April 2010 Archives

Homemade Corn Tortillas

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¿Qué Cocinas? a Summit County, Colorado Cooking ShowJannineYolanda.jpgraeAl.pngtortilla-ball.jpgtortillas-formed.jpgtortilla-press.jpgtortilla-cooked.jpgtortilla-tacos.jpg

Lights and cameras are on the 'talent' at my friend's stove. We're the audience, in the living room, watching the productions of Summit County TV's ¿Qué Cocinas?. Jannine Walldan and a mother-daughter team will be making guacamole that stretches the precious avocado, fish tacos using homemade corn tortillas and healthy cookies.

Jannine and Cecillia Belardi Thompson started the cooking show in 2007 for the Healthy Lifestyle effort of their organization, Summit Prevention Alliance. According to the new director of SPA, Kari Read, the show is funded by a Colorado grant from the Office of Health Disparities, but the grant runs out in June.

On each show Jannine and guest cooks make a meal using healthy ingredients, low in fat, high in fiber in both Spanish and English. Their aims are to show how to update traditional recipes to be more healthy, to show how simple it is to cook and how to save money  .... fresh, simple and pleasurable. Just like the mission of Taste Imagine.com.

For example, to double the output of a traditional guacamole recipe, these cooks added frozen peas. Mash the avocado with the same volume of peas, squeeze ½  a lime over the mixture. Add a little salt, finely chopped cilantro and tomatoes. Mix. The peas give the mixture a nice sweetness, and the strong taste of cilantro reminds you to appreciate the avocado and the tomato when you're lucky enough to get some on your chip. On the show, they mixed everything in a blender because they wanted an even consistency. I mixed it by hand with similar results but with islands of tomatoes, which is how I prefer my guacamole.

When you watch Yolanda, on Channel 10 in Summit County, you will realize how easy corn tortillas are to make.  Two cups Masa Harina and 2 cups nearly boiling water. Mix. Knead a little. Add more masa, if too sticky. Break into 1-inch balls, roll round and press in a tortilla press - between a heavy sheet of plastic. The plastic is the secret to getting a moist tortilla that doesn't stick to the press. The press pictured here was purchased in Guadalajara, and everyone in the room was jealous of how beautiful it looked and worked. Yolanda then rolled one out by hand that was nearly as nice. So, if you've got no room to store a tortilla press. Use the plastic on a counter, and roll by hand. Fry in the lightest amount of oil possible until the tortilla puffs a little and shows some golden brown.

The women then fried a couple of pieces of Tilapia, made a quick cabbage salsa and feed the family of cooks, crew and our small studio audience. For more recipes from ¿Qué Cocinas? visit the website for the Summit Prevention Alliance.

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Vegan Green Bean Casserole

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Thanksgiving in April

Green-Beans-prep.jpgVegan is best when cooking with vegetables. Trying to bake vegan is like barbecuing vegetarian. I Vegan-Mushroom-Sauce.jpgunderstand that vegan is a philosophy, like not eating meat on Friday, but I'm not a believer and make choices according to my food philosophy which is simple, fresh and efficient.
For Thanksgiving dinner, I was assigned the quasi-traditional American green bean with mushroom sauce casserole, and I thought it was a great excuse for going vegan. Yes, I know it's April, but this Thanksgiving dinner just happens to be in April because most of the attendees were deployed to Antarctica in November, but are now back home in Denver.
Roasted-Onions.jpg The only thing not Vegan about the classic green bean with mushroom sauce casserole is the sauce. Usually the recipe calls for a can of cream of mushroom soup. That's not simple, fresh or efficient (what amount of energy was required to cook all those chemicals and food particles, preserve them in the can and transport them around the country? How long has it been in that can?).  My usual approach is to saute a little garlic, and mushrooms in olive oil until they start to release their liquid, then add a 1 tbs. of flour to make a smooth paste, add milk or cream and whisk into a smooth sauce with mushroom slices.A cream sauce is somehow less appealing in April than at Thanksgiving. So here's a different approach that may be just as satisfying next November. For the sauce, saute garlic and ordinary white mushrooms, then add grated eggplant. Let the vegetables cook in water until they fall apart. You can put this sauce through a sieve or food mill if you want it impeccably smooth but I just added the sauteed Crimini and left it with small pieces. The purpose is for this sauce to coat the beans and nuts because the two vegetables are such a nice taste combination. So, just before I poured the sauce over the bean, I removed a bit of juice and added 1 tbs of almond flour.Green-Bean-Casserole.jpgGreen Bean Mushroom Almond Casserole
2 lbs. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
1 cup (1/3 lb.) toasted almonds
1 onion, sliced and roasted

For the sauce:
4 glove garlic, minced
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped
1 eggplant, remove 4 middle slices and reserve for eggplant Parmesan or other suitable dish, peel, grate the meat.
1/4 lb. a different variety (Crimini) mushroom, sliced thin
1 tbs. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350.
Heat the oil, saute the mushrooms and garlic until golden over medium heat. Add the eggplant and 2 cups water. Cook covered while you trim the beans. To complete the sauce, remove 1/4 cup of juice mix with flour (or almond flour) until smooth, add back to the sauce. Saute the more flavorful mushrooms and add to sauce. 

Blanche the green beans by steaming for 5 minutes.
Toast the almonds (toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper) in the oven for 10 minutes. Keep your nose alert to them. Cut the onion in big slices like you would for a hamburger. Brush the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 1/2 hour.

Brush olive oil in a casserole dish. Add the beans alternatively with most of the almonds. Pour the sauce on top, add the onions. Bake for 1/2 hour. Add the last of the almonds at the last minutes. This can be kept warm until the Thanksgiving dinner is ready to served.

Thumbnail image for enchiladas_finished.pngpoblano_relleno.jpgThumbnail image for SantaFe-Pasquals.png
Enchiladas, Red, Green, Rellenos and a Strawberry Shortcake.

Colorado Mexican food is different than New Mexico Mexican and the most obvious place where New Mexico's cuisine excels beyond all other versions of Mexican food is in the enchilada.

At Cafe Pasquals on Water and Don Gaspar in Santa Fe, they have perfected the enchilada and several other things as well. You can find many of these in the Cafe Pasquals Cookbook, that was designed by one of the woman sitting at the table on this beautiful spring afternoon in April 2010.

I'm eating the enchiladas, with red sauce, of course, and someone else has the green chili. And we start a recurring discussion about the merits of the two.

Blue corn tortillas at Pasquals add another earthy note to the already earthy chili and with the simplicity of the cheese and onion insides, I think red is best. The combination is something that New Mexicans have been working on 10months out of 12, every year since there was a New Mexico. Only for two months of the year would fresh green chilis be available. They didn't have a bushel stored in their freezer like I do today.

After having enchiladas here, at the Shed and then at Harry's Road House in Santa Fe, this is what we learned from a native ... Green chili on chicken, mushroom, spinach enchiladas, red on plain cheese and onion.

My green chili loving friend doesn't agree and heads into the morally relativist chasm saying "it's just personal preference." I disagree. I think there are better combinations, and lesser ones. Look for the upcoming rant about this on www.SitDownandEat.net.

Green chili is for rellenos -- which are fresh chillies stuffed with cheese. The above picture is a fresh poblano chili stuffed with chicken and cheese from the Santa Fe Bar & Grill. The salads here were big, fresh and a nice alternative to Mexican food if you're ever in Santa Fe long enough to get tired of enchiladas.

Back to Pasquals because it was the best meal we had during the four day trip. Fantastic enchiladas but also a great fresh kale and ricotta salade cheese salad, a great BLT and then our waitress told us -- desserts that will make you swoon more than you're second-grader boyfriend.

I picked the fresh-made strawberry shortcake and everyone else pooh poohed the idea of dessert, told me not to spend the money or the time. No one wanted to share. I guess they didn't have that great an experience in second grade.

So the waitress said, I'm bringing a shortcake and if you three woman don't eat a bite of it -- while I eat it in front of them -- she'll give it to us for free. The shortcake was a perfectly light hand-made biscuit, not-too-sweet, with perhaps a hint of nutmeg. The strawberries were fresh and slightly syrupy in something that seemed very native to them. The whip cream was freshly whipped not grainy sugar competing with the strong, sweet taste of the berries. And the sprig of fresh mint just made the whole a smelling and tasting pleasure.

My friends were the masters of self-control. They did not take a bite. Note my satisfied grin.

Santa Fe Sangria

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Drinking in the Spring

Down in the capitol of our neighboring state, New Mexico, I'm happy eating New Mexico Enchiladas everyday, every meal.

On this trip, my friends were happy to drink Sangria every day, every happy hour out in the perfect dry New Mexico spring weather under our friends apricot tree. So, let's share Sangria secrets.

The first version was made by my friend Sandy who sliced fruit (oranges, strawberries, lemons and limes) into a big travel container and poured a bottle of red wine over it. Added a few tablespoons of Grand Mariner. Then we drove 6 hours from Breckenridge to Santa Fe, while the brew stewed.

That afternoon, we mixing it in the glass, with about a 1/4 of a glass of sparkling water. It was fruity and strong, but not too sweet which was just perfect with crackers and cheese.

The second day, my friend Rae mixed another batch according to a secret recipe given to her by the chef at Relish, one of the nicest restaurants in Breckenridge. The fortified liquor she used was brandy, and she added the fruit: kiwi, strawberries, oranges just before serving.

The wine was both red and white, and she did make the simple sugar. Because the fruit wasn't soaking, we were able to enjoy this sangria on the third day as well.

1 bottle red wine
1/2 bottle Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup Cranberry Juice
1 cup orange juice
1 cup Brandy
3/4 cup Triple Sec
3/4 cup Simple Syrup

The first one is a Sangria I suggest for cooler weather (and fruits available then) and that was what the weather looked like at 9,600 ft. in Colorado when we left. The other was perfect for the 75 degree afternoons in Santa Fe, and the fresh kiwi, oranges and strawberries were fresh and nice to eat, but with less kick than the purple pear slices we had the first day.

Denver-style Flatbread

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Crackers-Dough.jpgCrackers-Rolled.jpgCrackers-Baked.jpgCrackers-guacamole.jpgCrackers: Five minutes of mixing a cup of flour (not more than 1/2 dense whole wheat, but any other is fine) with a pinch of salt and a 1/2 teaspoon baking powder with enough water to bind it together and you're ready to roll out your very own crackers.

I roll them very thin so they break easily and take only 15 minutes to bake.

When you've laid them on the baking sheet, spray with water and add whatever fresh herbs, spices, coarse salt or toastable addition you want. Bake at 400 degrees F until evenly brown and they break easily into cracker sized pieces, Eat warm.

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