Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Burn Your Buche and Eat It Too!

Christmas is my favorite holiday! After all, it's the only day of the year that I can splurge with such scrumptious holiday faire such as Boeuf en Croute, Gratin Dauphinois, Chocolate Truffles au Naturel, Seven Layer Jello, and the iconic French Christmas cake "Buche de Noel!" So, why do the French celebrate Christmas with a cake that looks like a log? It actually began as a pagan tradition where the largest log possible (perhaps bearing roots and all) was wrangled inside to provide warmth and blessings on the winter solstice (the longest night of the year). As it burned, the log was pushed deeper and deeper into the hearth to hopefully burn for 12 hours. When the log was finished burning, the ashes were collected for use all through the year. At the time there were strong beliefs that the ashes were magical! Some of the ashes were saved to spread over the fields to ensure a generous harvest, some were used to protect the house from lightning during strong storms, and some were kept to ward off evil!
Booze and fire! What could go wrong?
When Christianity emerged, the Yule log ritual was merged with Christmas and the custom shifted to Christmas Eve. It is rumored that it was Napoleon who spurred the invention of the cake, by outlawing open chimneys in the winter, which he believed was causing disease. Or, perhaps it was the increasing use of small coal stoves as a heat source, which began as a result of wood shortages. Another theory is that it was virtually impossible to drag logs up urban Parisian stairways, if they even had a fireplace. Whichever theory you choose to believe, The Buche de Noel's popularity began in 19th century France and remains an essential Christmas tradition to this day.

This decadent recipe for Buche de Noel is from the brilliant Jean-Christophe Novelli, former personal chef to the Rothschild family and owner of the world renowned Novelli Academy. Who better than a Frenchman to provide an authentic recipe! Don't let this cake scare you. It really is just a simple sponge roulade, filled and covered with buttercream frosting. The recipe calls for chestnut puree, which can be difficult to find in American grocers. You can just omit the chestnut puree, or you can adjust the flavors to your desire, e.g., coffee and Kahlua, almond and Amaretto, cherries and Kirsch, etc. In addition, meringue mushrooms and a snowy dusting of powdered sugar and cocoa make a spectacular presentation!


Buche de Noel

*Get out your kitchen scale! (See Gadgets.)

Ingredients:
For the Cake:
7 ounces/200 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 eggs, separated
8 ounces/225 grams castor/granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I omit.)
6 tablespoons castor/granulated sugar (for dusting tea towel)

For the Filling/Frosting:
1 lb, 5 ounces/600 grams 70% bitter chocolate (or the best quality you can find)
9 ounces/250 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 ounces/140 grams icing/powdered/confectioners sugar
2 ounces/60 grams sweetened chestnut puree (You can omit completely, or alter to your preference, see above.)
5 tablespoons whisky (or whatever you choose)

Directions:
For the Cake:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line a 17x11x1-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cocoa, and salt together in a bowl, set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and half (4 ounces) of the sugar with a whisk until doubled in volume. Add the dry ingredients and fold in. Add the vanilla and cinnamon (if using). The mixture will be very stiff. (I transfer the mixture to the largest bowl I have, so I can use my mixer for beating the egg whites.)

In a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Add the remaining (4 ounces) sugar and whisk until the egg whites (meringue) form stiff peaks.

Stir 1/3rd of the meringue mixture into the egg yolk/cocoa mixture to soften it. Then gently fold the rest of the meringue mixture in two stages, carefully so as to retain as much air as possible.

Spread the mixture into the lined pan and bake for 8-15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Dust a tea towel with the 6 tablespoons sugar and turn the cooked sponge onto it. Carefully remove the parchment paper and quickly roll (long side to long side) the cake up into a log. Although it will seem like a lot of sugar, it makes a lovely crust on the cake. Don't worry if the cake cracks a bit as it rolls up, it will all be covered by the frosting. Set aside to cool before filling and frosting.

For the Filling/Frosting:
Melt the chocolate in double boiler. (If you don't have one, set a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. See Gadgets.)

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and 5 ounces icing sugar together. Add the chestnut puree (if using) and continue to mix to a  smooth, spreadable paste. Gradually incorporate the melted chocolate and allow to cool to room temperature.

Finishing the Cake:
When the sponge has cooled, unroll it carefully. (Again, any cracks don't matter.) Brush with half the whisky (or whatever you desire).

Spread some of the filling evenly over the sponge to within about 2 cm from each edge. Using the tea towel to assist, roll the sponge back up and brush liberally with the rest of the whisky and allow to soak in.

Trim the ends and use these to form branches by placing back onto the log. (You can use some of the buttercream to help "glue" them on.)

Use the remaining filling to generously coat the cake all over. Use the tines of a fork to give a bark effect.

Dust with powdered sugar and cocoa and decorate with meringue mushrooms. Proudly serve with a smile!

Joyeux Noel!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

What's in a Name?

There is no finer roast than Beef Wellington, or is it Boeuf en Croute? This lavish dish consists of a whole beef tenderloin fillet slathered with a sublime mixture of minced mushrooms, shallots, and herbs, (and sometimes pate), a mixture known as "duxelles" in French culinary lingo, then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. It makes an impressive presentation which tastes ever better than it looks! Lucky for me it graced my Christmas table!

The origins of Beef Wellington fall somewhere between fact and fiction. It is standard lore that this elegant entree was named after Arthur Wellesley, who became 1st Duke of Wellington, after defeating Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. It is said that Wellesley had a love of "a dish of beef, truffles, mushrooms, Madeira wine, and pate cooked in pastry." Perhaps that would be something he had eaten while in France,... perhaps Boeuf en Croute? After all, duxelles were reportedly created in 17th-century France by chef Francois Pierre La Varenne and named after his employer, the Marquis d'Uxelles. In addition, wrapping an expensive piece of beef with indulgent ingredients sounds rather French to me. In fact, if Wellesley did create the rage for Boeuf en Croute, of course England would banish the French name and opt for one featuring their national hero.

Another theory is that Beef Wellington originated in Ireland, known as Steig Wellington. Steig meaning steak in Irish, and coincidentally was Wellesley's birth place. New Zealand also gets into the mix, apparently claiming to have created the dish for a civic reception. The funny thing is, there are no recipes for this dish until the 20th-century...and they appeared in America in the 1940s! In the 1960s, Beef Wellington became quite fashionable at American dinner parties thanks to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), which included a recipe for Beef Wellington, not Boeuf en Croute. Hmmm?

Anyway, Beef Wellington may cost a fortune and appear time-consuming, but it is actually quite easy to make! I've made several different recipes over the years, and I've taken all the best components to create what I think is the best version. First, buy the best piece of beef fillet you can find. After all, it is the big ticket item and the star ingredient. In addition, save your money by not using wild or dried mushrooms, use standard cultivated button mushrooms instead. I recommend making the duxelles a day or two in advance, as I think the flavors deepen with time. Then comes the alcohol question. In my mind, it comes down to two, Cognac or Madeira? I choose Madeira. I also embrace the modern addition of a layer of prosciutto to help encase the whole shebang. Easily purchased puff pastry is the final component to create this succulent masterpiece. And finally, with a dish this extravagant, the sides should not be distracting. I serve it simply with pureed potatoes (aka., mashed potatoes) and buttered peas. It is elegant, sumptuous and guaranteed to please!


Beef Wellington (aka., Boeuf en Croute)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the Beef
1 center cut beef tenderloin, about 2 pounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to rub on beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Kitchen twine

For the Duxelles
1 1/2 pound button mushrooms
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots
Leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Madeira
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the "en Croute"
12 paper thin slices prosciutto
1 pound puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for rolling out pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water, for egg wash

Directions:
For the Duxelles
Place the mushrooms and shallots in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat. When melted, add the mushroom/shallot mixture, thyme leaves, and bay leaf, and saute until very tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8-10 minutes. Pour in the Madeira, bring to a boil, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the cream and cook a few minutes more. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Beef
Tie the tenderloin in 4 places to help hold its shape while searing. Drizzle the tenderloin with olive oil and season very generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, sear the beef on all sides. Set aside to cool. When cool, remove the kitchen twine and rub all over with the Dijon mustard. Set aside.

For the "en Croute"
Lay out a long piece of plastic wrap (big enough to encase the beef) on a work surface. Lay out the prosciutto pieces, slightly overlapping, forming a rectangle big enough to encase the tenderloin.


Using a rubber spatula, cover the prosciutto evenly with the duxelles. Season the duxelles with additional salt and pepper.


Lay the tenderloin in the center of the prosciutto/duxelle rectangle.


Using the plastic wrap, pull each long side up and over the tenderloin, then close the ends.


You may have to wrap the whole package with a second piece of plastic to make sure it is secure. Place the whole package on a platter or baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so to ensure it maintains its shape.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of puff pastry to a rectangle about 1/4" thick. Place the puff pastry rectangle on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Remove the beef from the refrigerator, carefully remove the plastic and place in the center of the puff pastry rectangle.


Roll out the second piece of puff pastry, making sure it is big enough to encase the entire tenderloin generously. Brush the bottom margins of the bottom pastry sheet with the egg wash, then drape the second pastry sheet over, pressing the edges to seal well.


Trim the edges to make a 1" border. Crimp the edges with your fingers.


Refrigerate until ready to bake.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the entire surface of the pastry with egg wash and make a couple slits in the top with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the beef reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Remove from the oven and rest at least 10 minutes before serving in slices.

(Perfect! This dish is supposed to be rare!)

Friday, December 13, 2019

Fungus Among Us

What's the best thing about the holidays? My adorable "Meringue Mushrooms." They are super easy and only require four ingredients: egg whites, sugar, chocolate, and cocoa powder! You use plastic sandwich bags to pipe the mushroom caps and stems, which takes a little practice, but you just get better and better as you go. The mushrooms are dusted with cocoa powder at the end, so that diminishes any imperfections. These make excellent gifts, packaged in recycled mushroom containers or in glass jars, and are the perfect companion to Buche de Noel. These go so fast, I usual make several batches throughout the holidays. They are so cute, you have to try it!


Meringue Mushrooms

Makes about 50

Ingredients:

2 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or chips
Cocoa powder, for dusting

Directions:

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. 

In a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and sugar until smooth and glossy, and soft peaks start to form, about 6-8 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a sandwich bag with about 1/2 cup of the meringue. Press the air out of the bag and seal shut. Cut one tip off the bottom of the bag and coax the meringue to that corner. Twist the bag to help hold the meringue in place. With the cut tip close to the parchment, gently squeeze out the meringue to form the mushroom cap. (Don't lift the bag up until the cap spreads out, then lift.) 


To make the stems, gently squeeze and lift, to make a sort of "kiss" shape. Make as many stems as you have caps. Dip your finger into some water, dab any excess water onto a towel, and then smooth out the tops of the caps with a gentle patting motion.  


When your baking sheet is full, place in the oven, and bake until completely dry and easily releases from the parchment. This can take anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on the oven and humidity. If they start to brown, turn the oven temperature down. To check if they are done, try to lift one of the less attractive caps, if it releases easily, then press the bottom of the cap. If it smooshes easily, it's not done. If it's firm, it's done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet.

Now, holding one mushroom cap, gently twist the tip of a small sharp knife into the bottom of the cap. Keep twisting until you have a hole in the bottom, like drilling. Don't press too hard, or you will crack the cap. Repeat with the remaining caps.

In another sandwich bag, place the chocolate inside, do not seal the bag, and microwave 15 seconds at a time, smooshing the chocolate after each interval with your fingers, until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Allow to cool slightly. You don't want it runny. Seal the bag, cut one of the bottom tips, and squeeze a little chocolate into one of the cap holes. Insert one of the stems, point side first, into the cap. Set aside to dry. Repeat with the remaining caps and stems.

Finally, using a fine sieve, dust the tops of the mushrooms with cocoa powder. Admire how cute they are and pop one in your mouth. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Southwest - Part 5, The Grand Finale!

What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie? This traditional dessert of the season originated with the early American settlers of the Plymouth Plantation, who celebrated their first harvest season in 1621 with a three day celebration along with the local native Americans. Although the pumpkins were more likely hollowed out, filled with milk, honey, and spices, and then baked in hot ashes. It wasn't until 1651, when famous French chef Francois Pierre la Varenne wrote La Vrai Cuisinier Francois, which included a recipe for pumpkin pie, did pumpkin pie take its modern form. In 1929, when the Libby McNeill and Libby Company (LM&L) purchased Dickinson and Company, canned pumpkin became readily accessible. Today, LIBBY'S is now owned by Nestle and produces 85% of the world's canned pumpkin!

For my nontraditional Southwestern Thanksgiving menu, of course traditional pumpkin pie is not on the menu. Gasp! Instead, a decadent pumpkin creme brulee served with fresh raspberries is the grand finale! This luscious custard is made with cream, sugar, vanilla, and eggs, and is elevated with the addition of canned pumpkin! It's an unforgettable dessert and unique alternative to traditional pumpkin pie! Bissinger's Chocolate Cinnamon Chile Cake would also be a wonderful addition! Happy Thanksgiving!


Pumpkin Creme Brulee


Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the Custard
1/2 vanilla bean, split
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin (LIBBYS of course!)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the Topping
1/2 cup sugar
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. 

Heat cream, sugar, and vanilla bean until hot, but not boiling to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. 

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks, pumpkin, and vanilla extract until smooth. Strain out vanilla bean from cream mixture. Reserve bean and scrape out seeds. Add seeds back to cream mixture and stir to incorporate. 

Temper the egg yolks by adding just a little of the hot cream mixture to equalize the temperature. This will keep the eggs from "scrambling" when the rest of the hot mixture is added. Then add the rest of the cream and mix well. 

Pour into 6 small ramekins. Place the ramekins in a bain marie (a 2-inch high roasting pan filled halfway up with hot water). 

Bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes until firm, but still a little wiggly in the center. (It took mine a few minutes more). Remove from water and chill 4 hours or preferably overnight. 

Sprinkle sugar onto the tops and using a torch or broiler, quickly brown to caramelize sugar. Garnish with a few raspberries and serve immediately.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Southwest - Part 4

As part of my Southwestern Thanksgiving menu, these "Smashed Candied Sweet Potatoes" make a colorful substitution for the traditional mashed potatoes. Unusual additions like chile powder and red wine vinegar balance the sweetness of the honey. Not only is this a beautiful side dish, it is interesting and addictive! It's almost like dessert! If this fabulous recipe doesn't appeal to you, another option would be Whipped Chipotle Sweet Potatoes.


Smashed Candied Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6

Ingredients:
5 large sweet potatoes (about 3 pounds)
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons Guajillo or New Mexican red chile powder
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roast potatoes until tender, about 45 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Cut in half and scoop insides into a large bowl. Discard the skins. Smash, mixing in remaining ingredients. Place in a serving dish and return to oven to reheat until hot. Serve hot.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Southwest - Part 3

I love it when cranberries come into season! Not only are they a must with your Thanksgiving turkey, they make beautiful displays in hurricane lanterns with candles. One of my favorite brunch recipes is my Cranberry Pear Coffee Cake, as well as this exciting "Cranberry-Jalapeno Chutney." This recipe utilizes jalapenos for a touch of heat, golden raisins for added sweetness, crystallized ginger for zing, and a splash of lime juice to counteract the sugar. If you are afraid of the jalapenos, just remove the seeds. It is the perfect addition to my Southwestern Thanksgiving menu, alongside Stuffed Turkey Rolls with Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing and Pecan Mole Sauce. Easy, delicious, and beautiful!



Cranberry-Jalapeno Chutney

Serves 6

Ingredients:
4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, roughly chopped
2 fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Directions:
Combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat until cranberries are tender and chutney has thickened. Taste; if too tart, add more sugar. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve as a garnish for the Stuffed Turkey Rolls. This is also great served with pork tenderloin or roasted turkey.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Southwest - Part 2, and the Disappearing Table!

It's no secret that my mother was a terrible cook! Nor did she cook often. In fact, I only remember one Thanksgiving that she attempted to make herself. It was a small affair because my father, who was Chief of Surgery, always worked on Thanksgiving so he could spend Christmas at home. I remember sitting with my brother and sister at our formal dining table from Italy, which consisted of a cast iron base and an inch thick beveled glass top. While we sat there horsing around, my mother brought in the piping hot turkey in its roasting pan, sat it on the corner of the table, and promptly returned to the kitchen to get the remaining dishes. One minute later, the entire corner of the table cracked and fell to the ground, turkey and all! My siblings and I sat there wide-eyed, not knowing her reaction, and didn't mutter a peep. When she returned and saw that part of the table had disappeared along with the turkey, she said, "I always hated that table. Your father has terrible taste." Needless to say, after their divorce a few years later, she left the table when we moved....and that darn glass corner was still sitting there, just where it had fell! 

Moral of the story? Besides not placing a hot roasting pan directly on a glass table, sometimes roasting an entire turkey is more trouble than it's worth! So as part of my Southwestern Thanksgiving menu, try this unforgettably delicious recipe for "Stuffed Turkey Rolls with Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing and Pecan Mole Sauce." Instead of dealing with an entire turkey, turkey tenderloins are marinated in a delicious white wine-Dijon marinade, rolled around a fantastic chorizo-poblano stuffing, and served with a simple yet delicious pecan mole sauce. The turkey needs to be marinated 2 days ahead, filled and rolled 1 day ahead, making it convenient and hands-off on Thanksgiving day. In addition, the pecan mole sauce can also be made days ahead so you can enjoy the holiday with family and friends! I promise you will love it!


Stuffed Turkey Rolls with Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing and Pecan Mole Sauce

Serves 6-8

Ingredients for Turkey Rolls:
4 turkey tenderloins

For the Marinade:
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt 
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Mustang Spice* (*1 teaspoon Guajillo chile powder, 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning, and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt)
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 cup olive oil

1 cup chicken stock

1 recipe Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing (see below)
1 recipe Pecan Mole Sauce (see below)

Directions for Turkey Rolls:
*Two days before cooking:
Remove tendon from tenderloins, splitting in two. Butterfly each piece open and pound slightly to flatten and even out thickness.

Mix wine, mustard, seasonings and oil in a freezer zipper-close plastic bag and add tenderloin fillets. Marinate for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight. (Overnight is preferred.)

*One day before cooking:
Remove from the marinade and discard bag. Lay out a piece of plastic wrap and lay out 4 approximately 12-inch pieces of kitchen twine on top of the plastic wrap. 



Next nestle 4 of the tenderloin fillets next to each other and top with half of the Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing. (If you can't get all the stuffing in the turkey rolls, reserve the remainder and refrigerate until time of baking.)


Using the plastic wrap to help, roll and tie the tenderloins together. Tighten the plastic wrap around the turkey roll, twist ends and fold under. Repeat with the remainder of turkey and stuffing, making two rolls. Refrigerate overnight.



*Time to cook:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Carefully remove plastic wrap and discard. Lay turkey rolls seam-side down in a buttered baking dish. Add any leftover stuffing to the ends of the rolls. (At this point, I recommend inserting an oven-safe meat thermometer. See Gadgets.) Pour in 1 cup of stock and cover with lid or foil.


Bake for approximately 1-1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving with pecan mole sauce (recipe follows). I promise you will love it!


Poblano Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

Ingredients:
1, 9"x9" pan cornbread, crumbled (I baked 1 box of Jiffy cornbread mix and it was just the right amount.)
1/2 teaspoon each dried sage, thyme, oregano, and cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced (See Techniques for more information, if needed.)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup red onions, diced
1 cup celery, sliced
14 ounce Mexican chorizo, casing removed, cooked, and well drained
3 eggs
1 cup chicken stock (or more as necessary)

Directions:
Crumble cornbread into a large bowl. Add herbs, poblano, and spices. Heat butter over medium heat and saute the onions and celery until translucent. Add to cornbread. Mix well. Add enough stock to moisten. Add drained chorizo and mix in well. Beat eggs and add to stuffing. Use to stuff turkey rolls, or to use as a casserole, bake in a pan about 25 minutes at 350 degrees.


Pecan Mole Sauce

Ingredients:
2 Ancho chiles (Ancho chiles are dried poblano chiles, available at most well-stocked grocers, Mexican grocers,or online.)
2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 roma tomatoes
1 cup toasted pecans
2 slices stale white bread, torn into pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Directions:
Soak Ancho chiles in warm water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate. Drain and remove stems.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic for approximately 8 minutes or until browned and caramelized. Set aside.

Broil or roast tomatoes until the skins are blackened and slightly softened. Peel when cool enough to handle and discard the skins.

Place the tomatoes, pecans, onions and garlic, bread, Anchos and 1 cup of the chicken stock in a blender. Process until smooth.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the puree from the blender and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook stirring occasionally until thickened, about 1 hour. Strain if a smoother sauce is desired and serve.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Southwest - Part 1

Last Thanksgiving, the thought of making my traditional Thanksgiving menu seemed unexciting and filled me with a sense of dread. In addition, with house guests and many meals needing to be made, filling my fridge space with an entire turkey seemed inconvenient and counterproductive. Instead, I threw caution to the wind and made an entire Southwestern Thanksgiving menu courtesy of Canyon Cafe: Bringing the Southwest Experience Home. (One of my favorite cookbooks ever!)

This incredibly unforgettable menu is as follows:

My guests and I were so enchanted by the menu that I am doing it again this year (minus the green bean salad)! Check back for the rest of these wonderful recipes for a Thanksgiving that is anything but boring!



Sunburst Squash Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound yellow onions, diced
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons butter
Your favorite green and red bottle hot sauces (I use El Yucateco brand.)

Directions:
Heat the oil in a soup pot and saute onions until translucent. Do not brown, Add squash cubes and spices, toss to coat. Add stock, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook just until tender. Strain and reserve stock.

In a food processor or with a hand mixer, puree soup with enough stock to make a medium-thick soup. Return to soup pot. Add cream and stir to heat well. Add butter and adjust seasonings if necessary. Keep on low-do not allow to boil from this point. If it gets too hot the soup may separate.

Serve dotted with your favorite green and red bottled hot sauces pulled out from the center to form a sunburst.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I know we've all seen these books by Jack Canfield. In fact, there are some titles you may have never heard of, such as: Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul (forward by Paula Abdul), and the beloved classic, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Menopause. Really? Well, no need to let your mascara run...make this instead: Chicken Tortilla Soup. This is a delicious, heartfelt soup made from the simplest of ingredients to create a truly soul-satisfying meal in a bowl.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the soup:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 chicken thighs (skin removed)
Kosher salt
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth, store-bought or homemade
12, 2-inch stems fresh cilantro (save the leaves for the garnish)
1 1/2 cup fresh tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, canned, or frozen-thawed)
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

For the garnish:
2 ripe avocados, diced and tossed with a squeeze of lime juice
1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (this is the best if you can find it), feta, or ricotta salata cheese
4 dollops of sour cream
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges for serving

For the crispy tortilla strips: (If you're too lazy, you can buy them, but it's better to make them!)
6, 6-inch fresh corn tortillas
1/2-1 cup canola oil for frying

Directions:

For the soup:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes.  Add the chili powder and tomato paste and stir with a wooden spoon to mix and cook briefly; take care not to let the chili powder scorch.

Season the chicken thighs lightly with salt and nestle them in the tomato-chili paste, turning them once so they're entirely coated.  Add about 1 cup of the broth and adjust the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook the chicken, turning once, until it's extremely tender when pierced with a knife, 30 to 40 minutes.  Add a little more broth if the pan starts to dry out. (It probably won't.)  When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan, let it cool a bit, and then cut or shred it into bite-size pieces, discarding the bones, bits of fat, or gristle.   Set the chicken aside.

If there is any visible grease in the pan, spoon it off, like so:

Add the remaining broth and the cilantro stems and stir. Simmer, uncovered, until the broth is reduced by about one third, 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the tortilla strips.

For the crispy tortilla strips:
Cut the tortillas into 1/4-inch-wide strips.  Line a plate with paper towels.  In a small high-sided saucepan, heat about 1-inch of the oil over medium heat.  When it reaches 375 degrees, or when a strip of tortilla sizzles immediately when dipped in the oil, add 6 to 8 tortilla strips.  Fry until the strips aren't bubbling much and are pale brown, about 1 minute.  Using tongs, transfer to the paper towels to drain.  Repeat with the remaining tortilla strips.

To serve:
Divide the shredded chicken, tomato, corn, and black beans into 4 large soup bowls. (I just add the chicken, tomato, corn, and black beans into the soup to make sure they are warm!)  Reheat the broth, if necessary, so it's piping hot and pour into each bowl. Garnish with the avocado, cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, the crispy tortilla strips, and a lime wedge to squeeze over the soup at the table. This is chicken soup for the soul!

Adapted from Martha Holmberg's recipe from Fine Cooking.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Aztec Chocolate Skulls

The cacao tree, which yields the berries, or "beans," that are the basis of chocolate, first appeared somewhere between Mexico and South America; but, the processing and culinary use of cacao was first developed in what is now Mexico. Mexican chocolate (which also refers to the foamy drink) is the round, flat disks of cinnamon-scented chocolate. The word "cacao" can be traced back to the Olmec inhabitants of Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, and parts of Central America, and was passed on to the lowland Maya who succeeded them in this territory. The Maya, who flourished for eight centuries before the Spanish arrived, used their beloved chocolate in rituals such as wedding ceremonies. The Aztecs, who later came to dominate central Mexico, believed that chocolate symbolized power and glory, and used it as part of their rituals by giving the drink to human offerings in order to bless the sacrifice. Creepy! 

With Halloween and Day of the Dead almost here, I wanted to share this delightfully spooky, super easy recipe for "Aztec Chocolate Skulls." I used commercially available silicone skull molds (mine were made by Wilton and designated for ice cubes), Ibarra Mexican chocolate, milk chocolate chips, rice krispies, and edible gold flakes (purchased from Sur la Table). The combination makes an exotically delicious treat, perfect for the Aztec Gods! 


Aztec Chocolate Skulls

Makes 15 skulls, depending on the size of your mold.

Ingredients:

1 disk Ibarra Mexican chocolate
5 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup rice krispies
Edible gold flakes (optional)

Directions:

Sprinkle the mold with gold flakes, set aside. Bash the disk of Ibarra (still in it's package) against a cutting board, to break it up a bit. (It's hard as a rock!) Open the package, and drop the Ibarra and half the milk chocolate chips into a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. (See Gadgets, for "No Double Boiler?") 


With a spoon, keep turning and squashing the chunks of Ibarra until it is completely softened and mixed with the milk chocolate. 


Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining milk chocolate until completely melted. Stir in the rice krispies. With a spoon, spoon the chocolate evenly in the mold, pressing down with your fingers.


Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Pop them out of their molds and serve!

Thanks to Karen Hursh Graber for the background on Mexican chocolate via Mexconnect.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Chili Queens and the Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili


Chili con carne (simply known as "Chili") is a Texas obsession, even passing legislation making it the official dish of Texas in 1977! But who do we thank for this deliciously spicy Tex-Mex concoction? Why, the Chili Queens! The Chili Queens were the most beautiful, voluptuous, dark-eyed senoritas who would transport their perfected homemade chili in colorful chili wagons to Military Plaza in San Antonio, Texas, cheerfully serving stockmen, soldiers, rounders, and prowlers. Even Teddy Roosevelt was not immune to their allure! 

The Chili Queens are believed to have been selling their spicy creations for 200 years, but they had sold chili only for the last third of that period, selling strictly Mexican faire before that. Alongside roaming Mariachi bands, they would build mesquite fires on the square to keep the chili warm, light colorful lanterns strewn along their wagons, serving chili to whomever they could charm and convince that their chili was the best. I read an article years ago talking about how masterfully they could handle even the most brutish of men, smiling, inserting fresh red roses in customers' lapels with a lingering touch, craftily picked from a great mass of roses on her bosom! Oh my! With a twinkle in her eye, she nearly always had trouble making change, which was usually not a problem for her smitten customers! The Chili Queens remained a highlight in San Antonio until the late 1930s, when sadly the health department put an end to their time-honored profession.   

I love making chili for the earthy hunger-inducing smells, the fiery flavors, and for the longstanding tradition. So, in honor of my Texas heritage, I give you this:

The Five Commandments of Authentic Texas Chili:
  1. Thou shalt only use beef, cut into small chunks, never ground.
  2. Thou shalt never include beans.
  3. Thou shalt never use tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even paste.
  4. Thou shalt never include bell peppers. (That goes for salsas as well!)
  5. Thou shalt only use Texas beer. (preferably Shiner Bock)
Got that? Remember that making chili is not an exact recipe. You should gently cook it all day, tasting and adjusting to your likes and dislikes. In addition, this is simple campfire cuisine and should not cost a fortune. Use simple cuts of meat, like chuck. Chili is often best the second day, which makes it easy to remove the fat that will rise to the top and harden after refrigeration. And finally, it is almost impossible to make a bad chili. So, embrace your inner Chili Queen and get cooking!


Chili Con Carne (Chili)

Serves 4-6, can easily be doubled

Ingredients:
For the chili:
4 tablespoons canola oil
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1/2" cubes, tossed with some salt and pepper
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tablespoons chili powder (Gebhardt, if possible)
2 tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons crumbled oregano (Mexican oregano, if possible)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (this ensures it will not taste bitter)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
2 serrano chiles, slit down one side (or whatever chiles you prefer, chipotle chiles work well too)
8 ounces strong beef broth (I add 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon beef base to 8 ounces water)
1 bottle Texas beer (preferably Shiner Bock)
1 tablespoon Masa Harina
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

For garnish (pick and choose as you like):
Sour Cream
Freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Diced Avocado
Sliced jalapeno, seeds and all
Finely chopped red onion
Sliced green onions
Your favorite hot sauce
Oyster crackers
Cornbread (I like the simple Jiffy brand mix, sold at most stores. I always mix in some honey, as well.)

Directions:
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch oven or large pot. Add the meat in batches to brown slightly. Remove to a plate, or the lid of the Dutch oven! Drain off any excessive amount of fat that may accumulate. Add the onions and garlic to the pot, adding additional oil if needed. Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Return the meat to the pan.

Combine the chili powder, flour, paprika, and cumin. Sprinkle the mixture over the meat. Stir with a wooden spoon, reducing the heat to low, until the meat is evenly coated, 1-2 minutes. Stir in the oregano, salt, sugar, cayenne, serrano chiles, beef broth, and beer. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer slowly for at least 2 hours, or all day, until the meat is very tender. (Remember to stir occasionally adding more beer or water, if needed! If it dries out too much, it can burn and ruin your chili!)

Sprinkle in the Masa Harina and cilantro, stirring occasionally and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove the serrano chiles and taste and add additional salt, etc., if necessary. Serve with garnishes laid out in bowls, so everyone can garnish as they like!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Boy Bait

Want to make your man swoon? Barbecue him some ribs! I don't know a man around who doesn't go crazy for some good ribs! (It must be some innate caveman thing.) This recipe utilizes a basic dry rub of paprika, salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. The ribs are then smoked over a pan of water while maintaining a temperature between 300-350 degrees for about 3 hours. I know the temperature is higher than most "experts" would swear by, but it is exactly the way I make my Memphis-Style Spareribs and it has never let me down. I do brush these ribs with a little barbecue sauce (my favorite being Sweet Baby Ray's Sweet 'n Spicy) and wrap them in foil for the last 30 minutes. So ladies, push your man aside and make him the best ribs he's ever had! (Make sure you really like him, because he just might propose!) Coleslawpotato salad, and grilled corn are obvious accompaniments.


Best Barbecue Ribs

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

For the Dry Rub
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

For the Ribs 
4 lbs pork sparerib slabs, preferably St. Louis style cut, if possible
3-4 handfuls mesquite and cherry wood chips, soaked in water
Your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions:

Remove the membrane from the bone-side of the ribs by sliding a knife under the membrane at the edges and using a paper towel, pull the membrane off. Gross! Mix all the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, and pat it all over the spareribs, rubbing it in well. Place the ribs in a dish, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbecuing. (I also cut each slab in half to ensure they fit in my Weber grill.)


Prepare a charcoal grill for barbecuing over medium-low heat (300-350 degrees).

Place an aluminum drip pan half full of water in the center of the fire bed. Sprinkle some of the wood chips on the coals. Place the ribs on the grill rack over the drip pan.

Cover and grill and smoke the ribs, rotating them every 30 minutes or so (the ribs along the outside will cook faster, so it's good to rotate to the inside, etc.) and adding more wood chips, more coals, and more water to the drip pan as needed.


Continue to cover, grill, and smoke the ribs until they are tender and a toothpick can easily be inserted between the ribs, about 2 1/2-3 hours. Brush the ribs with a little barbecue sauce, stack, and wrap in foil for the last 1/2 hour.



To serve, cut the slabs into separate ribs and pile on top of a platter and serve proudly! With lots of napkins!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Confessions of a Cookbook Junkie

I wasn't looking for another cookbook...I already have a bookshelf full...but...I just happened by a bargain book bin and just had to take a peek! There it was, laying right on top, my newest resident to join my cookbook microcosm: edible: a celebration of local foods, by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian (cofounders of Edible Communities Publications)! Edible Communities, Inc., is a publishing and information services company that creates community-based, local-foods publications in distinct culinary regions throughout the United States and Canada, concentrating, of course, on eating local and seasonally. I was immediately drawn to this book because three-quarters of it focuses on stories about local farmers, fishermen, distillers, wine-makers, ranchers, butchers, chefs, and artisans dedicated to creating the best quality products utilizing local and seasonal ingredients. The remainder of the book provides a modest seasonal recipe collection. So, it's really more of a book than a cookbook...right?

Perhaps it was guilt that prodded me to make my purchase, I have two kids, a husband, a house to take care of, a garden to try to manage, etc....a real life. I don't always have the pleasure to eat only local fresh ingredients. As long as I can get my beloved harticot verts from Guatemala, I'm happy. I honestly don't have the time to think about where they come from, I'm just happy they're available. However, maybe I do care... After all, this year I'm growing tomatoes in large pots that are overtaking my deck, zucchini stuffed into the very corner of my yard, apples in espalier form, poblanos snuggled next to my basil and lavender, and my very own harticot verts happily swaying in the breeze! (Take that, Guatemala!) Apparently, I do like to know where my food comes from! So, this month, in an attempt to join the "movement," I am dedicating Dinner Night to my favorite seasonal recipes that utilize and enhance the bounty of the season, either from my garden or local providers!

My first recipe, courtesy of Edible Cape Cod, is for a fantastic "Grilled Chicken and Peaches with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese!" Seriously, this is one of the best new recipes I've tried this summer! It is so satisfying with it's simple grilled chicken breasts, peaches macerated in Cognac and grilled, served on a bed of baby lettuce and goat cheese medallions, then topped with caramelized onions and a drizzle of honey! The creative combination of flavors is surprisingly delicious! I served it with a bottle of Barton & Guestier Vouvray 2011 (***see note below) and was absolutely thrilled! You have to try it!


Grilled Chicken and Peaches with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Caramelized Onions
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

For the Grilled Chicken and Peaches
2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and halved (You better use local, if available!)
1/4 cup good brandy, such as cognac, optional
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (get fresh ones from your butcher, not the previously frozen abominations they sell already packaged...remember, it's all about fresh here!) 

For the Goat Cheese and Greens
2 cups local young mixed salad greens
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more if needed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons liquid honey
1 goat cheese log (12 ounces) (I used 8 ounces and it was plenty), sliced into 12 equal rounds (Use unflavored dental floss to cut the goat cheese, it's brilliant!)

Directions:
For the Caramelized Onions
In a large saute pan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover the pan and cook the onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove the cover from the pan. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a deep golden brown, 30 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Place the onions into a bowl; set aside.

For the Grilled Chicken and Peaches
If using the brandy, while the onions are cooking, place the peaches and brandy into a large bowl; toss well to combine. Preheat a gas grill on medium heat or prepare a moderately hot charcoal fire. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper evenly over both sides of the chicken breasts. Lightly grease the grill rack. (I just drizzled a little olive oil over the chicken breasts instead.) Place the chicken breasts on the rack and cook for 5 minutes. Turn each breast over and cook until the chicken is no longer pink inside, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate, tent the plate lightly with foil, and allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes.

Remove the peaches from the brandy and pat dry with paper towels. Place the peaches cut-side down on the grill. Grill until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the peaches from the grill. Sprinkle the grilled side of each peach half with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; set aside.

For the Goat Cheese and Greens
In a medium bowl, toss together the salad greens, oil, lemon juice, if using, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Plating the Dish
Place equal portions of the salad greens on 4 plates. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the honey evenly over the greens. Place 3 slices of goat cheese over the greens on each plate. Slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal, keeping the slices from each breast together. Fan each chicken breast over the greens and cheese on each plate. Scatter the caramelized onions evenly over the chicken. Place the peach halves grilled-side up next to the chicken and greens. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of honey evenly over the components on each plate. Sprinkle each plate with a pinch each of salt and pepper, if desired.

(The perfect bite!)

*** I strongly recommend a bottle of Barton & Guestier (aka., B&G) Vouvray Chenin Blanc 2011 to serve with this dish. It's floral notes, peach and pear flavors go very nicely and it's not expensive!