Archive for March 2012


Stuffed

March 22nd, 2012 — 3:00pm
ancho chile relleno

Ancho Chile Relleno

We recently returned from a trip to Santa Fe which included a bit of sightseeing, a lot of snow, and a large amount of eating and drinking. With all the restaurants in Santa Fe it is pretty easy to eat out for every meal and find some incredibly good food without having to repeat a restaurant. We opted to have breakfast and lunch out and spent the evenings cooking in. We had access to a very large kitchen and close access to an extensive wine cellar. There was no apparent reason to navigate the winding roads of Santa Fe at night with such culinary potential close at hand.

We spent one morning and early afternoon at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. We opted for a three hour hands-on cooking class in “rellenos” or more specifically chile rellenos. There were four types of chile rellenos to prepare, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, ancho chile rellenos, the classic chile rellenos, and chiles en nogada. I had never used dried chiles for purposes of reconstituting and stuffing. As the class split into recipe groups we chose the ancho chile rellenos.

stuffed pickled jalapenos

Stuffed Pickled Jalapenos

I am always a bit loathe to take these types of classes especially on cruise ships or trendy vacation spots. Typically the class turns into more of a comedy routine and you really do not learn anything except the chefs usually do not really know what they are talking about. In this case the chef, Deena Chafetz, was entertaining and full of useful information. She was especially helpful in the basics of cooking at a high altitude; recipes using liquids tend to cook a bit slower (especially beans) and recipes with leavening have to be adjusted. She was also especially good at letting the participants have their way with a recipe without too much interference except when asked. I especially liked the large plastic bin in which you put all your dirty pots, pans, and utensils. But as Chef Chafetz pointed out they do not work so well in your own home. Unfortunately such bins do not automatically clean the dishes. Rats!

I recently recreated two of the recipes at home; the stuffed jalapenos and the ancho chile rellenos. As with every recipe I had to tinker with it a bit. I substituted ricotta cheese for the cream cheese. I felt the cream cheese was just too sweet to be used with the pickled jalapenos. And the ancho chile relleno was adjusted using some cinnamon and nutmeg to give it more of a Mexican flavor than a New Mexican flavor. As people in Santa Fe continuously point out Mexican and New Mexican cooking are entirely different. (OK, I get it! Geesh!) The original recipes are included with a tip of the hat to Chef Chafetz, and Chef Noe Cano who cooks incredible beans (which we used at the cooking school) and who also made the dirty dishes miraculously disappear into some unseen section of the kitchen. If only he could do both at my house.

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What Happened to Winter?

March 15th, 2012 — 2:58pm
broccoli seed pods

If You Can't Eat Them Arrange Them

Since the winter solstice we have had very little weather resembling winter. There were a few nights when the temperature dropped into the mid-twenties. But we never had one day where the temperature stayed below freezing for the entire day. This is quite unusual even for Dallas standards. Usually we get a string of a few days where the temperature hovers just below the freezing point.

The warm weather led to some unusual happenstances. First our broccoli grew like gangbusters only to go straight to blooming instead of forming edible flowerets. This was a boon for the bees that never actually got a chance to hibernate this year. We let the broccoli flower and ultimately it led to the stalks offering up seed pods. Something I did not know broccoli was capable of forming. So as not to be a total loss I made an arrangement of them for the table. If we were not going to eat the broccoli we were at least going to look at it while eating dinner.

meyer lemon in bloom

Meyer Lemon in Bloom

The warmer weather also allowed us to keep a handful of Meyer lemon fruits on the tree throughout the winter. Usually a prolonged cold snap finishes of the fruit and we have to hope that the spring will bring more blooms and more fruit by the end of summer. Unfortunately the heat of the summer is not so kind to the Meyer lemon tree. If you do not get a good batch of winter fruit you are pretty much out of luck. Not only do we have some fruits for harvesting in a few weeks, the tree is also in full bloom, making the backyard smell wonderful and keeping the bees buzzing around.

migrating cedar waxwings

Migrating Cedar Waxwings

Finally I went out to the garden, which already has tomatoes and peppers planted in it, and discovered that the cedar waxwings are migrating about one month early this year. They fly up on the warm southern winds from Mexico and places south stopping to eat all the red berries off the holly trees. You are lucky to see them migrating at all as they can pretty much blow through an acre of holly bushes in about 30 minutes. But there they were, a big group of happy, fat cedar waxwings on their long trek to Minnesota or points north. I guess we can assume that this winter is over for good.

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Milanesa Without The Pounding

March 9th, 2012 — 10:07am
chicken piccata

Chicken Piccata

In one of my recent forays into the local Mexican market I came across chicken described as “Milanesa.” It made my heart soar. This is not because I am especially fond of things from Milan or the Milanese style. Milanesa in Latin America refers to a fillet of meat, pounded very thin, breaded, and then fried with a crispy outer coating and a very tender piece of meat in the middle. This style of cooking can also be referred to as schnitzel, cutlet, cotoletta, scallopine, and escalope depending on the cuisine. Whatever they are called it is a great way to tenderize a tough piece of meat and cook it evenly, retaining moisture.

chicken milanesa

Magic Chicken Milanesa

The only thing that precludes me from making these more often, especially the chicken version, is finding a way to pound the meat to an even thickness. I seem to have less trouble with beef or pork pounding. Chicken pounding on the other hand seems to present me with a few problems; especially the breast meat. So when the Mexican market offered me pre-pounded chicken breasts I was all in, even though it costs about 50 cents more per pound.

With just the two of us two pounds of flattened chicken breasts can go a long way. So I set up shop and cut the breasts into smaller portions, breaded and fried the whole lot in one session and froze the par-cooked breasts so that they could be used later. The first night was for chicken parmigiana. A couple of weeks later it was chicken piccata. You should note that the quick breading and browning will not cook the chicken thoroughly. So finishing in the oven with some cheese on top for the parmigiana or finishing in the skillet with some butter, lemon, chicken stock, and white wine for the piccata is essential to not ending up in the emergency room.

Now that I have found my “Milanesa” for chicken I am hoping I can convince the Mexican market to offer the same version in pork and maybe beef. For a few dollars more per package it is clearly worth it.

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