Saturday was a good day not to leave the house.  Outside, temperatures were in the 90s, and the air in our neighborhood was smoky from the wildfires blazing to the northeast.  Inside, there was a baseball game on television, a fridge full of iced tea, lemonade, and beer, and a cookbook full of things that I very much wanted to eat.  So, I spent the day with the Junior League of Phoenix’s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears, and considered it very well spent indeed.

While the Reds-Dodgers game was still on, I sent Brady out in the hot, polluted air for tortilla chips.  It would be, I told him, worth his trouble to do so.

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

2 to 4 serrano chiles
10 ounces tomatillos, husks removed
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pickled jalapeno chile
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno chile vinegar
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 avocado, chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped onion.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add the serrano chiles. Boil for 5 minutes and add the tomatillos. Boil for five minutes longer and remove from heat; drain.

Combine the serrano chiles, tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno chile and vinegar in a blender and process until pureed. Add the cilantro and salt and process until blended. Combine the puree, avocado, and onion in a bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings and serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 2 cups

I decided to use only three serrano chiles, mostly because after seeding them, I wiped a drop of sweat off my cheek, which immediately set the entire right side of my face afire.  Though the salsa verde had a nice kick to it, next time, I will throw caution to the wind and add all four.

This is a delicious salsa with big, fresh flavors and excellent served as soon as it’s made (when it’s still pleasantly warm) or chilled.  The next time we have people over to watch some kind of sporting event, I’m making a bowl of this and a bowl of pico de gallo (for which there’s also a recipe in Pomegranates and Prickly Pears, although here it goes by the name it’s better known as in the Mexican state of Sonora — salsa de bandera).

Considering what I had planned for the main course, I thought it wise that we start off with a nice green salad.  This one has a little southwestern flair, and also gave me the opportunity to purchase my very first jicama.

Jicama Green Leaf Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

Honey Mustard Dressing

Jicama Green Leaf Salad

Jicama Green Leaf Salad

1 cup honey
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil

Salad

1 head each green and red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup grated red radishes
1 cup julienned jicama
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)

For the dressing, combine the honey, mustard, vinegar, wine and olive oil in a food processor and process for 1 minute. Pour the dressing into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

It's toasted!

Please indulge me my gratuitous Mad Men reference: It's toasted!

For the salad, toss the green and red leaf lettuce in a bowl. Add the desired amount of dressing and mix until coated. Divide the lettuce mixture evenly among 4 salad plates. Artfully arrange the carrots, radishes, jicama, pine nuts and pepitas over the top of each salad.

Serves 4

This salad reminds me of a passage from Poppy Z. Brite’s wonderful G-Man and Rickey series (Liquor, Prime, Soul Kitchen) about two men opening and running a liquor-themed restaurant in New Orleans (a must-read for those into cooking, restaurant culture, and the Gulf Coast).  In the first book, they hire an amazing chef who requests that they put him at the salad station, a universally hated job.  When they ask why on earth he would volunteer for this, he says something to the effect of, well, everybody hates making salads because nobody ever bothers to do it right.

If people think salad is boring, it’s because they’ve never had a good one.  And this salad is very, very good.  And those toasted pepitas and pine nuts?  If you have any left over, they make fine munchies.  Just be careful when you’re toasting them because there is very little wiggle room between “perfectly toasted” and “charred to the bottom of the pan.”

I was very excited about the main course because I’d never made proper enchiladas before.  Oh, I’ve made things “called” enchiladas, but I never made them from a good recipe, and I’d certainly never made enchilada sauce from scratch before.  One important note:  Ralph’s was out of ancho chiles, so I had to substitute New Mexico red chiles (a substitution recommended by the Cook’s Thesaurus).  New Mexico chiles in a Phoenix recipe… sacrilege!  But if you’re able to make these with the anchos, your enchiladas will turn out looking quite a bit different (though still tasty).

Ancho Chile Cheese Enchiladas

Ancho Chile Sauce

Enchilada sauce

Enchilada sauce

4 cups chicken stock
4 large ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons flour
4 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Enchiladas

1 1/2 cups corn oil
12 corn tortillas
5 cups (20 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

For the sauce, bring the stock and ancho chiles to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the chiles are tender. Remove from heat, reserving the chiles and cooking liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2/3 of the onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or just until it begins to soften, stirring constantly. Combine the sauteed onion, reserved chiles, 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, and garlic in a blender and process until the consistency of a smooth paste.

Heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until blended. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the reserved chile paste, cumin, sugar, oregano, remaining reserved cooking liquid, salt and pepper and mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Cover the sauce and keep warm over low heat.

I was glad I bought the 30-pack of corn tortillas, since I broke three and dropped one on the floor.  These were hard-won enchiladas.

I was glad I bought the 30-pack of corn tortillas, since I broke three and dropped one on the floor. These were hard-won enchiladas.

For the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 cups corn oil in a deep skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the tortillas 1 at a time in the hot oil for 2 seconds per side, turning once. Immediately dip the tortillas into the chile sauce to coat. Place the tortillas on a large plate and sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over the bottom third of each tortilla. Roll to enclose the cheese and arrange seam side down in a single layer in a baking dish. Spoon the remaining chile sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of cheese and remaining onions. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.

Enchiladas with a side of chips and tomatillo sauce

Enchiladas with a side of chips and tomatillo sauce

Serves 4 to 6

After dinner, the heat got the better of me, and I felt entirely too sapped of energy to make dessert.  So, my sweet husband volunteered to take over on kitchen duty.  Ironically, I’d originally chosen this dessert because creme brulee is one of his favorites, and I’d planned to make it especially for him.  However, Brady is a good sport, and a pretty darn good cook, too, so he volunteered to take over on creme brulee duty.  This would prove more challenging than anticipated.

Lemon Creme Brulee

Lemon Creme Brulee

Lemon Creme Brulee

2 cups cream
6 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Sugar to taste
Lemon zest, fresh blueberries or fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat just until hot; do not scald. Whisk the egg yolks and eggs in a bowl until smooth. Add 1 cup sugar to the eggs gradually, whisking constantly until blended. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the warm cream gradually, whisking constantly.

Pour the lemon mixture into six 6-ounce ramekins and arrange the ramekins in a large baking pan. Add enough hot water to the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Sprinkle the top of each creme brulee lightly with sugar to taste. Caramelize the sugar with a culinary torch. Garnish with additional lemon zest, fresh blueberries or fresh raspberries.

Serves 6

Some of you have heard this story already, but when Brady and I lived in Wisconsin, we happened to come into possession of a culinary torch.  While we used it once or twice for making creme brulee, we soon began using it chiefly for automotive purposes.  At the time, I was driving a 1985 Dodge sedan, and between December and March, the locks would regularly freeze up.  You know what’s really good for thawing out the locks on your car?  A culinary torch.

Sadly, when we went digging through the drawers for the culinary torch this weekend, it was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps it is in Wisconsin still.

Undaunted, Brady pulled a MacGyver.  He cranked up the broiler, stacked up each individual brulee in unused ramekins, and proceeded to lay down on his side on the kitchen floor, stick his hand inside the broiler, and hold each creme brulee directly under the flame.

It was totally hardcore.

And the lemon creme brulee was wonderful.  I think that food tastes especially good when you’ve had to overcome some kind of culinary adversity to get it.

So, my thanks to Brady.  He can be my pastry chef in the Junior League kitchen anytime.

And very special thanks to Jill Kipnes and the women of the Junior League of Phoenix for sending me a copy of their wonderful cookbook.  They’re involved with many terrific community programs in the Phoenix area, including early education programming with the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, and the Girl Scouts First Saturdays program, where they serve as troop leaders for over 500 girls in Phoenix (you can follow what they’re up to on Twitter).

Thanks ladies, and keep up the good work!

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The O-Dog in action

The O-Dog in action

As I sit here, listening to the Dodgers postgame on KABC 790 after a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, I find myself unable to hold too dear a grudge against the fair city of Phoenix.

After all, two of my favorite Dodgers did spend quality time there.

After suffering a seemingly career-ending wrist injury last season, Orlando Hudson left the D-Backs a free agent and was signed by the Dodgers for this season.  Their loss was our gain.  The irrepressible O-Dog, recently named the “Chattiest Player” in Major League Baseball, is an absolute joy to watch on the field, at bat, or in an interview.

AND!  He also runs the nonprofit C.A.T.C.H. Foundation (Curing Autism Through Change and Hope), an organization that seeks “to enable children with autism to enjoy a normal life through the funding of outlets for proper therapy, education, and extracurricular activities.”

'Dre enjoying his unlikely off-season vocation

Phoenix's clutch-hitting, food blogging export

And then, there’s Phoenix’s native son, Dodger right fielder, and king of the clutch homer and walk-off hit, Andre Ethier.  Whenever I see him step up to the plate, I always find myself thinking, despite the fact that I’m only a few years older than he is, “What a nice young man!”

And when he’s not knocking balls out of the park, Ethier is, of all things, a total foodie.  Last season, he started writing a food blog, Dining With ‘Dre, where he explores the ethnic cuisine of Los Angeles and his native Phoenix.

It hasn’t been updated in quite some time (dude’s been busy!), but in his last two posts, he figures out why Mexican food in Phoenix is the best (it’s the Native American influence), and  takes his grandma out to lunch at her favorite Phoenix restaurant.

What a nice young man!

And then, there’s the southwestern feast Brady and I enjoyed the other day, courtesy of recipes from the Junior League of Phoenix‘s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears (2005).

In the forward to the book, Barbara Pool Fenzl, owner of Les Gourmettes Cooking School, writes,

“As a young bride, I loved to cook and try new dishes by inviting our friends for dinner.  As I worked my way through many, many cookbooks, I soon realized that the Junior Leagues’ were the best.  They always had delicious, doable recipes that were perfect for entertaining.  As I traveled about the country, my mission became seeking out the Junior League cookbook from each city I visited.  I knew the dishes would work because they were used by busy, accomplished women who loved to host memorable parties but didn’t want to slave in the kitchen all day.”

pomegranates and prickly pearsExactly!

And I absolutely love that way that Pomegranates and Prickly Pears is organized.  Instead of the typical “Appetizers-Breads-Side Dishes-Main Courses-Desserts” arrangement, the recipes in the book are arranged in terms of how a busy home cook might use them.  Sections include “It’s a Dry Heat” (light and casual summer dishes), “Eat with Your Hands” (kid-friendly recipes), “Just the Two of You” (recipes for romantic dinners at home), and “Valley Glow” (hors d’oeuvre and recipes for festive entertaining).

For this week’s menu, I pieced together recipes from a few sections because there is no chapter in any cookbook for “Things to Cook When Your Husband Has a California Wildfire-Induced Sinus Infection and Can’t Taste Food.”

Lots of spicy chile dishes coming up this week, as well as an elegant, tasty salad, and a dessert that involves a culinary torch!

Go Dodgers (and D-Backs)!

View recipes and photos from the Junior League of Phoenix’s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears (Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado, Jicama Green Leaf Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing, Ancho Chile Cheese Enchiladas, Lemon Creme Brulee)

After the Great Mole Feast of ’09, which will be spoken of in hushed and reverant tones in the Potts/McCoy house for years to come, it seems almost anti-climactic to post a second menu from the Junior League of El Paso’s Seasoned With Sun.  Especially a ridiculously simple meal like this one.

In the Mexican cooking section of the book, I passed up enchiladas, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and tamales, because I’ve made those things many times.  However, I’d never made tapatias, and thought it was fun to say in a Beavis voice.  Dinner plans have surely been hatched on flimsier premises.

Bean Tapatias

To prepare tapatias, fry corn tortilla in hot oil until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Prepare toppings and spread over hot tortillas.

Yep, turns out that's pretty much spaghetti sauce.

Yep, turns out that's pretty much spaghetti sauce.

12 corn tortillas
3 cups pinto beans
2 tablespoons oil
4 cups Longhorn, or sharp Cheddar cheese
1 head lettuce, shredded
1 can tomato puree
1 onion, minced
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4-6 peeled green chiles

Fry and mash cooked pinto beans in oil. Put a layer of mashed beans on top of each tortilla and top with cheese and lettuce. Serve warm with a sauce made of tomato puree, onion, oregano, vinegar, oil, salt and chile.

Now, the next evening, when we went out and bought a container of fresh salsa, and put that on top of the refried beans and cheese and lettuce and yummy fried tortillas, these were absolutely delicious.

However, as served with the sauce recipe published in Seasoned With Sun, it was just sort of weird.  I like Tex-Mex food, and I like Italian food, I just don’t really like them at the same time, and this was basically spaghetti sauce.

Now, the veggie side course, on the other hand, will be joining the starting line-up of my work night recipe arsenal.  I mean, it’s all well and good to spend all day laboring over crawfish beignets or sauerbraten or mole from scratch, but I don’t cook like this all the time.  Over the years, we’ve created a serviceable rotation of things that make for a reasonably tasty and quick dinner — bean burritos, falafel, these little chicken roll-ups made with Pillsbury crescent rolls, and a Potts/McCoy specialty we call “Redneck Casserole” (it involves ground beef, macaroni, cheese, two cans of Campbell’s soup, and is delicious).

Calabacitas, though healthier, fresher, and generally better for you than Redneck Casserole, are equally satisfying and tasty.  Especially in the summertime – there’s just nothing that tastes quite as good as corn cut right off the cob, except perhaps corn on the cob.

Calabacitas

calabacitas

Calabacitas

2 pounds summer squash, or crookneck squash
1 small onion, minced
3 ears corn, cut from cob
6 green chiles, roasted and peeled
1 tablespoon lard or bacon drippings
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water

Thinly slice squash and chile. Saute onion in lard and salt. Add corn and fry until golden brown. Pour water into frying pan. Add squash and chile. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes or until corn is tender.

These are also good with a little shredded Cheddar on top.

To roast chiles, just put them on a cookie sheet covered with a piece of tin foil to make clean-up easier, and pop them in the oven at 400 degrees, give or take.  Flip them periodically as they roast until the skins are evenly blistered, about 20-30 minutes.  Then, wrap the chiles in a damp towel for about ten minutes to steam the skins.  After this, they should be cool enough to handle.  Cut the chiles open, remove the stems and seeds, and peel off the skin.

There are recipes I’ve tried out in the past few months that I would not make again if paid, and others that I’ve already forgotten (and somehow, these are worse than the memorably bad ones).  However, it’s nice every once in awhile to find recipes that, while not show-stopping, are simple and good enough to make every day.  The jalapeno cornbread from week 5 (Pine Bluff, Arkansas) was like that.  And come to think of it, that would probably taste really good with calabacitas.

Next week:  Off to Tampa, Florida, for Spanish flavors, a big trip to the butcher, and pirates!

seasoned with sunSince its publication in 1974, the Junior League of El Paso‘s cookbook, Seasoned With Sun has gone through numerous printings and remains in print today.  And with good reason.  It’s a terrific source for authentic Mexican and Southwestern cooking, and full of recipes that reflect the Indian, Mexican, Spanish, and Anglo influences on regional cuisine.  Although there’s a section of the cookbook devoted to traditional Mexican dishes, recipes with roots in Central and South American cooking such as empanadas, jicama en escabeche, and sopaipillas are scattered throughout the book alongside the usual suspects of the Junior League cookbook — ham puffs, Steak Diane, chicken Jerusalem, cheese balls.

For my cooking this week, I wanted to make two meals, one traditional Mexican, and one traditional Tex-Mex, and Seasoned With Sun gave me many, many options to choose from.  Sadly, I did not have time to make chiles rellanos; however, there are many other Southwestern Junior Leagues, and somehow, I suspect at least one of them will include a recipe.

The reason I did not have time to make chiles rellanos is because I decided to make mole from scratch.  Ironically, I chose mole instead of tamales because I thought the latter sounded “too hard.”  Four hours and half a season of Mad Men into the mole-making process, my shoulders aching, my fingertips afire, and covered in ground chile and chocolate goo up to my elbows, I lamented my decision bitterly.  Five hours in, I took to strong liquor.

And then I tasted the mole.  And all was forgiven.

For those unfamiliar with mole, it’s a name that can refer to many different kinds of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla where they originated.  Though there are many varieties, all are made from a mixture of ground chiles and spices, and sometimes, chocolate.  Red moles – Mole Coloradito and Mole Rojo– are particularly delicious, though it’s hard to go wrong ordering a Mole Poblano, which is what I made. It’s a sauce that has a lot of subtle, complex flavors, which shouldn’t surprise you when you see the list of ingredients, as there are about a million of them. In Mexico, mole is traditionally served for special occasions.  This is sensible, because you would never make anything this labor-intensive and time-consuming for people unless you liked them a whole lot.

Chicken or Turkey Mole

Serves 6

Mole Sauce

This is what the sauce should look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

This is what the mole will look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

30 chiles mulattos
20 chiles anchos
10 chiles pasillas
1 tablespoon mixed seeds from chiles
1/2 cup almonds (not blanched)
1 corn tortilla
2 French rolls
1 onion, peeled
2 peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch anise seed
Pinch coriander
1 quarter Mexican chocolate (comes in rounds, marked in quarters)
4-6 cups hot turkey or chicken broth
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cumin powder
Salt to taste
Pinch powdered cloves (optional)

Wash and dry the three kinds of chiles (all can be bought at Mexican food stores). Place chiles in a dry, heavy skillet and toast lightly. Remove seeds. Soak chiles in water to cover. Toast the tablespoon of chile seeds with the almonds in a dry skillet until brown. Fry the tortilla crisp in a little oil. Cut rolls in half and fry until brown. Grind all ingredients to the consistency of paste. Add a cup or more of broth to the ground chile (enough to strain the chile). Stir through sieve; add broth if needed. Sauce can be frozen in 2 cup amounts.

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

1 turkey or 2 3-pound chickens, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups mole (home prepared recipe or 1 jar commercial sauce)
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash coriander
Dash cumin
Dash garlic powder
Dash ground cinnamon
1 rounded teaspoon peanut butter
1/8 round of Mexican chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaping teaspoon raisins

Simmer the cut up turkey or chicken in water to cover until tender, adding salt to taste. Heat oil and add mole sauce. Fry a few minutes; add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Add broth if it gets too thick. Place boned turkey or chicken into sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve with hot buttered tortillas.

When making a dish like mole, you will probably spend a certain amount of time in a state of anxious worry, obsessing over the very real possibility that five hours of cooking could end with a phone call to Papa John’s, and the fear that you will never again be able to eat cheese sticks without associating them with failure.

And by you, of course, I mean me.

I started to feel more confident when I got the paste ground up, and noticed that it smelled right.  And once I’d gotten it strained through the colander, it looked right.  And once I adjusted the seasonings a little bit, it tasted right.

By the time I got it plated, I was quite visibly strutting.

It was a little spicy, a little sweet, a little smoky and nutty and chocolaty — just a very good, very balanced recipe, and well worth the effort.

mole3

For breakfast this morning, we fried up a couple of tortillas and a couple of eggs, and served them with a scoop of chicken mole and a spoonful of salsa – a kind of mole, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles mash-up – which was absolutely delicious.  We had the rest with rice for dinner tonight, and I even had a couple of cups of sauce left over, which I froze.

I did make a few recipe adjustments, most notably the fact that I only used one whole chicken, and found that I only needed about three cups of broth to mix with the chile paste before I forced it through the colander, and only needed to add about half a cup of broth to the mole while it simmered.

Also, it may take you less than five hours to make this, especially if you have a food processor that can grind more than two chiles at a time.  But make no mistake, the grinding part of the recipe will take a long, long time, and your shoulders will be screaming by the time you’re finished.  Also, if you find your fingers won’t stop burning hours after you’ve finished cooking, try soaking your hands in milk for a few minutes.  It works wonders.