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!

 

 

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.

 

A Chicken in Every Pot (or Not)

No I am not stating my political views. I just couldn’t resist the play on words!

I saw one of those recipe videos on Facebook  – you know the ones where they step through the recipe in double-time and it looks super easy and successful. Well I saw one for a roasted, beer-can type chicken in a slow cooker.

Seemed simple – put some foil balls in the bottom of your slow-cooker (instead of the beer can) and pour the beer ( or water or cider or whatever liquid) in the bottom. Place a seasoned chicken on top and put the lid on – cook on high for 4-5 hours. Voila! Perfectly juicy, roasted chicken.

So I bought a chicken, pulled out my slow cooker and tried it. Here is my video (slide show):

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I left the chicken in there  about 4.5 hours and it didn’t look any different – it just looked raw! I pulled it out and took its temperature – 120 degrees!! After FOUR AND A HALF HOURS!

I considered for a quick minute about finishing it in the oven, but then I thought about how many hours it had been squished in the pot, in the FDA danger-zone, trying to reach temperature. No thanks – into the trash. What a waste.

Moral of the story: get a bigger pot or a smaller chicken – pretty sure you need to fit the chicken in spaciously but who knows sometimes, the internet is just plain wrong.

 

One Pan (or Board) Plan

oneboard-plan

clockwise from top: chopped white onion, chopped green onion, salt & pepper, chopped garlic, Penzey’s lamb seasoning, raw Cauliflower “rice” (i.e. finely chopped), quartered Compari tomatoes, 2 lamb patties. not shown: crumbled Feta cheese – wouldn’t fit! 🙂

Folks around the home-cooking world are clamoring about “one pan plans” or “sheet tray dinners.” this is where all the ingredients are cooked in one pan or one sheet tray.

I am not sure my “one board plan” actually qualifies but I did only use one saute pan to cook. I simply cooked the lamb patties (season each generously with salt & pepper), flipping once, till done to my level. (medium/medium-well for lamb, for me, please) removed them from the pan and set aside under foil. Next added the white onion, garlic and lamb seasoning and saute a few minutes. Add the Cauliflower and tomatoes, stir till combined,lower heat and cover. Simmer till cauliflower is soft ( maybe 10-15 mins tops) Taste and add salt & pepper as needed. Add patties and any juice back in to warm through. Served garnished with the green onions and feta cheese.

Here is my Mediterranean “one board plan” on a plate….

lamb-patty-with-cauliflower-rice