Monday, August 22, 2011

Chiles and More Chiles

We just returned from a trip to New Mexico where we ate chiles everyday, often at every meal. Green chiles, red chiles and sometimes, a ladle of the sauce of each, side by side, which is known there as "Christmas." We enjoyed a string of casual, local meals including huevos rancheros, enchiladas, chile rellenos, and burritos, punctuated by sides including posole, polenta, and blue corn muffins. We feasted on carne adovada, blue corn and pinon pancakes, migas, and blue corn muffins.

In Chimayo, a town along the High Road to Taos, we bought some local chile powder after visiting the Santuario. I'd been to Chimayo 21 years ago, and though there are many more people coming through now, Vigil store is still there selling chiles. I bought some ground, sun dried red chile powder and some ground green chiles as well. We were days too early for the fresh New Mexico chiles, though they seem to be becoming available as I'm writing. They also sell local pinons, but there were also none to be had yet, as harvest is still a couple of months away, and there were virtually none last year.

It's funny, I took the same picture of Vigil Store 21 years ago!


Many thanks to Maddy for her lovely photos!

I used some of my red chile powder to make this chorizo. Don't get scared off - this is no more complicated than making meatballs! No need to stuff the meat into a sausage casing as Mexican (or New Mexican, in this case) is often used outside of the casing anyway. This style of chorizo is not cured and dried like the Spanish type of chorizo. It's left raw until cooked for your recipe.

I used most of this batch in this delicious recipe of Pati Jinich's, and then used the rest for a New Mexico style breakfast of scrambled eggs with green chiles and chorizo.

I'm also thinking that this would be great using ground chicken if you don't eat pork. I will try it soon and report back. I use pork from locally raised, grass fed pigs so I'm not sure there's much fat differential between the two meats.

Also, please notice that there is virtually no salt in this recipe and you will not miss it!

New Mexican Style Chorizo

(with thanks to Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and several New Mexican cookbooks)

1.5 pounds pork shoulder, coarsely ground (you can ask your butcher to do this for you - Whole Foods' in-house ground pork is shoulder meat - or you can grind it yourself if you are so inclined. If you'd like to grind the pork shoulder yourself, I recommend checking out Mrs. Wheelbarrow's advice)

1 small white onion, minced

1 fat garlic clove, minced

2 Tablespoons New Mexico ground red chile (I know that most of you do not have this, so sub 1 Tablespoon sweet smoked paprika and 1 Tablespoon hot smoked paprika. Do not use commercial chili powder!)

3/4 teaspoon cumin seed (or sub 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin)

1 Mexican cinnamon stick (or sub 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 whole cloves ( or sub two pinches of ground clove)

10 whole black peppercorns (or sub a few grinds of fresh black pepper)

pinch or two of salt

1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 - 4 Tablespoons water, as needed

1. If you are using the whole spices, not ground, toast the cinnamon stick, cumin seed, cloves and peppercorns in a dry pan over medium heat. Shake the pan frequently until you can smell the spices, about 2 or 3 minutes. Don't walk away - you don't want them to burn!

2. If using the whole spices, grind the spices in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

3. In a bowl mix the spices with the meat and add a pinch of salt, the oregano and the vinegar. Mix using a large spoon or your hands until everything is well combined. If it feels very dry, add the water a little at a time.

4. Heat up a skillet and make a tiny little meatball out of your mix. Cook it until cooked through so that you can taste for spice. If it is not as spicy as you like, add a pinch or two of cayenne or some more hot paprika.

5. Keep refrigerated for one day for flavors to build, but use within the next day or so. You can freeze the chorizo for a month or so as well.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Loss and Cooking and Peanut Butter Pie

I don't really know Jennifer Perillo, though I met her briefly during Eat, Write Retreat, and there heard her speak from the heart about blogging. But, I feel I know her much more intimately than that limited contact, as I've read her blog for years and she's a person who shares herself on her blog, much more than I tend to do. I've made her recipes (she cooks everything from scratch) and I've read her posts about her family: her challenging relationship with her now deceased father, her two sweet little girls, and her husband, Mikey, and how his love has helped heal her childhood wounds.

I feel all the more involved in her life since Monday morning when I learned via Twitter, that her husband had died the night before, of a sudden heart attack. It was, as she put it on Twitter, a "sucker punch." I felt for her, for the loss of the man who helped her so, whom she loved so deeply and with whom she had every expectation of spending the next 30 or 40 years.

I haven't inserted my story into any notes that I've sent her or posted on food52 or Twitter as this is her pain and it's not about me. I don't presume to know how she feels as everyone's grief is different and every unique person handles grief differently. And I haven't lost a husband, in my thirties, with two little girls who've lost their very special dad. What I do know is the kick-in-the-gut shock of an unexpected loss that changes your life. Sitting on a kitchen stool eating lunch on a sunny afternoon, still in the no longer sweaty exercise clothes from earlier in the morning, when a phone call comes and it's like the Towers fell right in your house. Worrying how other loved ones will react, cope, worrying how your children will react.

And Jennie's loss brought me right back there, to a place I remember with a physicality that surprised me. The teary eyes, the constant weight on the chest, the effort it requires to take each breath. And yet, amid her grief, Jennie paused to write on her blog, a tribute to her husband and a regret that she had not yet had time to make his favorite, peanut butter cream pie. She asked that others make this pie today, Friday, the day of his memorial service, in support of her and her girls, and as a symbolic gesture of carpe diem love and appreciation for loved ones.

Though I didn't make that pie, I did cook for my family, as I do each day, with the same love and as mindfully as I ever have. Hundreds of other bloggers made, photographed and blogged about that pie. There are links to posts on CNN, food52, Food Network and all over Twitter and Facebook. Jennie's post was a reminder to show our love and live fully every day, the blogging community has shown that it heard her and that for most of us, we show our love through sharing our food.

How Jennie was able to write, let alone think up such a lovely tribute to her husband and a reflection of her love is astonishing and a testament to her strength. I can only thank her for her most meaningful message and hope that this community outpouring helps buoy her through this time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Summery Salads

I thought I'd take this opportunity to link to some cool, summer salads appropriate for a lighter dinner. One of my all time favorites is Salade Nicoise. There is a little stove top simmering involved, but no need to heat up the oven. Just make sure to buy a jar of really top quality tuna in oil - this is not the place for Bumble Bee solid in water. Really.

Last night I served two salads alongside each other and they really complemented each other well. The first, a Spanish flavored chicken salad, is one that I've made numerous times since Amanda first posted it on food52. The mix of artichoke hearts and peppadew peppers with the almonds is irresistible. Last night, I improvised a little, adding the kernels of a leftover ear of corn, as well as some sliced heart of palm for some of the artichoke after I ran out. If it's hot and you don't want to roast a chicken, just use a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Some stores sell "naked" or seasoning free roasted chickens, which are preferable here.

The second was something really different. I pulled it out of the New York Times the day I made a dish requiring the tops of the broccoli. I eagerly cut out this recipe using the broccoli stalks in a lemony salad with creamy avocado. Together, this and the chicken salad made a delicious summer meal with a piece of garlicky bruschetta and a glass of vinho verde.

Enjoy and stay cool!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What to Do With Those Preserved Lemons

I was recently speaking to a fellow food blogger about preserved lemons. Not usually a topic of conversation with friends, but it seemed perfectly normal with a foodie friend. We discovered that we had both made 2 quarts over the winter and neither of us had used them yet. Preserved lemons are a specialty item that most of you will never desire and never miss, but if you ever have a good one quietly mixed into a dish, you'll notice a more concentrated essence of lemony flavor than even fresh zest can provide.

I had also preserved two quarts last year, but had to throw them out after we had an extended power outage. Although the lemons are preserved in a ton of salt, the recipe I used specified to keep them refrigerated, and I just wasn't sure they were still OK after a being unrefrigerated for so long in the summer heat. This year, I vowed not to waste these golden orbs a second time. Like last year, I used Meyer lemons from California, which are a little sweeter than the usual lemon we get around here. They are actually a hybrid between a lemon and an orange or tangerine.

I hadn't had home preserved lemons before, just packaged ones from the specialty store, so I wasn't completely sure how they would taste. Some of the jarred ones I'd had before were rather bitter and not particularly appealing.

I am happy to report that mine are delicious and I can now imagine a myriad of uses for them.

The first taste test occured when I made this recipe using a really fresh piece of wild Alaskan halibut that I lucked in to at Costco, of all places. I adapted what Goin calls the "salsa," really more of a vinaigrette, and got creative with the leftover vinaigrette the next day. I had a couple of cups of cannellini beans I'd cooked from dried a few days earlier, and some beautiful French green beans or haricots verts from the farm market. I also added some yellow grape tomatoes and some thinly sliced, red cippolini onion. I didn't add any other herbs as I wanted to be able to really taste the lemon vinaigrette.

So while I realize that many of you will never make this recipe, I'm posting it for those of you still hoarding quarts of preserved lemons in your fridge. I'm talking to you, Kim! Even if beans are not your thing, if you've got the lemons, try this on fish, pork, beef, chicken, or even vegetables such as spinach and peas.

Bean Salad in Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

vinaigrette adapted from Suzanne Goin

(serves 4)

For the vinaigrette:

1 Tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 preserved lemon, lightly rinsed and flesh discarded, rind thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1/3 cup olive oil
freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
2 cups cannellini beans, either cooked from dried or from one can of no sodium added beans
1 dry pint French green beans (haricots verts), stem ends trimmed and cut in two
a handful or two of yellow or red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 Tablespoons thinly sliced red onion

1. To prepare the vinaigrette, place the shallot and vinegar in a bowl and let sit for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the agave nectar, and then the oil. Add in the preserved lemon rind and a couple of grinds of pepper. Set aside

2. Combine the two kinds of beans, the tomatoes and onions in a serving bowl. Spoon about half the dressing over top and mix gently to combine. Add more Tablespoon by Tablespoon until you achieve a balance you like. You might not use it all and can save the rest in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a couple of days.