Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Salsa Borracha (Drunken Salsa)

This one is a little unusual. When I first saw Marcela Valladolid cooking it on her show "Mexican Made Easy", I thought she may have been drunken herself. I had never heard of making a salsa with dried chiles, orange juice, and tequila, but it looked like a pretty good topping for meats and tacos.

Start by removing the stem and seeds from 8 ancho chiles. These chiles are dried from the poblano chile. They are a deep red color and are sweet with tastes of raisin and plum.

Put the chiles on to a dry frying pan over medium heat for a minute per side until they are slightly toasted. Tear them apart and put into a blender.

Add to the blender, a cup of orange juice, 1/2 cup of a good anejo tequila, a minced garlic clove, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Puree until well blended and add back into frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Puree until well blended and add back into frying pan.

Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until thickened.

Now for the fun part. I created a little dry part of the pan to pour the tequila into a pool.

Then I set the tequila on fire and let it slowly burn out.

Finally, blend it all together and season with salt and pepper.

Let it cool down, then transfer to a serving bowl. Top with crumbled anejo cheese. While the alcohol is cooked off, you will soon be singing and dancing once you make this one.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bagna Caôda

Bagna Caôda is a classic Italian dish native to the Piemonte area. The name arises from the interaction between land and sea, with the anchovies and olive oil brought overland by Liguarian traders combining delightfully with the garlic grown in Piemonte. It is the symbol of joyful conviviality around which friends gather.

My grandmother's cousin had talked about making Bagna Caôda for years and years. I had heard stories of my long past grandparents entertaining loads of people on a long table at their home in Castroville. There, wine was flowing and fondue pots were used to keep a garlic and anchovy mixture hot for dipping bread and unusual vegetables into. Finally, the night had come for her to share this family recipe.

It all starts by peeling and thinly slicing a staggering 6 or 7 heads of garlic. Not cloves of garlic, but heads of garlic.

In a 2-quart sauce pan, pour a light olive oil over the garlic until it reaches an inch over the top.
Cook over low to medium heat until just bubbling. Stir periodically to keep from sticking to the bottom.

After 20 minutes, the garlic will begin to soften.

After 40 minutes, the garlic turns a to a shade of brown and becomes very tender.

Add 2 cans of anchovies with its oil and mix.

After another 20 minutes, the anchovies and garlic will be disintegrating. Add 1/2 cube of butter and 1/2 cup of white wine. Continue on heat until butter is melted.

At this point, keep it on a very low heat to remain warm.

The vegetables can be any that are in season. Traditionally, with my family, the key vegetable is Cardone. It is pronounced Car-dough-nay and is a cousin to the artichoke. No wonder it was so important of an ingredient with my grandfather being an artichoke farmer. The Cardone is grown for its edible stalks, much like celery.

Once the Cardone is the desired size, the plant is wrapped up and burried for a few weeks until the stalks become white in color removing much of the bitterness. Maybe because of this preparation, we were able to eat it raw, unlike all the other places I have looked saying it needs to be cooked. Ours was placed in a paper bag for a few weeks. It was a milder than I had expected with a slight taste of artichoke.

Other vegetables that we tried were cabbage, anise, carrots, celery, sweet bell peppers, radishes, cauliflower, and broccolini. Of course there were many loafs of fresh french bread to dip as well.

It was an amazing meal that I will remember, and taste, for a long time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chiles en Nogada

It has been a long time since my last post, but I have found a new show that has inspired me to try some new dishes and crank out some new posts. The Food Network show is called "Mexican Made Easy", but I find the title to be a little misleading. The host, Marcela Valladolid, breezes through multiple dishes in 30 minutes, while it could take me a couple of hours to finish one of them even after procuring the ingredients.

Today's dish is Chiles en Nogada, Stuffed Poblano Chiles in Creamy Walnut Sauce.
The name comes from the Spanish word for the walnut tree, nogal. This famous dish is said to have been developed by the residents of Puebla to honor General Don Augustín de Iturbide at a celebratory banquet held in August 1821, after the signing of the Treaty of Córdoba. All of the dishes served at the banquet featured the colors of the Mexican flag (green chiles, white sauce, and red pomegranate seeds). Still a popular dish, chiles en nogada is often served in August when walnuts and pomegranates come into season.

The first part of this dish is the picadillo,
a mixture usually containing chopped or ground meat, aromatics, fruits, and spices.

Cook a diced onion and a few teaspoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat until translucent. Add a couple cloves of minced garlic and cook for a minute longer, until fragrant. Add a pound of ground pork, a pound of ground sirloin, a bay leaf, and a cinnamon stick and cook over medium heat until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes.

Chop 1/2 cup of dried apples, 1/2 cup of dried apricots, and 3/4 cup of dried pineapple. Combine dried fruit with meat and remove from heat. Mix in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon along with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf and set aside.

For the walnut sauce, you are going to need to peel 4 cups of walnuts. This sounds a little intimidating, but really isn't that bad. In a cup of boiling water, add the walnuts and cook for 1 minute, then drain into a colander. After they have cooled, the walnut skins will mostly fall off. A paring knife can be used to remove the stubborn skins. Peeling the walnuts will make a smoother, whiter sauce. Unpeeled walnuts can be used, but the texture will be grainier and slightly bitter.

Combine the walnuts, 2 1/2 cups of Mexican crema, and 4 ounces of goat cheese in a blender and blend until smooth and silky. Sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Add a few more walnuts or crema to adjust thickness. Season with salt.

Next, char 10 poblano chiles on a gas stove top. Keep rotating until the entire chile is thoroughly blackened. I actually needed to get a little bit more of a char on mine to cook the flesh a little more. It was a sufficient amount to easily remove the blackened skin, but I thought that the meat was a little too crunchy.

Immediately after pulling from the stove top, put the chile into a plastic bag for 15 minutes allowing it to sweat a little loosening the skin. At this point, use a paper towel to pull the skin right off.

Cut a slit into each chile lengthwise and carefully cut out the seeds and veins. Leave the chile stem intact.

Spoon as much filling into each of the chiles as you can.

Finally, top the exposed filling with a couple of tablespoons of the walnut sauce. Top with some pomegranate seeds to resemble the colors of the Mexican flag.