Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chile Rellenos - A Labor of Love

Chile Rellenos have to be one of my favorite foods. It is time intensive to make but always worth the effort. The flavor of the Poblano Chiles and the complement of the melted Monterey Jack Cheese offset by the tomato garlic sauce makes it a party in your mouth.

When I buy produce I keep my eye out for Poblano Chiles that are on the larger size and nice and firm. Then I have to make sure when I purchase of them that I will have time within the next few days to make this recipe.

I typically purchase six to eight Poblano Chiles at a time to make it more worth the effort. In order to peel the skins nicely from the chiles, I roast them Italian-style. I set the oven to 400 degrees. Then I wash the chiles, dry them, place them on an oiled cookie sheet and rub oil on each one. I place them in the oven for about 20-30 minutes - turning them occasionally to blister them evenly. When the skins seem to be bubbling away from the chile, I remove them from the oven, place into a large brown paper bag, close it and let sit for 20 minutes.

As I wait, I start setting up the next part of the process - setting up the souffle batter and frying oil. In a pie plate, I mix 1 cup of unbleached flour, 1/2 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. I separate 4-6 eggs (depending on the egg size) and place the whites in a medium-sized bowl for beating. I keep the yolks to the side at the moment and hold off on whisking the egg whites just yet.

I empty two, 15-oz cans of chopped tomatoes into a saucepan and add half a chopped onion, two cloves of garlic, 2 teaspoons of oregano and some salt and pepper. I set this on the stove with the burner set to medium low. I will let this sauce simmer while continuing with the recipe. I set up a large, deep-sided skillet (about three inches deep) and fill it about an inch deep with vegetable oil. Lastly, I shred 2 cups of Monterey Jack cheese and set aside.

With everything setup, I return to the chiles. I cut the bag down one corner and around the bottom to have a flat surface in which to peel and seed the peppers. If the peppers have roasted long enough and steamed in the bag nicely, the skins will be a thin film that can be easily pulled off each chile. As you peel the chiles, you want to be careful that you don't tear the flesh underneath or pull out the stem. When they are each peeled, you then make a slice on one side, carefully open the chile and slice away the seed ball again trying to keep the stem intact. If you have extra seeds in the chile, you can gently rinse in cool water. [Be careful after doing this to avoid touching your eyes. You never know if one of the chiles is spicy.]

I turn on the oil to get it ready to fry the chiles. Using an electric beater, I whisk the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. I stir up the egg yolks and gently fold them into the egg whites until they are well mixed. Next, I fill each chile with shredded cheese. They will be of varying sizes so I do my best to fill them equally. I sprinkle a pinch of flour over the oil and if it sizzles I start coating each chile with flour, gently coating them all over - even taking care to get it around the stem well. Next I put a chile into the souffle batter and gently placed it in the hot oil. I repeat this process fitting four chiles into the pan and cook on each side until the batter is golden brown.

When the chiles are cooked, I remove them to a separate plate with paper towels. I puree the tomato sauce in a blender and remove the oil from the pan. I let the pan cool slightly and then quickly add the tomato sauce and pop a lid on top. There will be a whole lot of spattering so the lid helps keep the mess down a bit. When the bubbling has died down, I add each battered chile to the sauce, turn the burner to medium low and carefully turn each chile to make sure they are coated with the sauce. I let this all simmer for a few minutes while I make sure everything else is set up for dinner.

I typically serve the rellenos with steamed rice and warm tortillas. As an extra, you can also fry plantains and/or serve with beans.

Pork Chops with Fried Rice

I love buying pork chops in the Mission District because you can get them cut real thin. The thinness of the cut allows you to cook them fast but without the worry of the center being raw.

I set up the pork chops to fry them. I dip each of them in an egg wash and coat them with breadcrumbs. Then I set them aside and let them dry a bit before frying them.

For a side dish, decide to make an Americanized fried rice with some leftover rice. I also had purchased some small pale - almost white - chiles in the Mission as well. I have used them before and they have a mild flavor. I take three of the peppers; de-seed and de-vein them then cut them into small pieces. I heat two tablespoons of oil in a skillet and saute the peppers with two chopped scallions (including the green tops). When the scallions are a bit wilted, I add the rice (about two cups worth) and when it is heated through I add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of water. Finally, I add a pinch of smoked salt (a Rainbow Grocery find) and 1 cup of frozen corn, cover it, turn the burner very low and then let it steam.

Next, I heat about three tablespoons of oil in a skillet and when it is hot, I fry the pork chops so that they are crisp and brown. When fully cooked, I serve a pork chop with a bit of the fried rice. The grilled frozen corn and smoked salt add the perfect hint of smokiness to the rice. All together it took about forty minutes to cook this dinner.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Falafels - Middle Eastern Fast Food

I always enjoy a good falafels and it is really disappointing when you get one that is dry and overcooked. If you are not familiar with falafels - they are a made from garbanzo beans primarily with spices added and the mixture is fried.

For an instant dinner, I purchased falafel mix from an organic food store called Rainbow Grocery. With the mix, I merely had to add the requisite amount of water, whisk it up and form my falafels. Since they only take a few minutes on each side, I left them to dry while I made a side salad to compliment them.

I chopped 1 fresh tomato, 1/2 yellow bell pepper and two scallions. I tossed this in 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar with a bit of salt and pepper. Another short cut for this meal is that I purchased some tzatziki sauce, which is actually a Greek side/dip made with yogurt, cucumber and garlic or dill.

After setting up the salad and putting everything out on the table, I heated the oil in a skillet to fry the falafels. I cooked them about 2 minutes per side and then served everything up quickly. If I had planned a bit better, I would have had some pita bread on hand but they were very tasty even without the bread.

If you ever want to make falafels from scratch rather than a mix, I have listed a recipe I found online below;

1 cup dried chickpeas or 16 oz. can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons flour

Turkey Meatballs and Fried Polenta

Sometimes I buy pre-packaged meatballs but really there is no substitute for freshly made ones. There actually isn't much difference between meatloaf and meatballs except shape, so if you mix well and don't overcook your meatballs will be light and fluffy.

Mix the following ingredients together;

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped spinach
  • 3 large, cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 2 pounds of ground turkey
Dig your hands in to mix all the ingredients well as with the meatloaf, if you mix it well and get enough air into it they will be light and fluffy. Form the mixture into 1 1/2 inch diameter meatballs. (You are free to make them larger or smaller as you prefer or time allows.)

Pour enough oil into a heavy skillet to coat the bottom; heat over medium-low heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and fry until brown and cooked through, turning frequently. Approximate 10-15 minutes per batch. If serving with pasta sauce, undercook ever so slightly and add the meatballs to a pot with marinara sauce (about 2-4 cups depending on your party size - I sometimes freeze half of them for another night) and turn the heat to simmer.

Typically these are ideal served with rice or pasta. However, since I made polenta last night and pressed the leftovers into a bread pan. I am going to slice the polenta and fry the pieces. So as your meatballs are simmering, grab another skillet and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Remove the polenta from the bread pan and make about half inch slices. Gently add to the hot oil but have a lid handy as the water in the polenta will cause the oil to spatter. It can be very uncomfortable getting spattered with minute dots of hot oil but also it is very messy.

As a side vegetable, I merely boil some organic peas. Your side really should be whatever you have handy and like.

Polenta to Keep You Warm in the Cold Summer Nights

I have been craving warm and creamy polenta since San Francisco weather has been colder and foggier than is even typical in July and August. So believe it or not, summertime in San Francisco is the time for comfort foods.

I decide to repeat a recipe from just a few weeks ago marinated chicken. I cook this part of dinner first since the meat cooks quickly and marinates after you broil it. The polenta will be quick but will require constant stirring. It will give the chicken plenty of time to marinate nicely.

I decide to round out the meal with steamed zucchini which will cook very quickly once the water boils. For now, I merely cut bit-sized pieces of zucchini and set up in the steamer. I won't turn it on until I have about five minutes left on the polenta.

Polenta is fairly neutral - a cornmeal mush really - but with a bit of butter and cheese added becomes a rich, creamy side dish. In a large, heavy kettle boil 6 1/2 cups of water. As it starts boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt and turn the burner to medium low heat so that the water is just simmering. Add two cups of coarse-grained cornmeal in a fine stream - so that you can really almost see eat grain hitting the water - stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring while adding all the polenta and then for the next 20 minutes. (Remember in the last five minutes turn on the burner under the zucchini.) The polenta is done when it tears away from the sides of the pot as you stir. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

The marinated chicken is a bit sweet; the polenta is creamy and cheesy; and the zucchini is completely neutral. Together they complement each other nicely and satisfy the craving for comfort food - bonus dinner took less than forty minutes. There will be quite a bit of polenta leftover, put it into a bread pan and refrigerate. In this shape you can easily slice and fry the polenta which is what we will cover next.

Meatloaf Rediscovered

I grew up insisting that I didn't like meatloaf but that was after trying it just once at the age of six. The memory of rubbery ground beef slathered with ketchup lingered for decades until I finally decided to find a recipe to that would replace it. It is great to have another option with ground beef.

This is another stand by recipe from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. (pg 495) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then the first step is to soak 1/2 cup of plain breadcrumbs in 1/2 cup of milk. Since it takes about 5 minutes for the crumbs to soak up the milk, I use that time to gather all my ingredients.

  • 2 pounds of ground meat (I typically use beef)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan/reggiano mix
  • 1/4 cup minced, fresh spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 small carrot finely grated
  • Pinch of dried sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Once the breadcrumbs have fully soaked up the milk, I just throw in all of the above ingredients, take off my watch and rings, and use my hands to mix all the ingredients together. Mixing it well and getting a bit of air in there makes the meatloaf light and fluffy.

When the ingredients are mixed, I then place them in an 11x13 baking dish and shape into a loaf in the middle of the pan. Doing this rather than baking it in a loaf pan allows the grease to roll off a bit rather than just cooking in it. Place it in the oven and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, basting it occasionally. When it is done, the meatloaf will be browned and firm to the touch. If you have a meat thermometer, insert it in the middle of the loaf it should read 160 degrees.

While the meatloaf is baking, I set up about 10 small potatoes to boil for mashed potatoes. I prefer new potatoes because you don't have to peel them. I usually give myself about 20 minutes to cook the potatoes and mash them so I don't start them right after putting the meatloaf in the oven. When the potatoes are cooked, I drain most of the water - just leaving a few tablespoons - I add a couple of tablespoons of butter, a couple of tablespoons of milk, a heaping spoonful of yogurt and mash them with a hand masher. The only other addition is boiling some frozen organic green peas.

A tasty meatloaf is comforting and warming meal. The mashed potatoes and peas round it out but options are serving the meatloaf with a nice side salad.


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