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Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

chilaquiles, and the best salsa verde

In autumn, Mexican, snacks on 30 April, 2011 at 8:38 pm

It started with these tomatillos. Well actually, it started before the tomatillos: it started with this blog post. Or you could say it started even before that; all summer I’ve been keeping an eye out for tomatillos, with no luck whatsoever. I’m sure once, years ago, I saw them at Moore Wilson’s, but whether I missed them this year or they weren’t there I’ll never know.  Anyway, I’ve been hanging out for a good salsa verde, the Mexican kind, with tomatillos and jalapeños and coriander. The kind that came standard with a bowl of complimentary, freshly fried tortilla chips at the late-night taco shops I used to frequent as a teenager in suburban Chicago (which were way better than I just made them sound, by the way).

So when Sue blogged about her tomatillos over at Five Course Garden, one thing led to another and I ended up having a cup of tea and a chat in her hot-cross-bun-scented kitchen last Saturday afternoon, and left with a bag full of tomatillos (as well as parsley and sorrel that went into another kind of salsa verde altogether, and a wee passionfruit) she kindly donated to my tomatillo-deprived kitchen.


They sat in a bowl in my kitchen till Monday (poor Easter planning on my part meant I  had no corn tortillas at home) but then I did what I had to do: cut up some tortillas, fried into chips, sprinkled with a bit of salt, drained on paper towels. Tomatillos, jalapeños, roasted till juicy and blistery, dumped in a blender with coriander, garlic, onion, salt, a bit of water; blended till smooth and the sharp, familiar scent of tomatillos filled the air. Thinned out with a bit more water, just enough so that it was reminiscent of the salsa verde at my favourite Chicago taqueria, snuck a taste, let sit for a bit to let the flavours meld. Got way too excited and started eating all the chips dipped in the almost-too-hot salsa: bliss. I only stopped myself because I remembered the whole reason why I made chips in the first place was to try this recipe for chilaquiles verdes.*

Rather than baking them in the oven I ended up using the technique from this recipe (for chilaquiles rojos), where the chips are tossed in a pan of bubbling sauce and cooked till just soft. Once I had all the components ready it only took a few minutes to put together, simmering the fresh chips (there aren’t many snack foods better than freshly made tortilla chips) into the bubbling green sauce rounded out with sour cream and chicken stock, slopping the whole thing on a plate, topping with chicken and cheese and sour cream and more salsa. It took even less time to devour.

I wasn’t sad then, because I still had plenty of salsa left. But by the following night it was all gone – used up for the best enchiladas verdes I’ve ever made – and I had that twinge of guilty longing you get when you’re enjoying something with no guarantee you’ll have it again, at least for a long time. Bittersweet, like the last meal on an overseas holiday. I wanted every bite to last forever. I also wanted more salsa to magically appear so I could make more chilaquiles. Oh well. Maybe next year.


So. If you’re lucky enough to have a good source of tomatillos**, make this before the season’s over for the year. Otherwise I’d suggest planting some next spring (it’s what I’ll be doing, and they seem to grow well here), and then making this salsa. And then: these chilaquiles.

I couldn’t say this enough, but many, many, many thanks to Sue at Five Course Garden for giving me these tomatillos. I was the happiest person in the world eating this.

*Looking through internet recipes, it seems there are as many variations on chilaquiles as there are breeds of dog. Er, that makes it sound like this recipe somehow involves dogs, which I can assure you it does not, but you know. Lots. And I haven’t been to Mexico (though I did grow up in a city with a big Mexican population) so I can’t vouch for authenticity at all. But whatever. These are damn good.

**I’ve seen cans of them in Moore Wilson’s but at $9 a pop they’re not cheap. If you are reading this from a more tomatillo-acquainted area, I am so jealous of  you.

ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA VERDE:
(adapted from this recipe

Preheat the grill/broiler setting on your oven. Take roughly 500g tomatillos – remove the papery outer husks and rinse (they’re sticky) – and slice in half.* Place on a tinfoil-lined baking tray, cut side up, along with 2-4 jalapeño peppers (depending on how spicy you want the end product).** Pop this in the oven right on the top rack; cook for a few minutes until the tomatillos are soft and almost-burnt and the jalapeños are charred (don’t worry, you’ll be peeling off the charred skin). Peel the jalapeños and remove the seeds if you prefer a milder salsa. Put the tomatillos, jalapeños, a big handful of coriander, 1/2 a chopped onion, and 2 cloves garlic into a blender. Add about 1/4 cup water and a bit of salt in there as well, and purée until it reaches a sauce-like texture.*** Add more water if you want a thinner salsa; season with salt, let chill for at least 30 minutes so the flavours have a chance to mingle a bit.

This recipe makes quite a bit – it says 2 cups but I swear I got at least 2 1/2, maybe closer to 3.

*I don’t know why I did this instead of leaving the tomatillos whole. Maybe so they’d cook faster. Anyway, you can skip this if you want, but you may need to leave them in the oven a bit longer.

**I used 4, and left the seeds in; the salsa had a big roundhouse-kick heat to it but wasn’t too bad for my tastes. I like spicy food, though, so if you’re not big on chillies you may want to use less, or add them to the blender one at a time.

***you can make this smoother or chunkier depending on your preference.

HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS:

This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method: cut corn tortillas into triangles, fry in a bit of hot oil till golden, drain on paper towels. Sprinkle some salt on them while they’re still hot. Eat as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. Save some for the chilaquiles.

CHILAQUILES VERDES (serves 2):
(adapted from here and here

Heat a bit of oil in a skillet; when hot, add roughly 1  to 1 1/2 cups salsa verde. Give it a good stir while you let it heat up so that it’s nice and bubbly, then stir in 1 cup chicken stock and 1/4 cup sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit, then bring back to the boil. Add roughly 120g tortilla chips (I didn’t weigh mine. You could easily just eyeball it depending on how much you think you’ll eat) and simmer for about 5 minutes until just soft. To serve, top with warmed shredded chicken (leftover roast chicken would do perfectly)*, cheese (I used a bit of crumbled feta and goat’s cheese), sour cream and a bit more salsa. Eat with a fork – these are messy in the best possible way.

*I didn’t have any leftover roast chicken. Unless you’ve had a roast the night before you may not either. So what I did was poach a chicken leg in a little pot of water along with bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, a spoonful of cumin and a couple sprigs of oregano. Once the chicken was cooked, I pulled the meat off the bones with a couple of forks and kept the poaching liquid to use for the stock called for in the recipe. Also, you could just as easily make these vegetarian by omitting the chicken and using vegetable stock, if you’re so inclined. 

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lemon olive oil cake

In baking, year-round on 20 April, 2011 at 10:15 pm

This lemon cake is, like porridge and a calm cloudy day, not one of those things that people would go out of their way to consider beautiful, or stunning. Lovely? Yes. Maybe even pretty. But gorgeous? Not really. Is the lemon cake stung? Probably not.* It does what it has to do. Understated, unobtrusive, but always reliable (as long as you have lemons and olive oil): this cake doesn’t scream for attention, but it’s patient and delicate, sort of like a character in a Jane Austen novel. And it’s perfect for those occasions where you need a little something that fills the gap nicely but doesn’t steal the spotlight – afternoon teatime, a little post-work snack, even breakfast, perhaps?

I’ve had little time for spotlight-stealing treats lately. April started on a high with a bang and the luxurious glow of an extra hour of sleep and it’s been sort of downhill from there, run ragged with early starts and late nights and chock-full days and now all of a sudden it’s almost Easter and I haven’t even baked hot cross buns yet or tried my hand at making these marshmallow chicks and holy crap, I need to slow down. Not sure what has happened but the darkening evenings feel like they’re closing in on me and I just need to take a breather.

So I could do with a little something, a little bit of lovely, nothing too loud or attention-grabbing, just something plain and simple and good. I could do with a few minutes in the morning with a hot bowl of porridge, I could do with a glass of bubbles in the afternoon, I could do with inhaling the smell of bookstores and the small joy of finding what I’m looking for. And I could do with a bit of this cake and a pot of tea, maybe that scoop of ice cream, a bit of passionfruit scooped over the top. When everything’s tiresome and there’s no end in sight you need to rely on little pleasures to keep you going.

This is one of those things that’s so plain and simple, you hardly need to think about it at all. Despite that, it’s good, so reliably there-for-you that you might take it for granted, but when you do turn to it you don’t know what you’d do without it, like a best friend, a sister, a mother.

And the citrusy zing and grassy hint of olive oil carry it above an everyday cake, just ever so slightly, only just reminiscent of spring picnics and lying in the grass, in the sun, carefree, just for a few bites until you have to go back to the ever-shortening days. But hey, if it helps to lift the mood just a little bit, it’s doing something, right?

Olive oil isn’t really the cheapest to be baking with, but it doesn’t feel like such a luxury to be using it by the cupful what with the price of butter these days. And it really does change the flavour profile of the cake beyond a standard lemon cake, though it’s inconspicuous enough that you wouldn’t guess it if you didn’t know it was there. I’ve made this a couple different ways, both with a syrup that seeps into the still-warm cake, and a crunchy lemony sugar topping. I can’t decide which I like better**, so I’ve posted both variations. Try one, try the other, try both. Take some time. This cake is a little treasure for a busy life, and it won’t ask anything of you except to bake it. Which is another little pleasure in itself. Go on, now.

*cakes don’t have feelings, silly!

** the crunchy sugar made for better photos, in case you’re wondering why you’re seeing more of it


LEMON OLIVE OIL CAKE

(adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts via this post on Serious Eats)

150g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
175g sugar
zest of 3-4 lemons*
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
(I used vanilla paste, but anything non-artificial will work!)
1/4 tsp lemon oil
**
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

You’ll want your oven at 175°C.

Prepare a cake tin (the recipe says 9-inch by 2-inch round tin; I’ve used both my round springform tin and a loaf tin for this) by smearing it with olive oil*** and sprinkling it with sugar.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt twice into a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and lemon zest until slightly thickened and pale in colour.  (It’ll take a few minutes, so be patient, but all that air results in a lighter, more delicate cake, I think! I hope!) Mix in the vanilla and, if your kitchen is better-stocked than mine, lemon oil. 

If you’re using an electric beater, turn it down to medium-low (otherwise just keep stirring) and slowly drizzle the olive oil around the edge of the bowl. Incorporate slowly. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stop sneaking spoonfuls of the batter: it’s lemony and bright and so cheerful that you’re allowed a couple tastes, but no more lest the cake disappear before it’s baked and you get a stomachache!****

Pour the batter into the tin and bake 25-30 minutes until golden and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out relatively clean. Then top with one of the following:

LEMON SYRUP 

Dissolve 1/4 cup icing sugar in 1/4 cup lemon juice. You can heat it in a little saucepan if you like. Pour over the cake pretty much as soon as it comes out of the oven – you want it nice and hot so the syrup will melt into the cake – and give the cake a few stabs with a toothpick to help the syrup settle into the cake. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.

CRUNCHY CITRUS SUGAR TOPPING

Combine granulated sugar with lemon juice (don’t dissolve).  (From memory, I used about 1/3 cup of sugar and about 1/4 cup lemon juice, but quantities will really depend on personal preference: I like mine thick and crunchy; others might prefer a more glaze-like topping.)

Pour and/or spread on top of still-warm cake.

Let cool before cutting and serving. This cake will stay moist and delicious for a couple days, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

*depending on size, and how lemon-y you want it.

**I didn’t have any, and it still turns out fine, but if you have lemon oil definitely throw it in!

***a paper towel works great for this.

****er, this never happens to me…

PS. I didn’t steal that spoon from Air New Zealand. When I moved into my new flat and suddenly found myself sans cutlery, my mum (who’s been working in the airlines for as long as I can remember and has a whole pile of airline memorabilia going back to the 80s) came to the rescue and sent a whole bunch of old airline knives, forks and spoons, from back in the day when plastic cutlery on planes was unheard of. They’re mostly tiny, though, which makes them perfect for dessert.

roasted pear, leek & chicken salad

In autumn, salads on 11 April, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Having grown up in a part of the Northern Hemisphere that saw bitter, icy winters with hardly a hint of life for the better part of six months, autumn in Wellington feels almost like a tease. No forests ablaze in mustard* and vermilion, no mountains of raked-up leaves lining the streets. Here we rely on subtler hints that it’s not summer anymore: a little edginess to the wind, the sun just a bit duller, glimpses of gold and red here and there. But our autumn still stirs up that sort of peaceful melancholy that sets in around this time of year, a settling-down feeling, not altogether unpleasant. I’ve been relishing it – listening to the right music (a lot of Angus and Julia Stone, can’t believe I only just discovered them over the weekend), eating lots of apples and pears, wearing tights and woolly jumpers and learning to play the blues on the saxophone.** Melancholy, yes, but also sweetly satisfying.

And autumn’s all about satisfaction. Spring is hopeful and yearning, all green, tender asparagus shoots, and summer’s luscious and burning and exuberant, but autumn:

Autumn is full of the satisfaction of pulling fruit off vines, off trees, vegetables from the ground, the warm lingering contentment of apple crumbles and steaming cups of tea. And this salad, with succulent bits of chicken, tangy goats’ cheese and tender, yielding leeks, is such a pleasure to eat it almost feels wrong. It’s not. It’s plenty good for you, and the warm, roasted pears, meltingly sweet, push this dish over the edge: bliss.

No manmade dessert comes even close to the deliciousness of an unadorned, soft-ripe pear, but roasting them brings out that mellow sweetness when all your pears are firm and you don’t feel like waiting around for them to ripen. It feels a bit like cheating but the result is delicious in its own right.

I had almost forgotten about how good this salad is, having made it a couple of times last autumn out of the then-current issue of Cuisine. I’m so glad I spent a few luxurious hours over the weekend curled up in bed with the cat, thumbing through a stack of cookbooks and magazines. It’s the perfect salad for the weather, for the season, for the mood I was in.

So make this salad, now, maybe a couple of times over the next few weeks, but don’t overdo it (it’s a little bit special). Make it when you’re feeling fulfilled and content and just a wee bit sad, make it when you’re wholly satisfied and things couldn’t be better, make it when the skies are pleasantly grey and little dead leaves are blowing across the pavement. And then don’t make it again for a whole year until that wistful autumn half-smile appears on your face again, and relish in the thrill of rediscovery.

*Speaking of mustard, aside from it being delicious, I am positively lusting over bits of mustard popping up on clothes and accessories this season… am very much feeling the need-a-new-autumn-wardrobe vibe. So far, have been squirreling my money away responsibly instead… but a girl can dream.

**For what it’s worth I mostly sound like a dying goose but my goodness it’s fun. And by “the blues” I mean fiddling around with blues scales and feeling very triumphant about it.

ROASTED PEAR, LEEK & CHICKEN SALAD: (serves 3-4)

(Only very slightly adapted from Cuisine, May 2010)

3 chicken legs**
2 firm pears, cut into wedges
1-2 leeks (depending on size),  sliced on the diagonal
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 to 1 1/2 cups torn ciabatta
baby cos and baby spinach
crumbled goats’ cheese
salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 200ºC.

Season chicken with sea salt and cracked black pepper, place in roasting dish with the pears and leeks. Give everything a good drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle the mustard and fennel seeds and chopped garlic over everything; chuck it in the oven for 40-45 minutes until you can’t stand how good your house smells and the chicken is brown and crispy-skinned and the pears and leeks are meltingly soft.  Once it’s done, pull the roasting dish out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes.

While the chicken’s in the oven tear up some ciabatta bits (or any stale bread you have lying around will do), give it a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, pop that in the oven too, but only for about 10 minutes until it crisps up.

In those last minutes of waiting, get the salad ready: place the greens on a big platter or on individual plates. Remove the chicken, pears and leeks from the roasting dish, carve the chicken into big, juicy chunks, place on top of the greens with the pears and leeks.

Pour off the fat from the roasting dish and heat on the stove, then deglaze with red wine vinegar, letting it bubble and mingle with the little bits stuck to the pan. Pour this over the salad, immediately sprinkle the goats’ cheese on top, and dig in while it’s still hot and the leaves are crunchy.

 

*I used legs because I prefer juicy dark meat, but you could just as easily use breasts, a combination, or a whole spatchcocked chicken as in the original recipe. If you do this you may need to increase the quantities a bit, or just have leftover chicken. All good either way.

 

white bean, tuna & pine nut bruschetta

In snacks, year-round on 5 April, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I’ve eaten my way through the emergency kit I so painstakingly assembled after the Christchurch earthquake. Er, well, at least the edible components of it. It started on Sunday when I had this insatiable chocolate craving and broke into the chocolate macadamia block nestled beneath spare undies, torch, deodorant, canned food, toothpaste.* And then yesterday happened and I came home to the sudden unmistakable reality of having no food in the house. For the second week in a row I hadn’t gone to the Sunday market (when did I become such a creature of routine?!) and the closest thing to fresh produce I had was a half-wilted bag of spinach and the potted herbs on my balcony.

And it was sort of an emergency: I was hungry, tired, things were starting to grate on me in the same way as that guy flailing (dancing?) in front of me at the last gig I went to, all shoulders arms elbows, throwing flecks of sweat my way. Rage.  It’s not often an empty stomach brings forth memories of bad crowds and other small annoyances, but there you go. I’d been struck by the dreaded hangrrr Sasa so often warns about.

So the need to Eat Something Now coupled with the lack of fresh food in my pantry led me to that same trusty emergency kit that had so conveniently been there for me with chocolate the night before, where I found cans of beans and tuna, and toiletries (ooh, I was running low on soap!). Score. And since I always have half-eaten loaves of stale bread in the cupboard this bruschetta quickly took shape. In under 10 minutes I had depleted my emergency kit** and was sitting down to this. Crisis averted, bad-crowd memories dissipated.

This is simple stuff, and you could easily play around with the components to make it fancier, but in a pinch it’s about as good as it gets. Soft, almost-creamy beans, meaty tuna, flecks of parsley and nutty parmesan, coated in this spicy-lemony-garlicky dressing that’s just as much revitalising as it is comforting.

*yeah, I didn’t say my emergency kit was the best-organised. It’s basically a bag full of random stuff I hope might be useful in an emergency. Now minus most of the food.

**and I realise now that 1 can of tuna, 1 can of beans and a block of chocolate is probably woefully inadequate for an emergency kit. However, it does make for a pretty satisfying meal.

WHITE BEAN, TUNA & PINE NUT BRUSCHETTA

Heat a knob of butter and a generous swirl of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Thinly slice 1-2 cloves of garlic and gently fry in the butter and olive oil along with a pinch of red pepper flakes and a generous sprinkle of pine nuts. Add 1 can of white beans* (drained and rinsed), a can of tuna (drained) and a handful of chopped parsley. Squeeze the juice of 1 or 2 lemons over everything, season with salt and pepper to taste, give it a good stir so that the beans and tuna are coated with the garlicky oil.

Meanwhile, toast some sliced, day-old** baguette (another way to use up stale bread in the pantry!).*** When it’s nice and crisp, top with the tuna & bean mixture and grate a bit of parmesan over the top. Easy!

*cannellini, for example

**Ha! Feel free to take a liberal reading of this. The bread I used was way more than a day old… I wanted it nice and crispy, so stale was fine.

***I’m forever burning stale slices of baguette in the toaster so I usually do this in the oven, with a drizzle of butter on top.