: Beef", I have received several follow-up questions via email asking for some more specific information.  Here's a question about pot roast.

Alaina,

Any suggestions on what cut I should use for a pot roast?

As you pointed out, most of the cuts here are too lean to cook for 5-6 hours and they end up too dry. I've resorted to using bone in rib-eye, but I'd prefer an actual roast (or something close to it).

Thanks,
M.D.
/tbody>
By far my favorite Mexican cow...I don't know that many...

As you may know, cuts from the chuck, or the shoulder, of the cow (diezmillo) are best for pot roasts. Popular options are chuck-eye roasts or top blade or cross-rib roasts. You can also use cuts from the round, or the rear, of the cow (tapa), like top or bottom round. The front and the back of the cow are the most used muscles and therefore have the most flavor. These cuts also generally have a lot of marbling and collagen, which of course turns to gelatin during "low and slow" moist cooking and turns your meat wonderfully tender.

But as you know, it's hard to find these cuts in the regular supermarket in Mexico City. There are a few options to get the cut you want. I haven't been happy with the cuete en trozo either because its so lean, but at most places you can ask the butcher to cut it for you, leaving a bit more fat on it.

Alternatively, and my preference to be honest, is to shop at Costco.  Sometimes I feel like it's cheating, but oh well...I'm sure we'll be at a post soon where I have no "cheating"; option so I'll take it while can. At any rate, I buy the large cuts of meat they have, sometimes labeled as chuck or round, but also look for the Spanish words: diezmillo, tapa (which means both round and top round), or cuete (bottom round). I cut roasts out of it myself at the weight I want, leaving all the fat on it that I want!

Finally, if you're adventurous, you can actually ask at the regular supermarkets for cuts they don't normally display, diezmillo en trozo or tapa en trozo, indicating the number of kilos you want. Obviously, as in the States, it depends on the butcher's mood if they decide to accommodate you but if you're persistent I think you'll be successful....at the very least they will accommodate you at a place like City Market.

Anyone else have experience with special ordering from supermarket butchers? Please let us know where you've been successful.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tex-Mex Overseas

[I wrote this post for The Hardship Homemaking blog, for which I am an occasional contributor and thought some of you might like to see it.]
 
As many of us who have moved around the world know, "Tex-Mex" is a uniquely American idea. 
Photo by Daniel Castro
Granted, there are some faint similarities to real Mexican food at the local El Torito, and you can also find a lot of familiar dishes in Mexican towns along the border, but Mexican food as we know it in America is definitively not Mexican.


But that's okay!  It's still delicious, right?!? And we still crave it when we're overseas!  And what are we to do when we can't find our trusted Old El Paso products on the grocery store shelves?  Well, we improvise, of course, as always....

I heard the funniest story from my friend Katie who tried making her favorite Tex-Mex meal in Germany...

"It was kind of a hilarious disaster. I wanted to make spinach enchiladas. I knew I could find spinach and cream cheese, but salsa, enchilada sauce and tortillas were a tough task to tackle. I found some tortillas in a can (desperate homesick times call for...) and decided to make my own salsa. I *did* see some Old El Paso enchilada sauce at the market, but it was selling for 6.99 euros a can! No way, man. I decided to reconstitute some dried adobo peppers I had, chop those finely and toss it in a pan with some tomato sauce, water/broth and cumin, salt and pepper. I simmered it for a while until it had reduced a bit and decided to hope for the best. Once assembled, baked and out of the oven, hubby and I took the first bites. He put on a brave face and attempted to power through. I casually mentioned that we still had a Dr. Oetker pizza in the freezer...and he seemed pretty relieved. We didn't attempt Tex-Mex again!"


But for me, "no Tex-Mex" for the rest of my life in the Foreign Service is not an option!  So here are a few "from scratch" recipes you can employ to satiate those cravings.  Obviously not all the ingredients can be found everywhere in the world, but I've provided some substitution ideas and for some of the ingredients, hopefully you can plan ahead with your consumables shipments to be ready for Enchilada or Taco night!

Homemade Salsa
Yields about 2 Cups

  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes (preferably Roma/Plum Tomatoes if available, which will equate to about 8 tomatoes, or any other fresh tomato or drained and diced canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 oz (about 2 Tbsp) minced jalapeño or other chile of your choice (preferably fresh, but canned or jarred will work as well)
  • 3 oz (about 1/2 small) minced red or white onion (you can use yellow onion if that's all you can find)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro (sometimes called fresh coriander or coriander leaves; either omit if you can't find it or you can use flat-leaf parsley for a slightly different flavor but still a fresh taste.
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes, depending on size)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  1. If desired, remove the skin from your tomatoes using the "concasse" method: Boil about two cups of water in a small saucepan.  Remove the tomato stem and cut a small "x" in the other end of the tomato using a paring knife.  Place tomatoes in boiling water for about one minute.  Peel skin off with the help of your paring knife, starting at the "x" where the skin should have started to come away from the flesh of the tomato.
  2. Cut tomatoes in half around their "equator" and remove seeds using your finger or a paring knife.  Dice tomatoes.
  3. Combine diced tomatoes with the rest of your ingredients.
  4. Refrigerate for several hours, allowing the flavors to develop.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary before serving.

    Check out this previous blog post for a recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Salsa!
Homemade Enchilada Sauce
Recipe by Emeril Lagasse from www.foodnetwork.com, with substitution/gluten free notes by Alaina Missbach
Yields about 2 1/2 Cups of Sauce
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil (or any other high smoke point oil, which excludes Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 1 Tbsp flour (**see gluten-free idea below)
  • 1/4 C chili powder (bottled, or made by toasting dried chiles of choice in a dry skillet, removing stems and seeds, and then grinding in a spice grinder)
  • 2 C chicken stock (canned/boxed or homemade, or substitute vegetable stock)
  • 10 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil, then add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add chili powder and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add stock, tomato paste, oregano and cumin.  Stir to combine.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low (maintaining a simmer) and cook for 15 minutes.  The sauce will thicken and smooth out.
  5. Adjust seasonings as desired and serve atop your favorite enchiladas.
**To make this recipe gluten-free, skip the step where you add the flour, simply heating the oil and then adding the chili powder.  Mix 1/2 Tbsp of cornstarch or arrowroot powder into enough COLD water or stock to create a heavy cream consistency.  Once all ingredients are added and the sauce comes to a boil, whisk this starch slurry into the saucepan.  Simmer until sauce has reached your desired thickness, about 3-5 minutes.  If your starch isn't thick enough at this point, add more starch slurry.

Homemade Corn Tortillas

**For flour tortillas, check out this post from the Hardship Homemaking blog: Foolproof Homemade Flour Tortillas.
Photo by Scott Phillips

Recipe by Jennifer Armentrout from www.FineCooking.com
Yields about fifteen 5 1/2" tortillas
  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flour, not corn meal)
  • 1 1/4 C warm water
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • Special Equipment: Tortilla Press or rolling pin
  1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients.  Mix and knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and homogenous.  It should be soft and not sticky, like soft Play-Doh.  If necessary, adjust texture with more water or masa harina.  Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  2. Cut two squares or rounds (at least 8" wide) of heavy plastic (such as from a Ziploc or grocery store bag).  Set a large flat griddle on the stove, straddling to burners, or use two skillets.  Set one burner to medium low and the other to medium high.
  3. Pinch off a golfball-size piece of dough and roll it into a ball.  Cover the bottom piece of your press with one sheet of plastic, place the dough ball in the center, and cover with the other sheet of plastic.  Press slightly with your palm then close the press and firmly press with the handle.  Rotate tortilla and press again, until the tortilla is 1/16" thick.  Alternatively, place first sheet of plastic on your countertop with the dough ball in the center and the other sheet on top, press slightly with your palm to flatten, and then roll out with your rolling pin to 1/16" thick.
  4. Peel off the top sheet of plastic, flip the tortilla over onto your hand, and carefully peel off the other plastic sheet.  (If the tortilla breaks, the dough is too dry; if it sticks, the dough is too wet.  Adjust your dough accordingly.
  5. Lay the tortilla on the cool side of the griddle by quickly flipping your hand over the griddle.  Cook just until the tortilla loosens from the griddle, 15 to 20 seconds.  (If the tortilla bubbles, the heat is too high.)
  6. With a spatula, flip the tortilla over onto the hot side and cook until the bottom is lightly browned in spots, about 20 seconds more.
  7. Flip again so the first side is on the hot part of the griddle and cook until the tortilla puffs in spots and browns lightly on that side, about 20 seconds more.  (If the tortilla doesn't puff, the griddle isn't hot enough, the dough is too dry, or you cooked it too long on the cool side.  Adjust for your remaining tortillas.)
  8. Immediately wrap cooked tortillas in a clean, dry cloth.  Continue pressing and cooking remaining dough.  Once all tortillas are cooked and wrapped in your cloth, let them rest there for 10-15 minutes before serving, during which time they'll steam themselves and become soft and pliable.  You can also keep your tortillas warm in a 200°F oven for up to an hour.
Enchiladas
To make your enchiladas, mix together your choice of fillings (pre-cooked chicken/turkey or ground beef with taco seasoning (see below), onion and cheese; spinach and cream cheese; etc. etc...anything goes).  Fry your tortillas briefly in hot oil, drain, dip into your sauce, fill, and roll, placing seam-side down in a greased baking dish.  Top with your remaining sauce and shredded cheese (if desired), and bake at 350°F until sauce and cheese are bubbly.  Top with sliced scallions and/or minced fresh chiles and serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired.


Other "from scratch" recipe ideas for Tex-Mex:

Tortilla Chips
Simply cut your corn or flour tortillas into strips or triangles (as desired), and fry in vegetable oil heated to 350°F until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  Season immediately with Kosher Salt and cayenne pepper, if desired.  Serve hot.

Taco Seasoning
Recipe from www.allrecipes.com
Yields 1 oz seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container.  Use to flavor sautéed ground beef, onions and garlic (or any other meat) for use in tacos, enchiladas, etc.

Good luck, and let me know how your Tex-Mex experiments go!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Caramelized Onion Tart using White Onions

My Finished Tart...Delicious!
As I've mentioned before, I think we're pretty spoiled here in Mexico in terms of how many ingredients are available to us that we're used to from the States, at least when compared to other places around the world!  But I have still been sad to find the lack of different types of onions!  City Market has a decent selection given that they have cippolini and other small varieties, but it's very difficult to find common yellow onions.  When I see them at Chedraui and Superama, I snatch up as much as I think I could possibly use before they go bad...but I always run out and want more.  And forget about finding really sweet onions, like Vidalias!

Regardless of not having "exactly" the right type of onion, we're fortunate that white and red onions are still pretty versatile.  And I even discovered recently that you CAN get wonderfully delicious, caramelized onions using white onions, so I thought I'd share that process with you.

I found this recipe on FineCooking.com for a Rustic Onion Tart with Olives, Capers and Anchovies that sounded amazing, so I decided to make it for a dinner party we were headed to.  I figured I was going to have to wrestle with the onions since I was using white onions instead of yellow onions and I did, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be and the tart turned out quite tasty.

My Kitchen all prepped to caramelize my onions...
I was using the bread maker to make the pizza dough. 
Can you tell I was having fun?

Here's the thing about white onions vs. yellow onions...they have less natural sugars in them, so that makes caramelizing much harder.  (The definition of "caramelization" is the breaking down of sugar molecules at around 300°F/150°C into many different chemical compounds.  As Harold McGee writes in the bible of food science, On Food and Cooking, "Heat transforms table sugar, a sweet, odorless, single kind of molecule, into hundreds of different molecules that generate a complex flavor and rich brown color."  Caramelization is, in short, absolutely amazing.  We all know how delicious caramel is, and you can make that at home using only sugar and water!  The magic is in those special chemical reactions.)
In the middle of the caramelization process...almost there...

Back to the onion tart recipe...I had to tweak it a little bit.  It calls for heating 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat until shimmering hot.  At that point you add the onions (the recipe of course calls for yellow but I substituted white) and a generous pinch of salt.  You then cook them, stirring constantly, until the onions are golden and softened.  With sweeter yellow onions, this only takes about ten minutes.  I knew it would require a lot more effort with the white onions (and a little bit of cheating), so at the same time I added the onions and the salt I added about 1/2 Tbsp of sugar into the skillet as well. I reduced the temperature slightly (just above medium) and while the onions cooked, I stirred them almost constantly with a wooden spoon.  (If you don't stir, they'll burn.)  As the onions caramelized, much of that flavor was stuck to the bottom of the pan.  I used my wooden spoon to continually scrape up those yummy brown bits, incorporating them back into the onion mixture which helped to evenly caramelize the onions.  (If you have a spot in your pan that is difficult to scrape up, it helps if you gather some onions on top of it, use your wooden spoon to squeeze out some of their juices, and then scrape up the caramelized spot.)  I have to admit, the whole process ended up taking about 35 minutes until I felt my onions were caramelized enough, but when I was finished the onions were incredibly sweet and caramel-ly delicious!  They blended perfectly into this tart recipe, and it was a big hit.  


Assembling my tart before baking. 
Notice the final dark color of the caramelized onions,
located on the blue plate in the middle top.

You can use this method for cooking caramelized onions for any application, whether it be for classic French onion soup, inside a quiche, to serve on top of a sandwich or burger, or even to simply pair with some pan-fried potatoes for breakfast.  Let me know how your caramelized onions turn out, and what you used them in!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cooking at Altitude: A Basic Overview

After my recent article on baking at high altitudes (and its follow-up blog post More Details on High Altitude Baking), I received a lot of good feedback.  I have a feeling that baking and cooking at altitude is just as frustrating for you all as it is for me!
 
But baking is not the only problem we have in the kitchen at high altitudes, is it?  Cooking presents some challenges, as well.  I'm sure many of you have had trouble cooking rice, beans, stews and other braised dishes. Why in the world won’t they turn out the way they usually do?!? Don’t worry…it’s not that your cooking skills are waning! Cooking at altitude needs some adjustments as well, particularly when you are using “moist heat methods”, or cooking in liquid.

Here’s why, and it’s for basically the same reason that we have to modify our baked goods recipes: At high altitudes, there is less air pressure. This diminished air pressure means that water boils at a lower temperature than the expected 212°F/100°C. Because the water boils at a lower temperature, the liquid stays at that lower temperature and these dishes take longer to cook. (Additionally, the liquid evaporates faster than we expect because the boiling point is lower.) The result? Rice is still hard when all the water has been absorbed, beans don’t get soft until you’ve cooked them within an inch of their lives and all the skins have fallen off, and your tough cuts of meat that you are braising take forever and a day to tenderize…all of which are major annoyances! But now that you understand what’s going on in your dutch oven, slow cooker, or saucepot, you can make some adjustments and achieve the results you’re hoping for.

First of all, however, I will start out with the advice than many of you are probably already screaming: use a pressure cooker. Using a pressure cooker is a great way to avoid nearly all the problems with cooking at altitude. I don’t personally have a pressure cooker, but I hear they work great, even cooking foods faster than you can cook them at sea level. The reason is simple. The device doesn’t allow steam (and therefore liquid) to escape below a certain temperature, and this trapped steam increases internal pressure and temperature. Therefore, the ambient air pressure is not an issue. In fact, pressure cookers provide even more pressure than is typically available at sea level, so they provide the exact opposite effect of cooking at altitude. The result is a device that allows the food inside to cook at a highertemperature than the boiling point (usually 250°F/121°C), cooking foods faster and more efficiently.

However, like me, not all of us own a pressure cooker. And I’m always up for a challenge. So here are some tips for cooking foods using traditional moist-heat methods at altitude:

RICE: Most folks who cook rice the way they’re used to end up with dried out, undercooked mess. To fix this, just follow these steps:


Photo Courtesy of supportbiz.com
1. Increase your amount of liquid by about ⅛ to ¼ Cup for every Cup called for. (For example, if you are cooking white rice, your sea level ratio is 1 Cup rice to 1 ¾ Cup liquid. At altitude, you would need to use a ratio of 1 Cup rice to 1 ⅞ to 2 Cups liquid. For brown rice at altitude, use a ratio of 1 Cup rice to 2 ⅝ to 2 ¾ Cup liquid. For wild rice at altitude, use a ratio of 1 Cup rice to 4 ⅛ to 4 ¼ Cups liquid.)

2. Cook your rice longer by about a tenth more time. For example, white rice takes about 15-18 minutes to cook at sea level, but may take 20 minutes or more at high altitude.

3. Adjust as you go by checking the rice occasionally. Add 1-2 Tbsp liquid if the rice is dry but not yet cooked, or cook a few more minutes if the liquid has not been absorbed.

**I have had a lot of luck cooking my rice in a rice cooker at altitude. I simply increase the amount of liquid and let the rice cooker do the rest.

BEANS: Most folks who cook beans the way they’re used to end up with a disintegrated mess where all the skins have fallen off. To fix this, just follow these steps:

**For MORE details on the tips below, check out this previous post.
Photo Courtesy of italophile.com
1. Presoak your beans. You can do this in cold water and it will take 10-12 hours to reach maximum effectiveness, which is doubling the size of your bean. Or, in a saucepot, add your beans to water and bring to a boil. Blanch them for 1 ½ minutes. Turn off the heat and let them soak. It takes 2-3 hours to reach maximum effectiveness, which is doubling the size of your bean.

2. Cook your beans at a lower temperature than the boil. This is always recommended to prevent beans from losing their skin. Your cooking liquid should be at a slow, lazy bubble.

3. Plan for your beans to take longer to cook and be prepared to use more liquid than your recipe calls for. This is inevitable at altitude but as long as you build some extra time into your plan, you should be fine.

4. Add acid, sugar, or calcium. All three of these substances prevent disintegration and loss of skins. Using molasses (a good source of all three), tomatoes (acidic), or hearty greens (calcium-rich) will achieve this goal, but of course these ingredients won’t work with all recipes. Alternatively, add just a touch of vinegar (such as cider or red/white wine vinegar, depending on your recipe) or a tablespoon of sugar to achieve the same results.

5. Don’t store your beans too long before using them. Bean compositions physically change after several months, particularly in warm temperatures and at high humidity and the result is their they will never get as soft as younger beans.

BRAISES: Many folks I’ve talked to have found that braising meat (such as stews, pot roasts, etc.) takes a much longer amount of time than they’re used to, meaning their meat doesn’t get as tender as fast and sometimes their pots are drier than usual. To fix this, just follow these steps:

1. Add about a cup more liquid to your recipe for every quart (4 Cups) of liquid called for. This will help to adjust for the quicker evaporation. Don’t forget to adjust your seasonings to taste.

2. Plan for at least a quarter more time than your recipe calls for, and you’re probably safer if you plan for more than that. It all depends on the cut of meat you’re using so just make sure you start your braises with plenty of time and don’t be alarmed when they don’t tenderize in the amount of time you’re used to.