The Santa Fe Experiment

Recently I had opportunity to travel to Albequerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. To me it seems like the entire state smells amazing, and especially the farmer’s market that I visited in Santa Fe. The smells of sage, chili powder, piñons and fry bread wafted through the air like a savory air freshener, as I walked through sampling any and everything I could find!

When I returned it only made sense to try one of the “edible souvenirs” that I brought back with me. (Those also cost me an extra 20mins and an extra bag search at airport security.)

Posole mixes were abundant at the farmer’s market and after looking over all the choices I selected one that looked fool-proof for a gringo like me to make. Posole is a Mexican (or probably more accurately Aztec in origin) pork and hominy stew. The mix contained dried hominy and several over dried beans/seeds/legumes that I really have no idea what they were. It also came with a spice packet and recipe.

I followed the instructions exactly except for 2 things. I decided to use the slow cooker as one change to the recipe and since I have a smaller slow cooker, I only used 2.5 quarts water, figuring I could always add water. I was glad I used the slow cooker since it took longer then 3 hours on high – I actually ended up leaving on it overnight on low after the first 3 hours on high. And I never need to add the extra 1/2 quart of water.

Here is the recipes in pictures with one notation…after trimming the pork meat from the bones I tied up the bones in cheesecloth to add to the stew for flavor. Remove the bundle before serving. (click on the slide show below to enlarge)

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In full disclosure, I added a generous amount of salt and pepper to this as well as a healthy tablespoon of mild New Mexico red chile powder that I also obtained at the farmer’s market and made it through security at the airport. Without that and the fresh toppings, the stew would have been actually kinda bland. I am not experienced to know if the stew is supposed to be just a rich broth with a somewhat mellow flavor to allow the fresh toppings to shine? ( kinda like vietnamese Pho)

Or maybe I was supposed to season/brine the pork first? And perhaps even brown it first? I do know that it is common practice to add green or red chile to the stew and so I felt justified in adding some red chile to mine.

And while my version turned out pretty good – but not amazing – next time I would get even more elaborate on the fresh toppings… sliced radishes, avocado, thin sliced cabbage to name just a few more.

Here is a nice source for seeds if you want to grow your own chile peppers: https://www.sandiaseed.com/pages/about-us

 

 

Indian Starter Kit

I have the distinct pleasure of working with colleagues from around the world during the day, including one lady from southern India. One day we were discussing Indian food and cookery and I asked if she had a “dabba.” (this is a special round metal spice kit with a tight fitting lid that I first learned about over here at my favorite blog: The Perfect  Pantry.)

She said “oh yes, but I don’t use that thing any more!” She had received it as a wedding gift from her mother and used it diligently as a young wife, but now, years later, had moved on to a different way of storing/accessing her daily spices for cooking. I must have look at her yearningly because she promptly said “Do you want it?” I tried to strike a balance between shouting YES! and “that would be amazing!”

So she brought it in for me – FILLED WITH SPICES!!

We discussed what recipe I should start with and settled on a basic chicken curry. So a few days later I got my new spice kit out and added in a few things that are essential to Indian cooking: fresh ginger, garlic, lemon, powered turmeric, cinnamon. And with little help via text I made my first ever chicken curry.  As soon as the first spices hit the hot oil, it smelled like a real Indian kitchen!!

Take a look at my first adventure …

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PS my colleague gave me a B+ for my efforts!

 

Leftovers

I found myself with an assortment of leftovers the other day – artisan bread that was a couple days old, cherry tomatoes that were starting to get a little wrinkly, some bits of steak, a nub of sweet onion, some fresh parsley just coming to its last days.

Of course my first thought was “Panzanella!”  That famous Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and vinager.

For seasoning, I keep it simple. I like the flavors of the good olive oil and red wine vinegar to shine through. In addition to that I use plenty of salt, pepper and some granulated garlic. I like the granulated garlic here because its far less aggressive then using raw garlic and it distributes evenly throughout. No one is going to bit into a piece of raw garlic when when you use the granulated garlic.

I usually mix all the ingredients except the bread and let it sit for a while. This time also allows the natural juices of the tomatoes to help with this dressing. By tossing the bread in last you can judge how much bread cubes you want to add, keeping the ratio of wet ingredients (dressing, tomatoes, herbs etc) to around 1-2. (1 part wet ingredients to 2 parts bread) I usually don’t toss in the bread till about 10-15 mins before serving. That way the bread gets moistened but not soggy. The dressing should just just barely coat everything in the bowl.

The beauty of this salad is that it is perfect served room temperature. Of course if you are adding meat like I did – keep the wet ingredients (including the meat) refrigerated till about 30 mins before serving time. You want to get the chill off before serving, and toss in the toasted, cubed bread about 15 mins before serving.

final

The simplicity of leftovers!

Author’s notes:

Basil is often used in a panzanella salad but really any fresh, soft herb you have on hand is great in this.

When it comes to the olive oil in this, make sure you break out the good stuff because it is gives a lot of flavor and richness.

Onions – I happen to have some sweet onion on hand. I wouldn’t use a red onion unless you dice it fine and keep the amount low. A red onion can sometimes over-power a dish. Shallots are natural excellent choice for this dish.

 

 

Steaming Meat

Steamed meat doesn’t sound appealing at first. But when you add cheese everything suddenly seems ok.

Steamed Cheeseburgers. Made famous by Ted’s in Meriden Connecticut are worth the trek if you find yourself anywhere in New England. If you are not then get yourself a “Burg’r Tende’r” and get busy steaming at home!

My first reaction when I was invited to a “steamed cheeseburger” event was “huh?” My host explained the backstory about Ted’s in Meriden (which happens to be her hometown) and how she purchased one of these contraptions a while back so she could have a little taste of home here in Boston.

burgr tendr

I feel like everyone needs a “Steam Cheeseburger Chest!”

It was MUCH smaller than I imagined – think “easy bake oven” size! The tiny part at the bottom holds the water to create the steam. The door opens to reveal shelves that hold trays of meat and cheese.

trays of cheese and burger

That’s cheese in the top 3 trays (with room for 2 more trays on the top shelf) and ground beef in the rest.

The ground beef trays get a head start by about 5 minutes and the cheese goes in after that for about another 5 mins. So 10-12 mins total.

The amount of cheese that goes in the trays is somewhat excessive but the idea is that once it melts it really “pours” over the burger and really almost envelops the burger!

cheese trays

can there ever be too much cheese?

melted cheese

Add other toppings as you wish!

The steamed burger is the juiciest – most delicious – burger and the amount of cheese is just perfect!!

Now off to the world wide web to see about getting one of these contraptions for myself!

 

 

Plain & Fancy

Can you guess who ate what?

Your choices are:

Boston Irish-american guy: plain or fancy?

New Hampshire raised country girl: plain or fancy?

Boston Irish guy = plain & New Hampshire country girl = fancy

Did you guess right?

I am always trying to encourage new things at dinner time but this was just a little too exotic…

fancy sauce

I picked up this fancy little can of sauce at the new, fancy “not-so-little” Italian grocery store/food emporium that recently opened at the Prudential mall in Boston. I am sure you know the one I mean. Google it.

Without giving it a direct plug I will say that I could go there everyday for a year and still not try everything they have stocked in the 55,000 square feet of Italian goodness!

Maybe next time I will get the plain stuff for Mr. fancy Boston guy!

 

 

 

Roast Chicken

Roast Chicken. That most simple and comforting food. And yet I hardly ever roast a chicken. A whole one that is. I am the only one in a house who appreciates a home-roasted, bone in chicken. Everybody else – (husband)- doesn’t want to deal with the bones.

So my “roast chicken” is usually a boneless cut (thighs, breast etc) and it is usually a “one pan plan.” And this recent one was no exception. Everything on pan, cut to similar size.

 

By adding big rough cut pieces of tomatoes, I knew the chicken would stay moister and there would almost end up being a bit of a “pan sauce” created. Just cook up some rice or pasta or steamed greens and serve in bowls.

Very easy, very comforting.

 

Living Simply

I had to take a long break from Cabinet Stew recently to attend to my mother who was ill and recently passed away. I have returned from this sad hiatus with a renewed respect for my time left on this earth and an appreciation for living more simply.

My mother was a 40 year vegetarian and a general health enthusiast. She never felt the need to “clutter” her plate with complicated ingredients, bold spices or fancy preparations. She felt nature was best left untouched as much as possible. At the same time she never passed up the chance to try something new, leading us as a family, to one “off the beaten path” bakery to another. By ten years of age I already knew where to get the best spanakopita (greek spinach pie) in my hometown.

My father in contrast was a man who appreciated a sausage as another might appreciate a vintage car or rare wine. He was a connassuier of hot dog carts, hash browns and strangely, fresh radishes. (which he ate like candy from a bowl in front of the TV)

Having observed both of them my whole life, I shaped my own eating habits around a combination of them. I love bold flavors and never pass up a good hot dog. I think nostalgically of my father when I eat radishes. However I don’t think twice about having a meal that doesn’t contain meat – in fact I don’t even recognize it as a “vegetarian” meal – its just simply a meal. I never met a vegetable or fruit I don’t like. And of course I have to seek out the most obscure local joints to try something new.

Today I salute my mother and her simple tastes.

simple-breakfast

Toast spread with Ricotta di Pecora (raw sheep milk ricotta) – topped with maple syrup and Honey Dew melon.