Monday, August 30, 2010

Tomatillos-not tomatoes at all

Today's great find at the farmstand was tomatillos.

Tomatillos (pronounced toe-ma-tee-yos) are not green tomatoes. They are related to the Cape Gooseberry (whatever the hell that is) and are a staple of Mexican cooking. Ever eat green salsa? Yup,  tomatillos.

I like to use them for a really nice Chili Verde. (Green Chili for all of you Spanish illiterates) I do not make it like Grandma Foodie. Hers is good, really good, and not that mine is better, but (okay it's better).

Chili Verde

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
I Poblano, Anaheim, or Hatch chili, roasted, seeded, and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/2 C Water
6-9 tomatillos, husks removed, roughly chopped

Saute the garlic and onion in 1 T olive oil until translucent. Add chilies and tomatillos and cooks until tomatillos soften, about 8 minutes. Transfer to food processor. Add water and puree until smooth, but a little on the chunky side, add cilantro and pulse a few times. Season to taste.

Now, you have two choices: you can add this sauce on top of a pork butt or shoulder and a couple of potatoes in the crock pot and cook it together for about 8 hours. Or:

You can cook a pork butt or shoulder on top of the stove (cover with water and simmer until tender, about 2-3 hours. Add a couple of potatoes the last thirty minutes. Drain, shred the pork, add the tomatillo sauce and heat through. Serve with flour tortillas.

Normally, I don't approve of cooking much of anything in the crock pot. But the one thing I will cook in there is tough pieces of meat that need to cook for a long time.  That's it, though. don't let me catch you making some horrid casserole or chicken, or God knows what in it. Crock-pots are for losers

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Salsa-On the Grill!

My head is spinning with all the veggies available at the Farmer's markets and farm stands right now. I am doing my best to incorporate it all into my daily dinner plans, as well as putting some of it away for winter.

Hannah and Alex have been asking me to make burritos for dinner. Nothing special, just some average beans, rice, guacamole, lettuce, etc. Last night I got tired of the begging finally got around to it. I had some leftover baby back ribs in the fridge and while this is far from traditional, I took the meat off the bones and used the meat in the burritos. We let everyone make their own, so I set out dishes of the aforementioned guac, lettuce, rice, cheese,  beans (Oh, BTW, Grandma Foodie has the best way to make quick beans for Mexican dinner: Take 1 can of pinto beans, undrained and one can of refried beans. Mix together and add a ton of chopped garlic and an insane amount of black pepper. Heat on top of the stove, or put into a casserole dish, top with cheddar cheese and heat in the oven until hot and the cheese is melted.)

And I also put out a big bowl of just made salsa that I grilled. Yes, I grilled it.

Does that make no sense to you?

You just haven't lived yet, then., because the grill is the perfect place to prep the ingredients for your homemade salsa. Char everything, then whir it all together in the food processor. Eat it immediately, because it is actually best hot. Yes, hot. The flavors of the chilies and tomatoes really stand out just as it's made. Fry up some tortilla chips (yes, I said fry some tortilla chips; you really wouldn't want to use chips from a bag. They're just so, so, bleah! Not as good as ones made from stale corn tortillas.

I had just returned from the farmer's market, having bought way more tomatoes than I could really use, (if there is such a thing) and as I was putting them away, I had a revalation: make salsa to go with the burritos.
My salsa on the grill can be made quickly and easily and it is hands down the best homemade salsa I have ever eaten (not to toot my own horn; okay, I'll toot my own horn). You simply must try it. No arguments. I don't want to hear your whining. Just do it now. While the tomatoes and chilies are still ripe and before you need a parka to stand outside and use the grill. (BTW, you can make this salsa with supermarket roma tomatoes in the broiler during the winter. I'll let you.)

Salsa on the grill
2 jalapenos
4 cloves garlic
1 onion, halved
6-8 tomatoes, halved
1 bunch cilantro
juice of one lime
salt and pepper

Heat the grill to medium. I like to use one of those grill pans to do the tomatoes and garlic, but everything else can go straight on the grill grates. Grill until charred on one side and flip and do the other. Try not to let the onions get too burned. Here is what my grill looked like

I was also grilling poblanos and corn, obviously.

After everything is nicely charred, put ONE jalapeno and the garlic and onions into the food processor and chop briefly with on and off turns. You can add the other jalapeno later if you want it spicier, just try it first. Add the tomatoes and pulse again. Add the cilantro and pulse again. Put into a bowl, add the lime juice and salt and pepper. Eat a bunch before you tell everyone it is done because you won't get any after they know it's ready.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chili Rellenos

Yesterday I stopped by the Lima Farmer's Market to pick up some fresh basil and tomatoes for dinner. I found a nice surprise there of some lovely, just picked poblano chilis from Werner's Farm in Rush on 15A just south of 251. The farmer was surprised by how excited I was and asked me what I would do with them; he told me that people have been askiing about them and he had never used them, didn't know what they were good for.

I like them in my Succotash Burritos, but there is really only one answer when asked what to make with poblanos: CHILI RELLENOS!

What is a chili relleno, you ask? (Well, if you ask, you're obviously not from California, plus it means you've never eaten one. So sad.) A chili relleno, is a stuffed chili. Stuffed with cheese. Gooey, melted cheese, encased in a slightly spicy pepper shell. Dipped in egg batter and fried until puffy and golden. In other words, Mexican comfort food. Chili Rellenos can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or all three. In the same day.

Chili Rellenos
6 Poblano chilies
1/2 lb Monterrey jack cheese
3 eggs, separated
3 T flour
salt and pepper

Roast the poblanos over a gas flame or grill until the skins are blackened and blistered. Put into a paper sack for 10 minutes and then remove, cut off the top and  peel or scrape the skins and seeds off, trying not to break the chili open. Stuff with a piece of cheese, you want it pretty full. Set aside and do all of the chilies

Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and flour and salt and pepper. Beat the whites until stiff. Gently fold the whites into the yolks. Slide the chilies into the batter, then slip into a frying pan with 1/2 inch of hot oil. When puffy on the bottom, gently flip over and cook until the other side is golden, puffy, and the cheese is melted. Serve with red chili sauce, if desired.

Cheater Chili Rellenos
A little Mexican lady at the Farmer's market gave this recipe to Grandma Foodie:

Roast the chilies, open them up, put a layer of cheese on top and pop in the microwave. Top with salsa. It's pretty damn good. My kids love them.

Also, here's a tip: roast a whole mess of the chilies at once and then put the extras in the freezer. They probably won't work for regular rellenos, but they will be fine for the cheater ones. Or to put in omelets or chili verde, or salsa, or succotash burritos, well, you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review and a great Tomato Breakfast

 In a week or two I'll be posting a review of some newly acquired kitchen equipment. You know you need to know what I think! I don't have an extensive collection of kitchen equipment, what I do have I could probably fit on both of my dining tables, but I use almost all of what I have and I have a few esoteric items, like my rectangular tart pans which I bought in order to make a Martha Stewart Flag tart recipe. (I wanted to shoot myself by the time I was done. Or perhaps Martha.) (BTW, that was a joke for those of you with no sense of humor. The author wishes to state she has no intention of stalking Martha Stewart or causing her any bodily harm. I'll just think bad thoughts as I am trying to alternate red and golden raspberries in neat rows.)

Yesterday, we continued our obsession with tomatoes, this time at breakfast. I split a baguette, popped it  under the broiler for a minute to toast, then topped it with fresh mozzarella mixed with fresh basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. I popped it back in the oven and melted the cheese. When I took it out, I put some sliced tomatoes on top. Of course I sliced the tomatoes first and seasoned them with my favorite Hawaiian sea salt. (Still running low, Grandma Foodie? Anybody?)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Never use a substitute when you can use the real thing

I might be able to overlook it if it were the middle of winter.

Then again, I probably wouldn't.

Basil in tube from the freezer is inexcusable.

If it happened to be winter, and if I happened to live in some remote outpost (like Brazil, maybe?) where fresh, fragrant sweet basil were not always readily available, I just might be willing to let it slide. BUT,

It is the middle of summer, fresh basil is everywhere.

It is everywhere in big bunches, most of the time for about a buck.

The big bunches keep for a couple of weeks at room temperature if you put them in a nice big vase of water. (With the added bonus that they look great on your kitchen counter)

So, last night I was speaking with my good friend Deb, who asked me how I had made the cantalope wrapped in prosciutto a few weeks ago. wrap prosciutto around cantalope.  Well, but what was it that I drizzled on top? Oh, a basil, lemon vinaigrette and some chopped marcona almonds. So Deb says, "Great, I have all of that! I'm squeezing basil right now!"  WHATTTT??????

There really is no excuse. I don't buy it when she says she can't taste the difference. Is it possible that she suffers from a lack of taste buds? Or has she been deprived of real basil for so long that she can no longer remember the difference? Or should I just call her a dork?  I'm not sure, but I will be performing a basil intervention. I am going to get her one of those big bunches and deposit it on her counter. It will be like the old advice about if you want to learn how to cook, buy a ham....(By the time you figure out what to do with all that meat, you'll have learned to cook.)

So, by the time she gets to the end of that bunch of basil, she will never resort to that crap in a tube again.

(Here is my confession, though: I do buy lemongrass in a tube and keep it in the freezer; it is not available fresh at my closest market and I often do not know in advance that I need it, if I do know, I buy it fresh.)

Here is a great use for basil: Pistou or French pesto.


In a mini processor (or use a big one, or use a mortar and pestle) combine 2 cloves garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1 C basil, and 1/4 C olive oil. Whir it until smooth.

Here is a great recipe using pistou:

Toast two slices of baguette. Top with two poached eggs, 2 T pistou and shaved parmesan. Try not to eat more than two, we wouldn't want you to get high cholesterol.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Endless Summer-Blackberries

About seven or eight years ago, my friend Priscilla planted a blackberry bush. About five years ago, it started to produce more than a handful of blackberries in a season, maybe about a quart total. So I said to her,"Hey, I want to make a pie, can I have some blackberries?" Her answer,"Keep your hands off my blackberries, or I'll kill you." Ok, I can understand, blackberries were a limited, precious commodity. Starting two summers ago there was a blackberry explosion. Now, instead of threats of bodily harm if I touch her blackberries, Priscilla instead begs me, "Please get over here and pick some g-d blackberries!" I am happy to oblige.

Yesterday, I took about a cup of blackberries, a cup of blueberries, 1/2 cup of sugar, and a tablespoon of water and set them on the stove to cook. When they were syrupy I added about a teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in an equal amount of water and let it come to a boil. The whole thing took about 5 minutes. Then I whipped some cream and made some crepes. Everyone was very happy at breakfast
Alex eating Blackberry crepes

I also have been making blackberry peach pies, blackberry custards, and blackberry sorbets. I also freeze the blackberries (in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then put them in ziptop bags once they are frozen. Don't be a moron and put them un frozen into ziptop bags, you'll end up with a big glob of berries.). You can use them in just about any recipe in which you would use fresh blackberries. Oh, one more quick recipe! Blackberry-yogurt popsicles:

Puree about 2 cups of blackberries in the food processor; add 1/2 cup of cooled simple syrup (you know how to make that, don't you? Equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar dissolves), 1 8 ounce container vanilla yogurt, and about 1/4 c of honey. Freeze in ice-pop molds. My kids loved the fresh, tangy-sweet taste. So much so, they didn't save one for me. Oh well, back to the blackberry patch, I guess.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The other summer obsession: tomatoes

A fresh picked tomato is probably the world's best food.

A refrigerated, bad, supermarket tomato is probably the world's worst food.

I love good tomatoes almost more than anything. My perfect, ideal breakfast is a bagel (water-boiled, not from a package, from a good bakery) cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, Vidalia onion, and nice thick slice of a really good tomato. Grandma Foodie always remembers to sprinkle the tomato with some salt and freshly ground pepper and let it sit while the bagel toasts. It macerates the tomato a bit and makes it juicier and tastier.

No one person could ever write a comprehensive guide to eating and cooking with tomatoes. The uses for them are just too overwhelming to catalog.

My friend Deb has a fabulous recipe for a tomato tart. I liked it even though she uses cheese from a can. (Cheese from a can! Really, Deb, you're a decent cook, you should know better! Just think how delectable the tart would be with some real cheese.) To make the tart, slice the tomatoes and salt them lightly. Put them on a paper-towel lined plate (use several thicknesses) and put another layer of paper towels on top. Put a heavy plate on top of them and maybe even a heavy skillet on top of that. The idea is to weight them down well and press them. Leave them for an hour or two. Meanwhile, take a package of puff pastry and form it into a rectangular tart shell. You can cut off some strips around the edges and build them up on top of the pastry, or you can use your handy dandy rectangular tart pan with the removable bottom. (My friend does the former, I do the latter.) Then, prebake the shell for about 7 minutes at 425. When partially baked, but not brown, take it out, let cool slightly, then brush with olive oil. Layer the tomatoes, salt and pepper, thyme, and parmesan cheese. (not from a can, please!) Pop it back in the oven and bake until the pastry is done.

I may have a few details wrong, but hopefully Deb will correct me. After all, I am improving it by specifying that one should never use cheese from a can with something so delectable.

The other thing we have been eating all the time is a simple tomato salad. I slice big juicy beefsteaks into thick, juicy slices, sprinkle them with Hawaiian red sea salt (I forgot to buy some more when I was in California! I don't think I've ever seen any around here. What shall I do? Grandma Foodie? Anybody?) fresh thyme, pepper, feta, and a dressing made from 1 T brown sugar, 2 T red wine vinegar, and 3 T olive oil. Or just sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic glaze.

You must also make some BLTs. Get some good, crusty sourdough and some thick cut applewood unsmoked bacon. Toast the bread, spread liberally with mayo. Add some avocado to the sandwich if you like. Or a spoonful of basil pistou to the mayo.There is nothing quite like the crunch of the bread playing against the salty bacon and the explosion of juicy tomato. Simply fantastic.

The point is, eat ye tomatoes while ye may. They're going to be gone soon and they won't be back until next summer.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Playing with Food

So I have a bit of a new obsession: bento.

Bento means "lunch" in Japanese. It is usually packed in a box, the food is tightly packed into the box and arranged attractively.

In typical Japanese fashion, however, it can be a little over the top.

I ran across a blog called Just Bento and was intrigued by the healthful, beautiful food I saw there. In particular, I saw one bento that contained some interesting sushi rolls, Japanese omelet slices, some stewed bean, and some fruit, all packed together, but separated into individual compartments. I decided to try to replicate it one Saturday. I put some rice in the rice cooker and started dicing some peaches. I sliced cucumbers for the sushi and pulled a can of Japanese gourd strips out of the pantry. I whisked together eggs, mirin, sugar, and soy for the omelets. I whipped up a batch of mini carrot-pineapple muffins.

An hour later I had a very unusual lunch ready for my family. It was a huge hit.

And then I started looking at bento sites and bento accessories on the internet.

You haven't quite lived until you've seen some of the crazy things these people do with lunch.

So I started persuing ebay for bento accessories. Packages started arriving from Japan. And yes, yesterday, I made a bento for Steve that contained sesame spinach, brown rice, cannelini beans with honey and soy, and two mini hamburgers. And I cut out cheese in the shape of teddy bear heads (complete with eyes) and laid them on top of the hamburgers.

Yes, I have completely lost my mind.

I can't wait to torture the children by packing them some "cute" lunches. Alex says he'll likely get stuffed into a trash can. Hannah says they're sure to make fun of her. It should be fun!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Camp food or I have no words

I'm up early today as usual. I made my coffee and started looking through my Facebook and email. One of my friends is going to some type of family camp out with other people in a group to which she belongs. She pleaded for ideas for meals to bring. One woman actually said to bring canned chicken, tortillas, ranch dressing, and cheese for chicken wraps.

My response: I have no words.

I didn't want to insult a woman whom I have never met. I reserve that only for those whom I truly love.

However, I might barf if someone tried to serve that to me.

I love to camp, although I don't do it anymore. My dear husband finds that as he has gotten older he no longer enjoys sleeping on the ground. Astounding to me, since he spent his youth wandering aimlessly around the country sleeping wherever he could.

I suppose I should go with Priscilla, but her brand of camping is a bit extreme for me. I require access to plumbing and ice. She dehydrates food and poops in the woods. No thanks. In fact, she was packing this week for her annual backwoods canoe psycho white water expedition.

Spotted on her staging area:
Balsamic glaze
Dijon mustard
Olive oil

In other words, just because she has to bring food that requires no refrigeration, doesn't mean she is going to eat crap.
I am not a camping food expert. I do not know how to dehydrate Dinosaur BBQ beans. I do, however, know how to cook over an open fire. And you can make some tasty things.

Key tips:
Make sure your perishables have plenty of ice. Keep dinner items in a seperate cooler that is not used to store drinks and frequently needed items. Double bag everything to minimize cross contamination.
Pre-prep as much as possible so that you just have to put dishes together rather than start from scratch, i.e. chop onion, garlic, and herbs and store in individual bags. Pre-portion or measure ingredients for each meal.
Here is a great, easy recipe for camping. Why eat bad food just because you are out in nature?

Shrimp Scampi
Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Add 2 T chopped garlic. Add 1 lb cleaned and deveined shrimp and cook until pink and opaque. Add 2 T capers and 2T chopped parsley. Squeeze a lemon over the whole thing and eat with crusty bread. You can try to cook pasta over the open fire to have with it, but that is hard to do unless you have a great, super hot fire.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More corn recipes and some random thoughts

I had resolved to blog at least once a week, but I did miss last week. I was on vacation. Sue me.
I was feeling completely inadequate because my sister in law is a fabulous cook, better than me, if that is possible. She whips out food with panache and ease, often just making it up as she goes along. Most of the time it is out of this world. She did make some sub-par muffins on our last day, so I felt slightly vindicated., even though it was only partially her fault. I goaded her into making some muffins for our mother in law, who had just been released from the hospital. My sister in law lacked enough honey, buttermilk, and eggs to make them, but she soldiered on anyway. I guess I have to give her credit for at least making something edible, even if it wasn't up to her usual standards. We all have those days.

We are still in the midst of our annual corn orgy. We took a one week break while we were in DC, since they only have old corn (by old I mean not picked that day) available at Whole Foods. The day before yesterday, I made a corn chowder. Today we will have plain old corn on the cob with lime tarragon butter and a grilled balsamic marinated top sirloin with roasted tomatoes. Corn salsa is probably on the horizon for the weekend, and herbed corn cakes with cilantro-jalapeno hollandaise made an appearance a week or so ago. I did take the lazy way out with the hollandaise and used the blender method (hey, at least I didn't stoop to using a packet. I do recommend mastering real hollandaise, though. You'll never regret it. But since it is summer I gave myself a break. My family noticed, though.

Since the corn cakes were such a hit with my guests, that is the recipe I will leave you with. It is loosely based on one from Bon Appetit, but I have altered it a bit.

Herbed Corn Cakes

1 Cup flour
1 tsp baking pwd
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 T oil
1 c corn kernels. from about two ears
1/2 c cheddar cheese
1/3 cup shallots or green onions, diced
2 T fresh parsely, minced
2-3 dashes Tabasco
pinch cayenne
3 ounces bacon, cooked and crumbled, drippings reserved

Sift dry ingredients, whisk in milk, egg, and oil. Stir in rest of ingredients. Cook in bacon drippings like pancakes. Serve with your favorite not from a packet hollandaise to which you have stirred in minced jalapeno and 1/4 cup minced cilantro. I usually double the recipe and it still barely makes enough.