I’m sure most of you have heard of the Daring Bakers, the group of bloggers who bake a selected recipe each month and post about it on a specified day. The group recently expanded to a new branch, the Daring Cooks. I think this is the third month of the Daring Cooks and I decided to jump on board. I don’t know how regular I’ll be able to be, but this recipe appealed to me so I thought I’d give it a go.
The challenge (hosted by Debyi at Healthy Vegan Kitchen) was for dosas, a type of Indian pancake which was unfamiliar to me. (You can check out my annotated version of the recipe here.) It’s always interesting to prepare a recipe for which you have no point of reference… The perfectionist in me has a little bit of a hard time not knowing how something is “supposed to” turn out.
The recipe for the dosas was fairly similar to that of French crêpes, without the egg. However, some of the South Asians posting in the forums said dosa batter is typically made of soaked, fermented lentils and rice, which sounded great- similar to the bread in Ethiopian restaurants. Unfortunately I didn’t plan ahead enough to accommodate the 12-hour fermentation period, so I had to make the flour-based recipe. I chose a combination of whole wheat and buckwheat flours, and added a touch of cider vinegar to try to emulate the sourness of the fermented version. I have lots of leftover filling and sauce though, so I’m hoping to get a chance to try the more traditional recipe for the dosa pancakes later this week.
Marvin was off eating curry of a different sort (curried goat!) in Jamaica last weekend, so I invited a girlfriend over Sunday night to partake in the dosas with me. I did have a couple small issues with the recipe instructions, but the overall outcome was good (my guest had a second helping- never a bad sign!). I was happy to break bread with a friend, try something new, and especially to have leftovers for the week. Cheers to Debyi for hosting an interesting and delicious challenge!
I don’t know about you, but I get a little manic this time of year. It’s tomato season here in Michigan, that all-too-fleeting two or three-week period where we can actually get gorgeous, red-ripe tomatoes, the kind that actually taste like tomatoes should. When the season rolls around, I feel a bit frantic- I want to put it in a chokehold so it can’t slip away, or beg it like a forlorn lover never to leave me…
If you couldn’t tell from the impassioned words above, tomatoes are my absolute favorite fruit and/or vegetable, and I get so frustrated reading recipes that have the caveat “Don’t bother making this unless you have really great tomatoes”, since 90% of the year I don’t. Hence the mania- when I can actually make those dishes, I rush like crazy to make as many as possible before they elude me once more.
Last Sunday at Eastern Market, we picked up half a bushel each of Romas and regular slicing tomatoes (not sure the exact variety), as well as a couple pounds of heirloom tomatoes (all for the paltry sum of $10!). The heirlooms, of course, were simply sliced and eaten with a tiny pinch of salt and olive oil. The Romas are destined to be slow-roasted with olive oil and herbs, and the regular tomatoes have (so far) been used to make a gargantuan batch of gazpacho and a small batch of salsa. (Unoriginal, I know, but hey, it’s only once a year that I can make those things with excellent tomatoes.) I still have a bunch left that I need to use- perhaps a panzanella, or a tomato panade or summer pudding? Or stuffed tomatoes? What’s your favorite way to showcase fabulous tomatoes? I’m dizzy with the possibilities…
I’ll be posting more tomato recipes (hopefully) very soon; meanwhile, here’s a recipe for the easiest salsa you’ll ever make (and it’s pretty damn good, at that). It’s very similar in style to the salsas served at Mexican restaurants- somewhat thinner than jarred salsa, but with an amazing fresh flavor and a little kick. And outside of tomato season, if you substitute a couple cans of tomatoes, I won’t tell anyone.
Noelle’s Kick@$$ Blender Salsa printer-friendly version
4-5 cups ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion or 1/2 a large white onion, quartered
1 small jalapeño, halved and top removed (remove seeds and pith for a medium salsa; leave in for a hotter salsa)
1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1 clove garlic
a handful of cilantro leaves
Notes: The garlic and cilantro are marked “optional” for the simple reason that if you don’t have them, you can still make a great-tasting salsa with the first four ingredients. I love cilantro, but I know it’s not for everyone. For the jalapeño, if you want it really spicy, don’t bother taking out the seeds or pith (if it ends up too spicy for your liking, you can always add more tomatoes). In regards to equipment, I prefer the blender because it does a better job of not leaving any large chunks, but use the processor if that suits your fancy.
Directions: Place 3 cups tomatoes and all other ingredients in a blender or food processor, onions & jalapenos at the bottom. Pulse gently until no large pieces remain, and the salsa has a nice even consistency. Add the remaining tomatoes and pulse just a couple times- this will give the salsa a little more texture. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. The salsa will appear light in color at first from the air that gets mixed in during the puréeing, but after it sits it will settle and look normal. Makes about 1 quart.
“I have always thought about/ Staying here and going out/ Tonight I should have stayed at home/ Playing with my pleasure zone“ -New Order, The Perfect Kiss
I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit that I’ve started to see the light as far as being an early riser on the weekends. I woke up around 8:30 this past Saturday morning, as I have been wont to do lately, blissfully clear-headed and ready to take advantage of the day. I had turned down a couple offers to go out the night before, preferring to have a mellow evening at home, and was feeling pretty self-satisfied as the day lay before me like a plate of noodles waiting to be sauced.
As I drank my coffee, I began to contemplate why I have a more “take it or leave it” attitude towards going out these days, despite still being single and (relatively) unencumbered. It’s not that I don’t like to be social- quite the opposite, in fact. But these days, I’d much rather be social by going to a barbecue or having a few friends over for dinner than staying out all hours. It’s not that I don’t have the energy; more that I’ve lost the drive.
It occurred to me that a big part of the attraction for people to go out and hit the bars or stay out late can be summed up in one word: possibility. The possibility that you’ll meet someone new, experience something new, etc. It’s a big pull when you’re younger and are in a hurry to get as much living under your belt as you can. But I realized that when you’re perfectly content with what (and who) you have, you lose that “seeking” instinct (or at least, it gets redirected).
Nowadays for example, perhaps the kitchen is your “pleasure zone”, and as-yet-untried recipes your possibilities. And maybe you’d enjoy nothing more than to stay in and spend an entire evening making a somewhat fiddly dish like, let’s say, Vietnamese stuffed tofu, while your significant other sits in the other room working on the computer, and you bounce around the kitchen with the Pandora station set to New Order.
I bought this book a couple months ago, but didn’t know where to begin- everything sounded so good! The book’s photo of these little pork-filled tofu squares caught my eye, and I figured they were as good a starting point as any. I was also intrigued by the tomato sauce since I had never had anything like that in any Vietnamese restaurants. The assembly is a little time-consuming but not overly difficult, and as the author points out, they make good leftovers when heated up in the toaster oven.
For the tofu squares:
a 1-lb block of medium firm (“regular”) tofu
1/3 lb ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
1 scallion, white and light green parts, finely chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbs fish sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tsp cold water
canola or other neutral oil for panfrying
For the sauce:
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, pulsed briefly in the food processor (or drain, reserving juice, and finely chop on a cutting board) *
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fish sauce
*The author calls for 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and finely chopped ripe tomatoes. If you have access to good tomatoes, feel free to use them in place of the canned.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine pork, scallion, mushroom, egg, fish sauce, pepper and cornstarch mixture and beat vigorously with a fork until well blended. Set aside.
Prepare the tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2 inch thick pieces each about 2 1/4 inches square. You may have to cut the tofu in half crosswise. There will be 8, 10, or 12 pieces depending on the size and shape of the block. Lay a piece flat on your work surface and cut a horizontal slit in it, stopping 1/2 to 1/4 inch shy of the opposite side to avoid splitting the piece in half. Make sure the cut is equally deep on both sides. Repeat with the remaining pieces. (I laid my tofu on paper towel and lightly pressed the squares to get out excess water before stuffing them.)
Stuff the tofu: Hold a piece of tofu in one hand and use the other hand to open it up carefully like a tiny book. Use a knife or small spatula to spread a layer of filling about 1/4 inch thick on one side (I filled mine a little thicker than this, and still had leftover filling.) Lower the top flap and press the filling gently into place. Don’t worry if the tofu tears a little. As you work, place the stuffed tofu squares on a double layer of paper towel to absorb excess water.
Fry the tofu: Preheat the oven to 175 or 200 for keeping the tofu squares hot once they are fried. Pour enough oil in a nonstick skillet to film the bottom (about 4 tbs) and heat over medium heat. Panfry the tofu in two batches, frying for 4-6 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully flip the tofu and fry the second side for another 4-6 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is cooked. Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate or cookie sheet and place in the oven while you fry the second batch. (I lined a cookie sheet with paper towel to absorb some of the oil.) Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces.
Make the sauce: Lower the heat slightly and pour off all but 2 tbs of oil from the pan. Add the garlic to the pan and saute for about 15 seconds or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and fish sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors. When the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season with a little salt to deepen the flavor and a little sugar to balance the acidity.
To serve, spoon the sauce onto a platter (or plate individually) and place the tofu squares on top.
In college I worked at a restaurant in East Lansing called El Azteco (or simply “El Az”, for those in the know). Anyone who ever went to MSU probably has fond memories of their 96-cent burrito and margarita specials, and if you’re old school you remember when it was underground in a tiny basement location. I remember going there in high school with friends, ordering “friburs” (frijole burrito) and Mountain Dew, and leaving a pile of change for the waitress (cringe!). I started working there the summer after freshman year of college. There were many ups and downs to the job, but one thing that appealed to me was the management’s sense of equity. It didn’t matter if you had 10 years experience or none as a server- everyone had to start off in the kitchen and work there for at least a few months before graduating to server (or ”waitron”, as it was called). Consequently, all of the servers including myself knew exactly what was in the food and how to make it. Comes in handy for when I have a craving and don’t want to drive 80 miles! (You’d think that eating the same food 4-5 times a week for 4 years would make you sick of it, but oddly, no.)
Last week my friends Ian and Michelle welcomed their son Henry into the world. I wanted to bring them some food so that they could take a night off from cooking and hopefully relax a bit. I had eaten at El Azteco the week prior and it occured to me to make chicken enchiladas because I could make them in bulk and have enough to feed myself and Marvin as well. I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen on Sunday and made the works: chicken enchiladas with two kinds of sauce (chile verde & chile colorado), Spanish rice, refried beans and pico de gallo, all from scratch. Given how much food I ended up with, it was time well spent, I think. And when I delivered the food to Ian and Michelle, I got to peek in on an adorable sleeping brand new baby boy!
Very soon I will be posting my recipes for refried beans and Spanish rice, as well as a couple other El Az-inspired recipes that incorporate leftovers from this recipe, so please check back.
Please note: the given recipes make a LOT of enchiladas and sauce, so if you’re not feeding a crowd and don’t want to freeze stuff, I would recommend cutting everything in half. However, you can freeze the sauces and use extra leftover chicken in Chicken & Rice Soup (recipe coming soon).
Chicken Enchiladas, El Azteco Style printer-friendly version
To cook the chicken:
6 chicken leg quarters (about 5 lbs), preferably organic or Amish
2 celery stalks
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs tomato paste
1 bay leaf
about 2 liters chicken broth (see notes)
To assemble the enchiladas:
8 oz finely shredded medium or mild cheddar
16 oz shredded cheddar or muenster, or a combination
about 60 corn tortillas (I bought 2 packages of 30)
Chopped scallions for garnish
Notes: For the poaching liquid for the chicken, feel free to use low-sodium canned chicken broth, or water plus bouillon. I like this product called Better than Bouillon- they make an organic chicken bouillon that comes in a jar and has a paste-like consistency. I like it because it’s easy to add as much or as little as you need and to taste for saltiness as you go.
Directions: Roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion and smash the garlic. Put in a large stockpot with the chicken broth, bay leaf, and tomato paste (stir to dissolve) and bring to a simmer.
While the stock is simmering, rinse and pat the chicken dry and trim of all excess skin and fat. I find a kitchen scissors the best tool for this. Place the chicken quarters in the simmering stock, arranging them so that they are all covered by the liquid (if necessary, add more broth or water to cover- you want the liquid to just come to the top of the meat). Return to a simmer and poach for 25 minutes, covered. When done, remove lid and let the chicken cool in the poaching liquid while you get on with making the enchilada sauces (see recipes below).
When cool, remove the chicken from the liquid. Strain the broth and reserve for making Spanish rice or Chicken & Rice Soup. Skin and debone the chicken and chop into small pieces (you will want them pretty small so that your enchiladas aren’t too bulky). Combine in a bowl with the 8 oz. shredded cheddar. (If you are going to use any of the chicken for Chicken & Rice soup, set some aside before adding the cheese, and adjust the amount of cheese accordingly.)
To assemble the enchiladas, take about 15 tortillas at a time, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel, and microwave for 3 minutes. Take them out and divide and flip them, so that the ones on the outside are now on the inside, re-wrap in the towel and nuke for another few minutes. You’re aiming for the tortillas to be completely steamed and pliable so they don’t crack when you roll them.
Take out 1 tortilla at a time, keeping the rest covered, and lay on a cutting board or your clean countertop. Place a small amount of chicken filling down the center (see photo). If you use too much filling, your enchiladas will not stay rolled. You want them about the thickness of a cigar. Take the bottom third and fold it over, scrunching the edge towards you to get a nice tight roll. (You can imagine the many references to illegal smokeables made at El Azteco when training new cooks on how to roll enchiladas ) Roll it up away from you and place in a lasagna pan or other container, seam side down. Because the tortillas have been steamed, they should be sticky enough so that your enchilada will stay rolled. If your tortillas are not hot to the touch, you’ll have problems, so try to work quickly so they don’t get cold.
You can roll as many or as few enchiladas as you like. This recipe will make quite a lot, so you can either roll only as many as you want for a particular meal, or roll them all and refrigerate or freeze some for later (cover well so they don’t dry out). Once they’ve been refrigerated, they’ll hold their shape well enough to be put in zip-lock bags for freezing, if you don’t have Tupperware.
When you’re ready to bake the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350. Place a cup or so of your sauce (Chile Colorado or Chile Verde, recipes to follow) in a shallow dish. You can replenish this as need be, but it’s better to do it in a separate container so as not to get stray bits of chicken and cheese in your sauce. Dip each enchilada in the sauce, making sure it is well-coated. Lupe, the general manager, would always instruct us to unroll the enchilada just a little so that the sauce could get under the “flap”. No one likes a dry enchilada! Place the enchiladas in a glass baking dish, fitting them snugly up against each other. Cover with shredded cheddar, muenster, or a mixture, and bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with frijoles and rice. The restaurant portion is three enchiladas, but I find I’m stuffed after eating two.
*Alternate cooking method: If you only want to cook a plate or two of these, you can do it in the microwave. I recommend a slow and low cooking, such as 8-10 minutes at 30% power. It helps if you can cover the plate during the last few minutes to trap the steam so nothing dries out.
Chile Verde Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CV Sauce”) printer-friendly version
1 20-oz (“family size”) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 16-oz container sour cream (I use reduced fat)- see notes
10-12 jalapeño peppers
1 tbs cumin
1/2-3/4 cup water
Notes: This will probably be the one and only time you will see me call for canned soup in a recipe, but that’s what it’s made out of! Go to Whole Foods; they probably have an organic version. I have to ‘fess up to using Campbell’s, in spite of the third ingredient being vegetable oil… Good thing I only eat this stuff once in a while anymore. According to my friend & fellow former El Az cook Dave, the actual proportions are more like 3:1 or 4:1 soup to sour cream, so feel free to cut the sour cream to a cup or less if you like.
Directions: Optional- remove the seeds and pith from the jalapeños (leave in for a truly fiery sauce). You may want to taste a tiny bite of one to see how hot they are, since it can vary greatly depending on the season and other factors, and use that to gauge how many peppers to use in your sauce. (This is supposed to be the “spicy” sauce though.) Finely chop the peppers by hand or in the food processor. If you’re sensitive, you may want to use gloves but I did not find it necessary.
Combine condensed soup and sour cream in a large bowl. Add jalapeños and cumin. Stir to combine well. The sauce may be somewhat thick, but will thin out upon being heated. That’s it!
Chile Colorado Sauce, El Azteco Style (aka “CC Sauce”) printer-friendly version
1 28-oz can tomato sauce (unflavored)
1 medium onion, diced small
1 mild dried chile, such as Anaheim
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs cumin
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
Notes: At El Azteco, the cook in the back kitchen made the CC sauce, so I don’t know what’s *actually* in it, I’m just going by taste. It’s a fairly thin tomato-based sauce and the predominant flavor is cumin. They probably use onion powder and garlic powder, but for my homemade version I decided to use the real thing. Please use salt and sugar to taste, as different tomato purées will have different flavor profiles. You don’t want it to be sweet, you just want to add enough sugar to take any bitter edge off.
Directions: Pour boiling water over the chile and cover; let sit until fully softened. Sauté the onion in some vegetable oil until translucent, adding the garlic about halfway through. Roughly chop the chile and add to the sauce, reserving the soaking liquid. Add the cumin and a little salt and cook for a moment to release the cumin’s flavor. Add the tomato sauce and thin with the reserved chile water to reach your desired consistency. Taste for sugar and salt. Transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.