Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Pesto and Roasted Pear Tomatoes


I had a ton of parsley from LPO that I wanted to use up before we go away for the holidays, so I decided to try out the recipe that came on the tag, a winter pesto with rosemary and thyme. My rosemary and thyme are still doing great in the garden, and they usually last all winter. It was delicious - a light, fresh break from all the rich holiday cooking I've been doing.

Our very last tomatoes of the season have finally ripened up on the counter - about 2 pounds of tiny yellow pear tomatoes. I roasted them in the oven and froze them, so we can enjoy a little burst of summer anytime throughout the winter. The flavor is wonderfully concentrated, so a little goes a long way, and it was perfect with the pesto!

Winter Pesto:
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pinon nuts
1 large bunch of parsley (about 3 packed cups)
2 large sprigs of rosemary
4 large sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (leave out if freezing)

Pulse garlic, olive oil and pinon in food processor until finely chopped. Add herbs and process until a fairly smooth paste is formed. Add salt and pepper as desired. Add parmesan, if serving right away. I froze some without the parmesan cheese, since I think it keeps better that way. I like to freeze pesto in Ziploc bags, smashed flat to about 1/4 inch thick. This way, when I want to use some, I can just break off a chunk.

When thawing pesto after it's been frozen, the rule is generally not to heat it too much - just defrost until it is soft and then toss it with hot pasta (and parmesan) to warm it up. With basil pesto, you don't want to cook it because that ruins the flavor, but with this pesto it might not damage the flavor as much.

Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes:
2 lbs cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme (or two sprigs fresh thyme)
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 400F. Slice cherry tomatoes in half, and toss them with oil, salt and thyme on a large baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes, until edges are slightly browned. Refrigerate or freeze.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Green Chile Pistachio (or Peanut) Brittle


Pistachios and peanuts are a couple more great New Mexico products, both harvested in mid-September.

Amazingly, pistachios are in the same family as mangoes, cashews and poison oak. The tree needs long, hot summers and moderately cold winters, so our climate is perfect for it. In fact, the climate (and altitude) of the Tularosa Basin in southern New Mexico is almost identical to the areas of Iran and Turkey where pistachios have been grown for centuries. They are very long-lived trees, and tolerant of our alkaline soil.

Peanuts are a legume, grown in the sandy soil near Portales, in Eastern New Mexico. I was looking for locally grown peanuts at the store this week - Smith's had none, but surprisingly the Lowe's grocery near our house had Sunland peanuts in the shell (their website is full of neat peanut info!) The kind they grow are Valencia peanuts, smaller and sweeter than other varieties; 90% of all Valencia peanuts produced in the U.S. are grown in New Mexico.

Brittle is amazingly easy to make, especially with this microwave recipe. Dried green chile powder makes this a sweet and spicy treat. Although it's not as commonly used, you can find dried green chile at many grocery stores in New Mexico, right next to the dried red chile. This stuff is incredibly addictive - I seriously could not stop eating it.

1/2 C. corn syrup
1 C. white sugar
1 C. shelled pistachios
1 T. butter
1 T. dried green chile powder
1 t. baking soda

Mix the corn syrup and sugar in a medium-size bowl, and microwave on high power 4 minutes. It should be quite foamy. Add the pistachios and cook 3 more minutes. Stir in the butter and green chile powder, and cook 1 1/2 minutes longer. Stir in the baking soda, and quickly spread the mixture on a buttered cookie sheet. When cool, flex the cookie sheet to pop the brittle free, then break it up into chunks.

Update: This recipe works perfectly in an 800-watt microwave oven, but if you have a microwave of a different wattage, check out the awesome conversion charts at http://www.microwavecookingforone.com/Charts/Wattage.html

Valencian Orange Tart


The New Spanish TableI just got the most fantastic Spanish cookbook, The New Spanish Table, by Anya Von Bremzen. The photo of this tart was so stunning, I had to make it first thing. I love her writing - friendly and entertaining, she tells all kinds of great stories about modern Spanish chefs and culinary history. I love the fascinating combinations of spices - saffron, rosemary, oranges, almonds, paprika. She makes amazing food accessible, even including shortcuts and substitutions so the recipes are not too fussy, yet focusing on the little details so that the result is spectacular. I've been interested in Spanish food for a while, but all the cookbooks I've seen before seem to call for multiple impossible-to-find ingredients, or tons of seafood, which just isn't plentiful here. And, unlike other Spanish cookbooks, this book also includes lots of great, fresh vegetable recipes!

As gorgeous as this is, it's not really difficult to make. We had a pile of juicy Valencia oranges from LPO, store-bought pie crusts in the freezer, and Wilkin & Sons marmalade in the fridge, so I had everything I needed. It's important to use thin-skinned oranges like Valencia or blood oranges, instead of thicker-skinned varieties like most Navel oranges. You could even mix in lemon slices!

4 medium-size, thin-skinned oranges or lemons
2 1/2 cups orange juice
1 cup + 2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs grated orange zest
2 tsp orange flower water (optional)
1 cup best-quality orange marmalade
Pre-made pie crust

Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub the oranges well, and cut a thick slice off each end. You can grate the orange zest you need from these end slices - it's just about enough. Slice each orange in thin rounds about 1/8 inch thick (it's not easy!) I didn't try it, but I wonder if the mandoline would work well for this.

Mix juice, sugar, zest and orange flower water (if using) with 1 cup sugar in a wide pan, and bring to a boil so that the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat to low and simmer the orange slices in this liquid for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bake the pie crust: cover it with aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights or set an identical pie plate on top to hold the crust down, bake for 25 minutes, then remove the weight and bake 5-10 minutes longer. Turn the oven down to 375F. Let the crust cool completely before filling it.

Let the orange slices cool in the liquid, then drain well and pat dry (this is important, otherwise the tart will be too liquidy.) Cut each slice in half. If you're like me, and can't bear to throw away this delicious liquid, you can boil it down to make syrup! Or you can even reduce it to the point where it's thick enough to use in the recipe instead of the marmalade. Of course, it takes longer if you want to do this. Spread the marmalade in the bottom of the crust, and arrange the orange slices in overlapping concentric circles on top.

Bake on center rack of oven 30 minutes, until the oranges are lightly browned. Heat the broiler. Sprinkle the top of the tart evenly with sugar. Broil until the sugar is caramelized, 4-7 minutes, being very careful not to let the top burn!

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts


Brussels sprouts are a favorite Christmas dish in many parts of Europe, and according to Alton Brown, in Belgium they are traditionally cooked with chestnuts. As I've said before, they are truly horrible if boiled until they become soggy, sulfurous blobs... but they're nutty, sweet and wonderful when roasted or sauteed until the edges are browned. Chestnuts are in season just for this short time around Christmas, and you can find them at Whole Foods or the Co-Op, but I actually saw them at Smith's last week!  I usually forgo the bacon, because I love Brussels sprouts for their own delicious flavor, but hey, it's Christmas.

6-8 whole chestnuts (in shells)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2 strips bacon, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut, then place them in a small saucepan and cover with water. Boil 10 minutes, drain and cool. Peel off the hard outer shell and the bark-like inner coating. Chop into quarters. Wash the Brussels sprouts and peel off any loose outer leaves. Slice them into thin ribbons. Heat a large skillet on medium flame. Fry the bacon bits until crisp, and drain off most of the grease. Add olive oil, garlic, chestnuts and Brussels sprouts. Cook until the sprouts are tender and browning at the edges. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Red Chile Pecan Pie


Pecan pie just might be my favorite pie, and it's truly spectacular with a little red chile in it! In fact, I love to add red chile to all kinds of sweet things. Did you know? The pecan is a species of hickory, native to the southern U.S. and Mexico. New Mexico pecans are in season right now, and many orchards sell them online. At the Los Ranchos winter market last weekend, I found a man selling pecans from his own front-yard tree. Many people grow the tall, beautiful pecan as a shade tree in the Albuquerque area, but since our growing season is a few weeks shorter here than in southern New Mexico, they don't usually produce a crop. Thanks to an extra-late frost this year, we got lucky!

This recipe is adapted from one on www.allrecipes.com, and unlike most pecan pies, it does not call for corn syrup. It's not quite as sweet as some, which I prefer, and I used lots of extra pecans. It's not quite enough custard for a deep dish pie, so if you're worried that it won't fill your pie dish, just add another egg and another 1/2 tablespoon of milk.

2 eggs
1 C. brown sugar
¼ C. white sugar
½ C. melted butter
2 T. red chile powder
1 T. all-purpose flour
1 T. milk
1 t. bourbon or vanilla extract
2 C. chopped pecans
1 pre-made 9-inch pie shell

Preheat oven to 400ºF. In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy. Stir in melted butter, brown sugar, and flour. Mix thoroughly, then gently stir in milk, vanilla and pecans. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell. Cover the edges with foil, and bake at 400ºF for 10 minutes. Remove the foil, reduce the temperature to 350ºF, and bake for about 20-30 minutes longer, until the center is just set – the whole pie should jiggle as one mass when gently shaken.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Urban Foraging - Pyracantha Jelly


This is another recipe from the PNM cookbook, Cocinas de New Mexico, and a fun urban foraging project. Pyracantha is that thorny shrub you see all over town at this time of year, with red or orange berries. It's related to cotoneaster and hawthorn, but cotoneaster doesn't have thorns. I don't have a pyracantha in my yard, but my friend Ashley gave me some from hers. You can find them in parking lots, along the side of the road, and in many public places. Contrary to popular belief, pyracantha berries are not poisonous. They are in the family Rosaceae, along with apples, plums, and strawberries (to name only a few!)

3 cups pyracantha berries
6 cups water
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 grapefruit
1 1/2 ounces powdered pectin
Sugar

Wash and stem the berries, and place them in a large stock pot with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add lemon and grapefruit juice to the pot. Place a clean dishtowel in a strainer and pour the mixture through into another container. Do not squeeze, otherwise the juice will become cloudy! Meanwhile, prepare the water bath for canning - boil water in the largest pot you have, and put the canning jars in to sterilize.

Measure the amount of liquid, then measure out as many cups of sugar. Combine the liquid with sugar and pectin in the pot. Bring to a rolling boil and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will still be thin, but it will jell in the jars. Remove the mixture from the heat, and skim off any foam.

Pour the mixture into hot, sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace below the lip of the jar. Screw lids on and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (longer at high altitude). Leave the jars on a dishtowel to cool overnight, and you will hear the pinging of the lids sealing over the next few hours.

It's a nice, slightly tart, light flavored jelly, but I think it tastes mostly of grapefruit - next time I'll use twice as many pyracantha berries for the same amount of everything else.

Green Chile Pinon Meatballs

These sweet, spicy little meatballs are a tasty treat for holiday parties. The great thing is, the ingredients are just what most New Mexicans have on hand in the winter – frozen green chile and ground beef. For the past few years I've been making an effort to buy local meats. Last year, we received a share of grass-fed beef from Ranney Ranch as a wedding gift. This year we decided to try out Keller's Farm Store in Albuquerque – they raise their own free-range cattle and poultry near Moriarty. Los Poblanos Organics also sells local meats, including pork and lamb. If you're interested in purchasing local meats, you can find information on New Mexico farms and ranches at http://www.eatwild.com/products/newmexico.html.

Although I've modified it quite a bit, the inspiration for this recipe comes from one in the PNM cookbook, Cocinas de New Mexico. I'm a big fan of this little book - it's packed with tried and true recipes for all the staples of New Mexican cuisine, including how to make your own tortillas. It makes a great gift for those who love New Mexican food but didn't grow up learning to cook it – my mom and sister actually asked me to send it to them for Christmas this year. You can order it online at http://www.pnm.com/community/cocinas.htm, and all proceeds go to the PNM Good Neighbor Fund, which helps customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

The original recipe called for a lot of sugar, but when I fried the meatballs, the sugar came out and burned in the oil. So I reduced the sugar and added onions to make a more savory meatball, which can be served with a sweet green chile sauce. I also added piñon nuts – the fruit of our state tree, Pinus edulis, New Mexico piñon is especially prized for its buttery flavor. There wasn't a big crop this year, so local piñon might be hard to find, but I have seen a few guys selling them by the side of the road in Santa Fe and Rio Rancho lately.

Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
1 T. brown sugar
¼ C. raisins, finely chopped
¼ C. piñon nuts
¼ C. onion, finely minced
1 t. allspice
3/4 t. salt
½ C. green chile, finely chopped
oil for frying

Sweet green chile sauce:
1/2 C. green chile, finely chopped
1 T. brown sugar
¼ t. salt

Combine meat, sugar, raisins, piñon, onion, chile, allspice and salt in medium bowl. Mix thoroughly with your hands, and form into 1-inch balls (about 1 T. each). Heat enough oil (I used canola) to cover the bottom of a large skillet, on medium-high flame. Fry meatballs in batches, 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned. Drain on paper towels. Mix green chile, sugar and salt to make a sauce to serve with meatballs.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tortilla Soup


This is great fall/winter food. Actually, I have fond memories of eating tortilla soup in the college cafeteria - it was reliably delicious, one of the best things they served. Loosely based on the recipe in The Border Cookbook by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, I throw in all kinds of extra things, depending on what I have. This time I actually just mixed about a cup and a half of my Green Tomato Salsa with the stock (because it has basically the same ingredients as the original recipe) and it was ready in about 5 minutes!

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbs oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup chopped green tomatoes, tomatillos or canned tomatoes
1-2 chipotles (dried or canned) or 1 tsp powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup cooked chicken or turkey (optional)
2 quarts chicken, beef or vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
6 corn tortillas
4 ounces Asadero, jack or cheddar cheese
1 avocado, cubed

Place unpeeled garlic cloves in a large saucepan or stock pot over medium-high heat, and dry-roast them until the skins get brown spots, turning once or twice to brown all sides. Remove the pan from heat; peel and chop the garlic cloves. Add oil and onions to the pot and brown on medium heat. Add the garlic, tomatoes, chipotles, oregano, meat (totally optional) and stock, and simmer 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into strips and toast or broil them until they are crisp. Add lime juice and cilantro to the soup, and turn off the heat. To serve, divide the tortilla strips, cheese and avocado between the bowls. Ladle soup over everything, and enjoy!

Chorizo and Cabbage


A few weeks ago, I drove up to Los Ranchos for the winter market (got to get my fix! every second Saturday, so you can bet I'll be there this coming weekend) but I was too late - everyone was already packing up. As I dejectedly headed home, I remembered I'd be driving right by Joe S. Sausage. I'd actually never been into his shop, so I thought I'd pay a visit. It's tiny - you walk right into his kitchen, basically, and there he is making sausage. This is the kind of sausage you want to see being made. He uses organic pork, and when I asked him what cut, he said definitively: shoulder, because it has the right balance of fat.

On a tiny whiteboard, there's a list of all the varieties available, and the list is extensive. It's fabulous to get him talking about how he develops the flavors - he was trained as a microbiologist, so of course he keeps a meticulous sausage lab notebook! He also makes ravioli, pierogies, and falafel. Probably my favorite part of the conversation was when he explained how he quizzes Polish old ladies about how they make pierogies, which means Polish old ladies buy sausage from him... impressive. I got the Green Chile Bratwurst, the Hungarian Kolbasz, and the Xoriço.

The best way to cook a great sausage like this is low and slow, with some onions roasting alongside it. I love some cabbage in there too.

1 large sausage link (or however many regular-size ones you want to eat)
1/2 medium onion
1/2 medium head of cabbage
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt

Slice onions and cabbage into 1/2-inch ribbons. Arrange around the sausage in a cast iron skillet or casserole dish. Sprinkle vinegar, water and salt over the veggies. Cover and bake at 350F for an hour or so, until the sausage is done (at least 160F on an instant-read thermometer) and the cabbage is tender.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice Revisited


About a year ago (it's chestnut season again) I published a recipe for Pumpkin, Chard and Chestnut Rice, which was absolutely marvelous... but I wanted to try it with brown rice. I found a great technique for cooking brown rice in Cook's Illustrated, and it came out fantastic! They recommend baking it, because the texture turns out really nice, kind of like my buckwheat recipe.

The recipe is actually pretty easy. I simply sauteed the garlic, bacon, squash, chard and chestnuts for about 10 minutes, until the bacon was browned. I used the whole chard leaves, and more of them, this time. I added the rice and cooked a few minutes more, until the grains were translucent at the edges. Then I put the whole mixture in a covered casserole with the chickpeas and vegetable stock, and baked it at 375 for 2 hours. I know this sounds like a long time, but if you think about white rice, it takes 20 minutes to cook normally and about an hour to make a risotto... brown rice takes at least 40 minutes to cook normally and this risotto-type dish takes 2 hours. So I think this is actually pretty reasonable. And believe me, it's worth it!

Pumpkin Pie (From Real Pumpkins!)

Gosh, time flies! I guess it's been a while since I posted anything - I was so busy doing Thanksgiving that I didn't have time to write about it. It's one of my favorite holidays, because it's entirely about enjoying food, relaxing and expressing gratitude for what you have. I had a wonderful time cooking for my mom, my sister, my husband's parents, and a few friends. Probably my greatest triumph this Thanksgiving was the pumpkin pie - it was truly exceptional, the best one I've ever made.

During the last few weeks of the farmers' markets in late October and early November, I bought a fabulous array of heirloom pumpkins. Here's an adorable family photo!


Clockwise from the bottom left, we have:
Jarrahdale Blue - a very standard type of winter squash in Australia (correct me if I'm wrong, Peta) and an incredibly long keeper. It looks more blue in person, really.
Black Futsu - another very long keeper, said to have a wonderful chestnut flavor. The farmer said it would keep until early spring, and its skin should turn to a warm buckskin color.
Turk's Turban - cute and funky, but reputed to be very dry and maybe not so flavorful. We'll find out!
Kabocha - I usually don't try to grow squash because the squash bugs always get it, but this squash simply grew out of our compost pile and remained amazingly bug-free. The vines were 20 feet long and twined up into our plum tree to where it looked like a pumpkin tree!
Naples Long - the favored baking pumpkin in Italy, according to Eli at Chispas Farm. Gotta love the nametag! This is the one I used for my pie.
And in the middle, Galeux d'Eysines - a French heirloom which is not a very long keeper (I'll have to use it by Christmas) but should be incredibly sweet and flavorful. People say the warts are where the sugar is popping out of the skin.


Most recipes use canned pumpkin, which is nice because the moisture content is more consistent from can to can. But that's no fun, because there are so many gorgeous, flavorful pumpkins out there! The day before Thanksgiving, I cut the 11-pound Naples Long in half (crosswise, because its full length wouldn't fit in my oven!) and baked it for about an hour and a half at 350F. It came out with the most amazing texture, not exactly stringy - the flesh looked and felt kind of like the little juice sacs that make up a grapefruit segment.


I used a technique from Cook's Illustrated for the custard, which involves cooking the pumpkin to concentrate the flavor and reduce the liquid. And I replaced the cream/evaporated milk and two egg yolks with eggnog - my new favorite eggnog is Organic Valley (NOT Horizon Organic, which is terrible). The custard came out with a perfect silky texture and didn't crack at all!

1 pre-made pie crust
1 cup eggnog (or 2 egg yolks + cream or evaporated milk to make 1 cup)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups cooked pumpkin, pureed
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400F. Lay the pie crust in the pan and crimp edges. Cover with foil and place pie weights or an identical pie pan inside to keep it from bubbling up. Bake 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, and bake 5 minutes more, until golden brown and crisp.

Whisk eggnog, eggs and vanilla together in a bowl. Combine the pumpkin, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugar in a saucepan. I used my awesome Cuisinart hand blender (thanks Ally and Ben!) to puree it all together. Bring the pumpkin mixture to a slow simmer and cook until it resembles thick applesauce, about 20 minutes. Stir frequently, but be careful, because it will burn you badly if it splatters on your hand! Turn off the heat and whisk in the eggnog mixture.

Pour custard into the baked pie crust, and place in the oven at 400F for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 300F. Continue baking 20-35 minutes more, until the center reads 175F on an instant-read thermometer. If you don't have one, the other way to determine whether it's done is to shake the pan gently, and there should be an area in the center about the size of a quarter that jiggles - if the liquidy area is any bigger than a 50-cent piece, leave it in another 5-10 minutes. If you wait until it is solid all the way to the center, the top of the custard will crack as it cools.

Allow the pie to cool at least 2-3 hours so the custard is fully set. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.