31 August 2010

Tinga de pollo or how to make the most out of a giant bag of tomatoes

I have not mentioned it yet but last week, el presidente-of-the-company-that-used-to-own-me-but-doesn't-anymore gave me a giant sac of tomatoes from his farm. I can't say how much exactly but many kilos of tomatoes and they were all pretty much ripe and needed to be dealt with shortly. So I spent a number of late nights in the kitchen and brewed up a few sauces.

The first one was a relatively traditional tomato sauce for pasta. I enjoy the roasted tomato sauce the best but don't have a flame of any kind for the roasting so decided to mix some cultures and Mexicanize (if you can even believe it!) the proceedings. Essentially I roasted the tomatoes and the garlic on the comal so they were all nice and charred up and then went about making the sauce in an ordinary way - with some onion, salt, pepper, oregano and basil (from my window garden). Cooked it for a while and then just bottled it up.

I have not tried it yet so don't have any verdict on how it worked out. The taste out of the pot while cooking seems to point to good news . . . .

The next night I used up a whole whack more of the tomatoes and made a big batch of roasted tomato and chipotle sauce. It is my favourite sauce and I like to eat it in many ways. It was one of the first introductions to the beauty of Mexican cooking that I got from, you guessed it, Rick Bayless. Now I make it all the time and I had been waiting for the good tomatoes to start rolling in. So I made a lot. Gave some to el presidente and kept the rest.

Having some fresh sauce on hand, I decided to make a tinga de pollo. In this case, it's shredded chicken (let's just buy one already cooked, it is a weeknight!) along with shredded onion and potato. Cook up the potato and onion, shred about half the chicken and add it along with a cup or so of the sauce and you have an absolutely outstanding dish. You can use this inside tacos, on tostadas or sopes, or just eat it straight up. I toasted a few tortillas and layered them up with some sour cream, chopped white onion, sliced avocado, and freshly chopped tomato. What a feast.

Tomatoes pure and simple

It is tomato season and this year's tomatoes are just spectacular. I have been partaking of the bountiful harvest in many ways (posts to come) but one of my absolute favourites is also the most simple.

My dad always ate tomatoes like this and why mess with a good thing, I say. All you're seeing here is a beautiful ripe tomato sliced as thinly as possible (a good knife goes a long way in this situation), layered with a little salt, pepper, and good quality olive oil on top of a piece of crispy toast. Nothing could be easier or more delicious. A great way to start the day.

22 August 2010

2 for 1 roasts

Metro had some eye of round and outside round roasts on 2-for-1 special this week, so I thought I'd drop by and see what was what. The thing about shopping at the store that's right in the confines of Ryerson University is that they have lots of smaller sized cuts of meat, which is great if you're cooking for just a few people rather than a whole family. So I managed to find a couple of smallish roasts, being quite chuffed to get the deal.

Apparently with the eye of round, some people cook them in the oven but they are also okay as a pot roast. As a someone who hearts her pressure cooker, I decided to go the pot roast route as you can really get a lot of flavours in there and you don't have to have the oven on for ages! Oh and just in case, I've not shared my great pressure cooker with you, here's a pic of her. It's a Futura brand and I love it because it has the easiest and least scary pressure valve that I've ever seen on a pressure cooker. And it is pretty easy to clean.

Once you've prepared everything - sauteed some onions and garlic, browned the meat, then added beef stock, a bay leaf, some thyme, and - it takes about 40 minutes of cooking time (maybe a little less). While it was cooking I cut up some carrots and fingerling potatoes that we got from our Cooopers' Farm box this week. I added them after the 40 minutes and let them get up to pressure and cook for another eight minutes. Then I made a gravy by thickening and reducing the sauce, adding some sliced up mushrooms and a little bit of worchestershire sauce for a bit of zing. It all came together very nicely and the potatoes were just out of this world!! And there were lots so J could carbo-load before her 10K race that she was going to run the next morning!

We also got heirloom tomatoes and beets in the box this week. And never one to pass up a chance for a beet salad, made one to go with our lovely Friday night roast dinner. This one had some soft goat's milk cheese and candied walnuts to go with the beets, onions, and tomatoes. Delicious and I roasted enough so we can have a rerun of this fab salad again.

I was up at Cooper's Farm this past week and they assure me that they are growing poblano peppers, which I am thrilled about. We'll be doing some of our picking soon as the tomatoes and tomatillos are ready to roll. I have purchased new canning bottles and salsas are on their way!! Can't wait.

18 August 2010

Getting tippy with it

I recently bottled some chipotle en conserva and there was quite a bit of sauce left over once I had put most of the conserva into bottles. I kept the saucy onions that were left over and figured I'd use all that juicy goodness as a base to cook up something spicy in the pressure cooker. Well tonight was that night and I decided to make sirloin tips in chipotle sauce.

I obviously used sirloin tips and the leftover conserva sauce. I also added a poblano and a couple of cloves of garlic, dry roasted on the comal. I browned the meat and added everything else to it in the pressure cooker and cooked it for 15 minutes. I wanted to use up some other vegetables that were in the fridge so cut up and added a zuke and a combination of beet greens and swiss chard after I opened the pressure cooker. Let the veggies boil in the sauce for a a few minutes and presto, a quick and delicious meal. J had said she wanted polenta so I kind of obliged. We only had white corn meal but I made it up and managed to get a pretty good consistency.

The meat come out nice and tender. I really enjoyed the flavour of the greens, which were stronger than spinach. And all of that sauce, which was a little sweet as the conserva was made with quite a bit of sugar as it's supposed to be kind of marmalade-y, absorbed by the polenta. Mmm, mmm. Served the whole thing with a small salad of lettuce, tomato, onions, cilantro and a lime vinaigrette. Salad brought the whole thing together, aha! :)

15 August 2010

What's Cookin'?

As you've seen, G's been cooking up all manner of Mexican food goodness here lately, it's been great!  It's been fantastic having a Mexican restaurant in my own home, even though it means I haven't been cooking all that much... it's not just that G's been having a blast in the kitchen, but I seem to have lost a bit of my cooking mojo.  The will to eat is there, don't get me wrong, but there's not a ton of enthusiasm for the process of making that food!

But tonight, G's away and dinner is on my own.  So I decided to serve myself up a classic... low-fat mac n cheese with a little hamburger patty.

I thought to take the photo about half-way through, hence the manky state of my hamburger patty!  I made the mac n cheese with 1% milk, no butter, low-fat cheddar, a bit of parmesan, and a laughing cow cheese combined with some smart brand macaroni.  It was so creamy!  Hard to believe it's about 9 points for the whole dinner!  (The single serving bowls are the ONLY way I can make mac n cheese without eating the whole pan!

Since I've been training for the half marathon, creeping up my weekly mileage, I find that my appetite is coming and going with some ferocity.  I am either not at all hungry or starving.  No in-between.  The other night, with no dinner plan in sight, G and I used one of her previous successes in a new and exciting way.  Chorizo Potato Hash with Eggs!


Really good!  I made this one, sauteeing some chorizo (President's Choice Chorizo is AWESOME) then adding an onion for a bit, then adding some mostly cooked boiled potato cubes.  Stir it around with some salt and pepper and smoked paprika and then spread out to cover the skillet.  Crack in eggs, cover, cook for about 7 minutes or until the egg is as you like it (these were a bit too done, really), then serve.  Really delicious and a very satisfying dinner in about 30 minutes.  

And, just because I think this picture is cute, here's Bello sleeping on the couch like a goof...

What a silly boy!

So all in all, in this part of the world, it's been a good few months.  Still going strong on the Weight Watchers, running three times a week, and just overall trying to keep my good humour.  The humidity the last week or so has brought some crazy headaches, but other than that, I can't complain.  (And along those lines, my cardiologist gave me the thumbs up on Friday, and notice that I don't need to come back for a follow-up for 9-12 months!  Go me!)  

How's your summer/winter going?

14 August 2010

This is what a popsicle is all about

Recently we went up to Muskoka for the weekend and had a very relaxing getaway which involved lots of sitting by the lake relaxing and reading magzines. One such magazine was the latest issue of Saveur, The Greece Issue. So of course, I instantly ended up at the one thing Mexican in the issue. It is my destiny! So what was this fascinating article about . . . well popsicles of course!

According the article, paletas, or Mexican popsicles, are a speciality of the town of Tocumbo in the southwestern state of Mochoacan. They fresh-fruit dense and come in an array of fantastic flavours, including chile-flecked ones, which always excites me. My interest was piqued and I decided I had to try to make some.

Anywho, got a whack of strawberries in our food box this week so decided to try my hand at making a paleta of my own. The family coming over for dinner was a good excuse to make a bunch of popsicles! I did not use the Saveur recipe, which has cream in it but a straightforward strawberries, sugar, and lime juice combo. I will definitely be making the mango-chile ones in the future but for now . . .

The strawberry ones were fantastic. Best pospsicle. EVER!!

Strawberry paletas
  • 3.5 cups of chopped up strawberries
  • 1/3 cup of sugar (I put too much by mistake and they were fine but a little less sweet would be OK so I'd use this amount)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
Waz up the strawberries in a blender. Then pour it into a fine strainer over a bowl and press through all the good stuff while leaving the little seeds etc behind. Add the sugar and lime juice to the strawberry juice, stir until the sugar is all dissolved. Pour into popsicle holders and freeze for at least three hours.

12 August 2010

So good you should bottle it

One of the big benefits of being able to work at home on occassion is that I get to spend the hour between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. doing something other than sitting in traffic being anxious. This morning I used it to start making chipotle en conserva - basically a chile-garlic-onion marmalade that is delicious as a condiment and also as a base for some meat dishes. We made it at cooking school and I've been jonesing to make some ever since I got home.

I've had the ingredients sitting around for ages so this morning I decided to put it all together.

Chipotle en conserva
(From Mexican Home Cooking School)
  • 10-16 dried chipotles (I prefer moritas)
  • some bay leaves (from my parents' garden)
  • four heads of garlic (mostly from our CSA farm box)
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (also from the farm)
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme (also from the farm)
  • 1 large cone piloncillo (Mexican sugar)
  • 1/2 cup of cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt
  • 2 onions
Add everything but the onion to 6 cups of salted water. Simmer partially for an hour. Take off the heat and let sit overnight (in this case I did it in the morning. let it sit all day, and then finished it in the evening). Slice the onions very fine, add to the pot and then simmer for another half an hour or so. Put into sterlized jars and refrigerate.

According to Dona Elena, it'll keep in the fridge for a year if you always use a clean spoon when dipping in to use it.

It was fun and made the house smell really good. This made about six little bottles plus I had some leftover sauce and onions once I ran out of chipotles. I think I'll see if I can use it to braise some ribs or something in the pressure cooker and use it in tacos or something . . . we shall see, we shall see.

09 August 2010

They deserve a mention

My friend P makes the most awesome waffles in the world. When he used to live in the same apartment building as me, he often made waffles for us on Sunday mornings and the beauty was I could just ride the elevator in my jammies. Well he and his partner live some distance away now but we occasionally go to visit and sometimes stay overnight. Last weekend we headed out to the Cambridge area to see them and had a great bonfire in their backyard on Saturday night. And on Sunday morning, some beautiful (and I am told virtuous) waffles with fresh blueberries were served for breakfast. I think P is still using the same trusty waffle maker. Delicious!!!!!!!

Getting the job done

Mondays really are just the most exhausting days. So often dinner does not get made on Monday nights . . . it more often gets acquired, shall we say. But tonight even though neither of us really felt like cooking, there was some food in the house and we could pull something together. I realized we had some chorizo and a whole whack of potatoes that had come in the past few weeks in our veggie box. Also last week in da box, we got our first jalapenos from the farm.

This is all adding up to something Mexican, as you can well imagine.

I read somewhere about potato-chorizo tacos. I imagine it was Rick Bayliss related but hey, I could just pull these together, I did not need to resort to a recipe. So easy peasy. Took two large potatoes and cut 'em up into tiny squares and tossed them in a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes until they got soft. Then I took some chorizo and also some onion and chopped them up into little bits. Heated a frying pan and got the chorizo and onions frying up nicely. Once the potatoes were cooked and drained, they got tossed into the frying pan with the other stuff. I added a bit of oil, a sprinkling of salt, a smattering of smokey paprika, and a little bit of garlic and just let it fry for a bit. Kind of mushed up the potato and chorizo, let it brown a bit and that's that for that.

Along with it, made a little avocado-tomatillo salsa. While the potatoes were boiling, just put a couple of fresh tomatillos in the boiling water for a few minutes until they were soft. Then took an avocado, a jalapeno, a dry roasted garlic glove, and the tomatillos and blended it all up together. Presto, you've got some lovely salsa.

If you want, grate a bit of cheese, chop up some onion, some more jalapeno, or some lettuce or whatever. Use them as garnish. We used flour tortillas because it's what we had in the house, so just warmed them in the microwave for a few minutes. Put all the ingredients together in a lovely little hand-holdable package and enjoy : )

06 August 2010

Bringing it home

It has been an absolutely crazy week. My company got bought, well part of it did, and others not. Not much actual work got accomplished despite the show going on, etc, etc. So I needed to get in the kitchen and try and calm it all down. Of course, a little Mexican feast was the perfect antidote to get me focused and my mind away from the reeling . . .

While in Mexico recently, I purchased a comal -- the metal flat cooking sheet for dry roasting -- but had not seasoned it yet so it couldn't be used. But in order to make tonight's delicacy, the comal had to come out of its shell and get to work! So I got it out, washed it, wiped it with oil and heated up until it was good and hot. Then let it cool, washed, wiped with oil again and got it all hot and smoky once more for good measure. Another cooling and washing and wiping and we were ready to rock and roll. I imagine it will get blacker over time but this is just it's virgin voyage.
This is the comal after the seasoning and then getting itself in the game with some garlic and tomatillos.

The dinner plan was chicken in pasilla sauce. It was one of the sauces I learned at cooking school and have wanted to give it a go since I got back. Luckily I had planned ahead and pasilla chiles were sitting in the kitchen waiting for their moment in the sun! Tonight I made it so.

Dona Elena would be pleased that I cooked my chicken (a whole one cut into pieces) in the pressure cooker. I'll tell you this, 10 minutes of pressure cooking time is too much!! Who knew? So the chicken was a tiny bit more done than necessary but I did also get a couple of cups of chicken stock for the freezer out of the deal, so double excellent.

I will admit that I did leave out one of the herbs from the sauce, which may explain why it was as awesome as the one we made in Tlaxcala but it was still pretty freakin' good. It started with many tomatoes, tomatillos, and cloves of garlic cooking it up on the comal (as you've already seen from the fab pix above!). Then taking the dried pasilla chiles, which are not hot but have a very deep taste, cleaning the seeds out and toasting them on the comal. I kept in mind the lesson of doing it very quickly -- they will blister in seconds, flip 'em over for a few more secs and then toss them in some boiling water with onions for five minutes or so until they're soft. Then you waz everything together in the blender. Do it for longer than you really think it needs because that'll make the sauce smoother. This is where I forgot to add the thyme but the sauce was still good.

I added small cubes of potatoes to the sauce and chicken, which needed to cook together in a pan for a while to get all flavourful. The taters were from our CSA box and were like the hardest potatoes ever. It took forever for the tiny lit squares to get soft so the already well cooked chicken got even more well cooked. Luckily in the case of this saucy dish, it's okay if the chicken fell of the bone. Served it up with some tomato rice and some fresh corn on the side.

We have also been getting a tremendous number of cucumbers in our veggie box and seeing as how J doesn't really eat cukes and they can't be cooked really, there is not a whole heck of a lot to do with them. So tonight I tried a really simple cucumber salad. First thinly slice the cuke and salt it and let sit for about half an hour to get some of the liquid out. Rinse off some of the salt and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add an equal amount of water and vinegar (depending on how much cucumber you use, you need just to cover it all), a pinch of sugar, and a bit of dill. Mix it up, put it in the fridge to chill and eat!

It was actually nice to cook at home tonight and it did the trick and calmed me down a bit. And I think J enjoyed it after her super-terifically long run! And just for good measure, I finally bought James Taylor's Mexico (and other of his super tunes) so I've got them on my computer and I can really feel like it's summer because to me, JT's music means summer.


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