Friday, June 28, 2013

Chile Rellenos (Baked Not Fried)

Last Year's Post: Strawberry Basil Lemonade

I love chile rellenos (and all Mexican foods) but so many are fried and heavy in fat and calories.  I know, you say, but that's what makes them taste good.  My latest challenge was to find a recipe that it just as delicious but better for you so of course I turned to Rick Bayless, one of my all-time favorites chefs, for inspiration.  I like Rick Bayless for his tireless dedication to Mexican food authenticity.  He has two restaurants in Chicago that share a common wall (Frontera Grill, his original restaurant, and Topolobampo, which is more upscale).  If you're ever in Chicago be sure to try Frontera Grill.  We went there for the first time a year or two ago and it was one of my best restaurant meals of all time.  They don't take reservations and people wait in line for an hour before the restaurant even opens which tells you how popular it is.  Even so, it was more than worth the wait.  Rick has several cookbooks as well as a line of Frontera Grill salsas and other foods in grocery stores.  You can also catch his cooking shows on PBS.

I was happy to find this recipe for baked chile rellenos from Rick, in particular because it includes chorizo and goat cheese.  I love the combination of slightly spicy chorizo with creamy, tangy goat cheese and the roasted poblano chiles are the perfect flavor counterpoint to them both.  Because Rick's recipes are authentic, they're not always quick to prepare.  Be aware that this recipe contains a couple of steps that require cooling time so plan ahead - the good news is that the entire dish can be made in advance and refrigerated.  For perspective, he calls this recipe "quick and easy".

The interesting technique in this recipe is roasting, peeling and seeding the chiles which is an essential step in softening them and giving them a wonderful flavor.  Start with beautiful fresh poblanos and then blacken them over an open flame or under the broiler.

Let them sit a few minutes in a covered bowl, then peel the skins off.  This was actually easier than I thought it would be.  You want to handle the softened chiles carefully during this process so they don't tear open but if a little tear happens don't worry, you can use that as the start of the next step.

You make a long lengthwise cut and a short crosswise cut to form an elongated "T" shape on the side of each chile, then remove the seeds with your hand, rinse and set aside.  Then you make the chorizo filling and let cool before adding the goat cheese.  Remember that Mexican chorizo is completely different from Spanish chorizo, which looks a lot like pepperoni.  Mexican chorizo is crumbly and is sold like this or in a styrofoam container like ground beef.

This picture shows what the cuts look like in the chiles, and the amount of stuffing in the pan.  After I was done stuffing the chiles I had a lot of stuffing left.

My guess is that Rick stuffs his chiles more than I did, but they were plenty stuffed for us.  I refrigerated the leftover mixture and used some in quesadillas on a weeknight and some in scrambled eggs served over toasted french bread for Sunday breakfast.  Both were so delicious that next time I'll do the same rather than cutting down on the stuffing.  Anyway, the final step after baking is to add a crispy topping and serve.   They are absolutely delicious and I think much better than traditional fried chile rellenos.  Serve with some Mexican rice for a complete and very satisfying meal.

I am giving you my slightly adapted recipe in this post, but also wanted to give a link to the original recipe on his website here.

printable recipe
Roasted Poblanos Stuffed with Chorizo, Goat Cheese and Zucchini
Serves 4

4 large (about 1 ¼ lbs total) fresh poblano chiles, not twisted or deeply indented
1 pound Mexican chorizo
2 cups diced white onion
1 large zucchini, diced
6 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup panko crumbs
¼ cup finely chopped sliced, slivered or blanched almonds
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley

Roast the chiles directly over a gas flame or on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, turning regularly until the skins have blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame and about 12 minutes for broiler.  Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let stand 5 minutes.  Carefully peel off the skin, then cut an incision in the side of each chile, starting ½ inch below the stem end and continuing to the tip.  Make a small crosswise cut (approximately 1 inch in length) just under the stem at the top of the lengthwise cut to form an elongated “T” shape.  Carefully open up the chiles and remove the seeds with your fingers, trying not to extend the cuts any further.  Rinse the inside of each chile and drain on paper towels, cut-side down.

Crumble the chorizo into a large skillet set over medium-high heat.  Cook for 5 minutes, using a spoon to break up any large pieces, until brown and cooked through.  Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, zucchini, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Stir to combine, then cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened.  Remove from heat and cool completely.

Once the mixture has cooled, crumble in the goat cheese and stir to combine.  Stuff each chile with the mixture and then fold the chile around the sides of the filling leaving a gap in the center.  Place the filled chiles in a 13x9 inch casserole lined with parchment and wrap tightly with aluminum foil.  Refrigerate until ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the panko crumbs and almonds.  Spread the mixture in a small baking pan and place in the oven for a few minutes until golden brown, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.  Remove and cool.  Add the baking dish with the chiles to the oven on the middle rack and bake for 30 minutes.

While the chiles are baking, stir the chopped cilantro or parsley and ¼ teaspoon salt into the cooled panko/almond mixture.  Remove the casserole from the oven, place the chiles on a serving dish and sprinkle with the topping.  Serve immediately.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Farro, Kale & Smoked Mozzarella Salad

Last Year's Post: Easy and Elegant Summer Salad with Cheese, Fruit and Nuts

I was having a bad day a few weeks ago and stopped at the deli counter of my local grocer to pick up dinner (yes, even food bloggers do it).  They had a new farro salad that looked interesting so I tried it and really liked it - so much that I emailed them (ever so politely) and asked for the recipe.  They replied (ever so politely) that unfortunately they could not supply the recipe "because it was not scaled for consumer use".  Right.  Guess what - send me the big version and together with my calculator we can figure out the consumer version.  Actually, I didn't send them that reply (although I wanted to) because I knew it was pointless.  Grrrr.  Now aggravated, I decided to come up with my own version.  That would show them!  I printed out 4 or 5 different farro salad ideas before creating this one.  I like the mix of ingredients but of course you can always substitute your favorites.

The three most important ingredients are farro, kale and smoked mozzarella (you probably figured that out from the title, right?). Farro and kale may be new to you. Farro (fahr-oh) has become very popular lately in the United States, but it's an ancient grain believed to have once been consumed by the Roman legions and eaten in Italy ever since. Farro is not wheat, but a plant and grain all its own. A grain of farro looks and tastes somewhat like a lighter brown rice with a chewy (not soft) texture. It has a complex, nutty taste with undertones of oats and barley. Due to its chewy texture, farro is quite filling.  You can find farro in some upscale grocery stores or in natural food stores.  If you don't feel like trying farro, you could always substitute brown rice or barley.

cooked farro
Kale is a leafy green with more vitamins and antioxidants than even spinach, which explains why it's become so popular.  When raw, it's a tough and bitter green but when blanched for a brief period it becomes softer and the bitterness disappears. You strip the leaves off the tough stems, chop them up, boil the leaves for about a minute, then drain. The bright green color is attractive in salads and the health benefits are great.  If you don't want to try kale, substitute raw baby spinach instead.

In addition to farro and kale, the salad contains cherry tomatoes, cucumber, green onions, herbs and smoked mozzarella.
I found these cute little multi-colored cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe's

It's a healthy summer alternative to heavier foods and an opportunity to try new ingredients.  Of course you could serve it as a side salad to grilled meats and it also makes a great salad for a potluck picnic because it doesn't wilt, but we like to eat it on its own - there's plenty of fiber and protein to keep you satisfied.  It also makes a great lunch for work the next day.

printable recipe
Farro, Kale & Smoked Mozzarella Salad
Serves 6 to 8

Note:  to seed a cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds down its length.

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
Salt and pepper

For the salad:
12 oz farro, rinsed
½ head kale, leaves stripped off steams and chopped into bite-sized pieces
6 oz smoked mozzarella, cubed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
6 green onions, finely chopped
½ cucumber (or 1/3 English cucumber), unpeeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup chopped chives
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

 Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl.  Gradually whisk in oil.  Add the shallots and salt and pepper, then set aside.

Place the farro in a large pot and cover with water by about 3 inches.  Set over high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, 15-18 minutes.  Drain, rinse, and drain again.  Set aside to cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the kale pieces and boil 60-90 seconds until bright green.  Drain and immediately place the kale pieces in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.  Drain thoroughly and pat dry.

Put the farro in a large bowl; add the kale, mozzarella, green onions, and cucumber and toss.  Add the dressing and toss again.  Just before serving, add the chives and fresh basil.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Serve room temperature or cold.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca

Last Year's Post: Hoisin Burgers with Wasabi Slaw

I enjoy cooking and trying new ingredients and techniques so much that I actually feel sort of cheated if we're having a dinner that we just pulled out of the freezer to reheat.  I mean, what fun is that?  Of course, it's fabulous if you've had a really bad day but hopefully you don't have too many of those.  On the other hand, it's not a good idea to plan a week of meals that all take hours to prepare.  You have to have a break sometime.  This recipe is the best of all worlds - beautiful presentation, delicious flavor, an interesting technique yet fast to make, and low in calories.  It's definitely company-worthy, but easy enough to make any day of the week.  Really, what's not to like?  Moist and juicy chicken, woodsy sage and salty prosciutto covered in a velvety lemon sauce.  Yum.  Saltimbocca (meaning to jump in the mouth) is an Italian dish traditionally made with veal, sage and prosciutto but I love this version, adapted from Cooking Light magazine, even more.

It looks fancy but it's actually very easy.  Start with chicken cutlets, which are just thinner versions of chicken breasts.  You can sometimes find them in the store but it's just as easy to make your own by slicing a boneless skinless chicken breast in half horizontally.

OK,  I didn't do the greatest job of cutting it into two equal-sized cutlets but I'm sure you can do better.  Then you artistically place three fresh sage leaves on each cutlet and wrap with a thin slice or two of prosciutto, partially covering the leaves but letting some stick out. (That was the technique part in case you were wondering.)

Before sauteing  the chicken, heat a pot of water and start cooking some angel hair pasta.  The chicken cutlets cook for just a few minutes because they're thin.

Make a quick pan sauce from lemon juice, chicken broth, and a little cornstarch to thicken, then toss the  pasta with a little garlic and olive oil and you're good to go.  The entire meal takes maybe 30 minutes to make and has only about 400 calories but it tastes like a million bucks.

printable recipe
Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca
Serves 4

For the chicken:
2 (8 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally to make 4 (4 oz) chicken cutlets
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 fresh sage leaves
2 oz very thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 8 thin strips
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
lemon wedges for garnish, optional

For the pasta:
6 oz angel hair pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the chicken evenly with salt.  Place 3 sage leaves on each cutlet; wrap 2 prosciutto slices around each cutlet, securing sage leaves in place.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon oil to pan, swirling to coat.  Add chicken to pan; cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until done.  Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Combine broth, lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl while the chicken is cooking; stir with a whisk until smooth.  When chicken is removed from pan, add cornstarch mixture and the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to pan; bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. 

Drain the pasta and toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil and garlic.  Serve the chicken with the sauce spooned over and pasta along side.  Garnish with lemon wedges, optional.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Lemon Polenta Cake

Last Year's Post: Grilled Shrimp Greek Salad

I specifically wanted to post this particular recipe this week because Father's Day and July 4th are both coming up soon, which often involve big family gatherings.  Four generations of The Lawyer's family get together for July 4th every year, and I thought this cake would make a great addition to the picnic because you can cut it into a lot of small pieces and it doesn't have frosting that would melt in the sun.   Then I remembered that several people in the family have serious issues with gluten.  By sheer luck, this cake is gluten free which made it all the more attractive and will make me appear more considerate than I actually am.  If you have a large gathering in your future and some of the people are trying to avoid gluten, this is a perfect choice.

The cake is Italian in origin, where cornmeal cakes are common.  The lemon glaze soaks into the cake, making it very moist at the same time the cornmeal gives it a slightly crunchy texture that's very appealing.  The lemon zest in the cake combines with the lemon glaze to give the cake an intense lemon flavor.  I made it in a square tart pan although any 9" round or square tart or springform pan with a removable bottom will work.  The cake is relatively flat but it does rise a little as it bakes so just be sure your pan isn't full to the brim before baking.  I was experimenting with my new pan and lucked out - it was darn close to spilling over and making a mess but it ended up just slightly drooping over one or two sides so it was easy to cut those off.  For a while when it was baking I was afraid to look.

One of the benefits of this cake is that it actually improves if you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator - I think the glaze soaks in more uniformly and the cake gets a little firmer, which makes it easier to cut. 

The recipe calls for fine polenta.  I couldn't find fine polenta at the store but I already had regular polenta and cornmeal at home so I experimented. Both are corn products; the difference is mainly in how fine they're cut.  When I compared the two side by side, the polenta was more coarse than the cornmeal.  I first made the recipe using polenta, and felt it was a little too crunchy.  The Lawyer brought the rest of the cake to work, and his co-workers were split 50/50 on whether the texture was just right or too coarse but everyone loved the lemon flavor.  The second time I made the cake with cornmeal and it was more to my liking.  I would expect fine polenta to be similar to cornmeal in terms of coarseness so I would recommend using cornmeal, which is more readily available and you probably even have in your pantry.  (I'm still calling it "polenta cake" because it sounds more elegant than "cornmeal cake".)

Two ingredients that you probably don't have in your pantry are superfine sugar and almond meal/flour.  I really don't know why the recipe calls for superfine sugar and probably wouldn't bother buying it just for this - I just happened to have some on hand but can't imagine it would make much difference.  Almond meal/flour, on the other hand, is important for texture, taste and the gluten-free aspect.  I would check out the local natural food store or coop to get the cheapest price and to see if you can buy the exact amount you need in the bulk aisle since you probably won't need it again for a while.

printable recipe
Lemon Polenta Cake
Makes one 9” cake, cuts into approximately 24 small pieces

14 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
1 cup superfine sugar
2 cups almond meal/flour
¾ cup fine polenta or cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (gluten free)
3 eggs
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 heaping cup of confectioner’s sugar

Special equipment: square or round 9” tart or springform pan with removable bottom, parchment paper

Line the base of the pan with parchment paper and grease its sides lightly with butter.  Preheat the oven to 350d.

Using a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and whipped.  In a separate bowl, mix together the almond meal, polenta and baking powder, then add a third of the dry mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and beat together.  Add one egg and beat.  Repeat, alternating the dry mix and eggs.  Finally, beat in the lemon zest, reserving the juice for the syrup.  Spoon the mix into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes until lightly browned and the edges have begun to shrink away from the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven to a wire cooling rack placed over a cutting board or pan (to catch drips), leaving the cake in its pan. 

Make the syrup by heating the lemon juice and confectioner’s syrup in a small saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Prick the top of the cake all over with a toothpick, spoon the syrup all over the cake, and let cool.  Once cooled, the cake can be removed from the pan.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before cutting.

Make ahead:  the cake can be baked up to 3 days ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  It can also be frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and foil, for up to 1 month.  Thaw 3-4 hours at room temperature.