Monthly Archives: December 2011

RED OR GREEN? CHRISTMAS IN NEW MEXICO

The standard question in Santa Fe when you order chile is “Red or green?” If you have a hard time deciding, you can just say, “Christmas”, and they will bring out a dish slathered in both colors of chiles. This week’s  cookie recipe picks up on that theme. Linzer cookies are traditional for Christmas – a tender sandwich of almond or hazelnut cookie filled with raspberry jam pushing through a hole in the top. They remind some people of eyes, and  so the cookies are also called Linzer Augen (eyes). Authentic Linzer cookies are delicious, but for a Santa Fe Christmas, they almost beg for a little chile kick.

Rolling and cutting the cookies

As the name of the cookie suggests, it had its origins in Linz, Austria. Lenz is an ancient city founded by the Romans and home to luminaries like the mathematician Johannes Kepler, the composer Anton Bruckner, and unfortunately Adolf Hitler. But it may be more famous as the home of the Linzer Torte, a delicious pastry that can be traced back to the 1600’s and is now a feature of many of the great pastry shops of Vienna. It has become popular throughout Austria as well as the world, and especially at Christmas. The Linzer cookie uses all of the same ingredients.

Jars of chile-flavored jam

For the Santa Fe version, there are local products that let the baker add that chile kick without changing the basic recipe too much. Heidi’s Raspberry Farm makes a raspberry-red chile jam that fits the bill. In New Mexico, you can find it at farmers’ markets or in specialty grocery stores. You can also order it from Heidi’s Raspberry Farm, P.O. Box 1329, Corrales, NM 87048. Green chile jam is harder to find, but you can make your own from roasted sweet green chile sauce made by Desert Gardens, Comfort Foods, Inc., 9900 Montgomery Blvd, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87111, www.comfortfoods.com. I’ll tell you how to transform the sauce into jam as well as giving you the basic recipe for the cookies. You will see that there are a lot of steps in making the cookies, but it can all be done in a morning of busy baking.

RECIPES

Sweet Green Chile Jam

Ingredients

9 ounce jar sweet green chile (see sources)

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon low- or no-sugar pectin

  1. Empty the jar of green chile in a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar, pectin, and water, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
  2. Boil for two minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to  cool partly
  3. Return the mixture to the jar. Cool completely, and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Almond Flour

Ingredients

½ Cup almonds

4 Cups boiling water

  1. Place the raw almonds in a large heat-resistant bowl.
  2. Pour the hot water over the almonds and let steep for 5 minutes.
  3. In batches, remove the almonds from the hot water. Slip the skins off the almonds.
  4. Spread the peeled almonds on clean paper towels and allow to dry completely for about two hours.
  5. Ad the completely dried almonds to a spice grinder or small food processor. Grind the nuts using pulses of the low power. Watch carefully as too vigorous grinding can turn the almonds into almond butter. Remove and set aside when the almonds resemble coarse cornmeal.

Icing

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter,melted

1 Cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 Tablespoons cream

  1. In a small bowl, combine the butter, sugar, almond extract, and cream.
  2. Transfer to a plastic, zipper sealed sandwich bag and cut a 1/16 inch piece from one corner of the bag. When ready to ice the cookies, squeeze the icing through the hole to form patterns of your choice on the cookie top.

Linzer Cookies

Ingredients

½ Cup vegetable shortening

¼ Cup unsalted butter

¼ Cup sour cream

½ Cup sugar

½ Cup brown sugar, packed

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

2½ Cups all-purpose flour

½ Cup almond flour

½ Cup cornstarch

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the shortening, butter, sour cream, sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract. Beat at slow to medium speed until the ingredients are well mixed.
  2. Add the egg, and continue to mix at medium speed until the batter is light and fluffy.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, almond flour, and cornstarch.
  4. Add the dry mix to the batter and continue to beat until the ingredients are well combined and you have a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough in two equal portions. Form the portions into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap, and chill them for at least one hour in the refrigerator. If the dough is too soft, it will stick to the rolling-pin when you try to roll out the cookies.
  6. Roll the chilled dough, one ball at a time,  on a lightly floured work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 2¼ inch round cutter, cut rounds in the dough. Then using a 1 inch cutter, cut holes in the center of half of the rounds.
  7. Gather up any scraps of dough and shape them into a ball. Chill, roll, and cut cookies until all of the dough is used.
  8. Bake the cookies  for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges, on parchment-lined baking sheets in an oven preheated to 350º. Cool on a mesh rack.
  9. Ice the tops of the cookies with the hole in the center. Alternatively, and more classically, sprinkle them with confectioners’ sugar. Turn the solid cookies over and place about ½ teaspoon of jam in the middle. Then top with the frosted cookies.

Baked, decorated cookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

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CHEFS’ NIGHT OFF

I just got back from San Francisco where Susan and I took care of our grandson so that my daughter and son-in-law could prepare and serve their latest pop-up dinner. During the dinner Susan took care of the baby, so I got to enjoy the meal.

 This time the dinner was held at Coi, the Michelin two-star restaurant where Evan is the chef de cuisine and where Sarah worked for a short while early in her recent pregnancy. The dinner turned out to be a big success with a waiting list for reservations.  The kitchen crew was experienced, so the food came out on time and with a beautiful presentation. Most of the servers were recruited from the regular staff of Coi, so service was unobtrusively attentive. The wine and beer selections were small but very well-chosen to complement the meal.

Wild-Fennel-Pollen-Dusted Kettle Corn

Popcorn is the classic American snack food for movies and with drinks. Kettle corn raises it to a new level with a light sugary accent to the salty tang. This version, dusted with wild fennel pollen raises the bar one notch. In Northern California, wild fennel grows everywhere, so it is easy for foragers to gather the pollen from the golden flowers when they are in full bloom. The aroma and taste are subtle reflections of the stronger accents of fennel seed or cooked fennel. This is rapidly becoming a standard dish for the Chefs’ Night Off pop-ups because it is so popular and so perfect with cocktails, beer, or wine before dinner. One group of guests worked their way through six bowls.

Sun-Dried Tomato Fritter with Shiso

Fritters may be one of the signature dishes for Chefs’ Night Off. This version showed off sun-dried tomatoes folded into a stiff béchamel, crusted with cornmeal, and fried. Shiso, also called perilla or Japanese basil, is an aromatic leafy green.

Dungeness Crab Louie with Little Gems and “Saltine Crackers”

This is the season for Dungeness crab in San Francisco, and it is found on many menus prepared in many different ways. This version called for the pink, sweet morsels of crab to be combined with apples, celery, and house-preserved pickles, seasoned with a light, siphoned sauce Louis, garnished with a chiffonade of little gem lettuce, and hidden beneath a tuile made of saltine crackers in the style of an Italian frico.

Avocado, Little Gems, and “Saltine Crackers”

For vegetarians, this dish imitated the Dungeness crab Louie, substituting avocado ribbons and avocado balls stuffed with avocado mousse.

Plancha Bread with Roasted Squash, Smoked Pancetta, and Burrata

This complex dish used rectangles of flat bread baked on a plancha (iron griddle) and topped with roasted squash purée, crisp smoked pancetta, a siphon of burrata ( the creamy, earthy cousin of mozzarella) and herbs. For the vegetarians, the pancetta was replaced by smoked onions.

Chicory Salad with Date Vinaigrette and Persimmons

A beautiful and interesting break from the main courses, a leaf of chicory was dressed with a date vinaigrette siphon, grilled chicory chiffonade, and diced persimmons.

Roasted Chicken with Chestnuts, Pomegranate,  and Pine

Chicken legs were deboned and prepared pressée, stuffed with truffle and seaweed mousse. Chicken breast was stuffed, under the skin, with truffles and seaweed. The dish was served with chestnut purée, seaweed salad, frisée, pomegranate seeds, and seaweed chips.

Gnocchi with Chestnuts, Pomegranate, and Pine

For vegetarians, gnocchi poached and seared in brown butter were substituted for the chicken with the addition of shaved white truffles.

Chocolate Cremeaux with Coconut Whipped Cream, Rice Ice Cream, Fried Puffed Rice, and Yuba Strips

Not quite mousse and not quite ganache, the chocolate cremeaux anchored dessert, but there were lots of flavor surprises. Who would have thought of fried puffed rice? But it definitely fit in. Yuba, the skin that forms when tofu is heated, finished the dish.

Black Pepper and Blood Orange Marshmallows

These were definitely not the marshmallows you put in s’mores. The spiciness of the black pepper played off the blood orange and made this a fine end to a special meal.

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FRITO PIE AND BLUE CORN-GREEN CHILE CORN BREAD

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Terlingua International Chili Cook Off.  It was an interesting event with lots of cooks who live and breathe competition chili. I decided right away that I would never be in a chili cook off much less as champion. Still, the excitement got me to thinking about making chili. This is the perfect time of year to make a pot. Nearly everyone has his or her own recipe, and probably everybody believes that his or hers is the best. No doubt that’s how the Terlingua cook off got its start in the first place.

Frito pie with blue corn-green chile corn bread

To me, a bowl of chili is not complete without a handful of Fritos sprinkled on the top, along with chopped onion, grated cheddar cheese and maybe some sour cream and jalapeño slices on top of the Fritos. Hey – I’ve just described one version of Frito pie.

No one knows for sure when Frito pie was invented, but one story traces its start in the 1960s  to the F. W. Woolworth store on the Plaza in Santa Fe. For many years, the Woolworth store was an iconic tourist Mecca because of the pie. Unfortunately, the store is long gone, but Frito pie continues as one of the quintessential dishes of Santa Fe. Many restaurants offer their own version, and people love most of them.  Many charity fund-raisers sell Frito pies with great success.

Frito pie has spread across America, and each region has its claim as to the best and most traditional version. You can put the Fritos on the top; you can put them on the bottom. You can bake a casserole. You can dump some chili in a bag of Fritos. Every version has its proponents. Sadly, you can even use canned chili. But for me the quality of the dish is totally dependent upon the chili you put in it. So I am sharing my recipe for chili. Didn’t I already say that everybody thinks his or her is best?

Frito pie can be eaten by itself, but a warm tortilla or a piece of cornbread put the finishing touch on the meal. So I am also providing a recipe for cornbread made with another New Mexico tradition, blue corn meal. Green chiles, onion, cheese, and piñon nuts combine to make a unique Santa Fe cornbread. The recipe also contains powdered gluten. These days it should be easy to find in the baking section of a large grocery store. Gluten is not necessary, but it gives the cornbread a better rise and lighter texture. Corn contains no gluten, and blue corn meal is very fine so that those two characteristics sometimes make a cornbread that is flat and very crumbly. Gluten gives a crusty loaf with a light, well-textured inside.

RECIPES

Chili

Ingredients

2 Cups dried pinto beans

6 Cups water

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound ground beef, 15% fat

4 Cups beef stock

1 can (14 ½ oz) diced tomatoes

2 cloves, garlic, minced

1 packet (5 grams) Sazón Goya

½ teaspoon ground cumin

2 Tablespoons whole dried Mexican oregano

1-3 Tablespoons chili powder (or more according to taste)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 Tablespoons corn meal

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the dry beans overnight in the water.
  2. In the morning, heat the oil over medium heat  in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the chopped onions, and cook, covered, until translucent. Do not let them brown.
  3. Add the ground beef, breaking it up as you stir, and brown it completely.
  4. Add the beans with their soaking liquid and stir in the beef stock. Bring to the boil.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, Sazón Goya, and cumin. Add the oregano by crushing finely with your hands over the pot. Stir in the desired amount of chili powder and return to the boil, immediately reducing the heat to a simmer.
  6. Simmer, covered,  for two hours or until the beans are soft. Stir frequently, and add water if needed.
  7. About a half hour before you are ready to serve, add the sugar, lemon juice, and corn meal. Simmer uncovered until the corn meal has thickened the gravy.  Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, and more cumin and chili powder if desired.
  8. Serve in bowls and pass Frito chips, grated Cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and sour cream for toppings.

Blue Corn Meal Cornbread with Green Chiles, Cheese, and Piñon Nuts

Ingredients

½ Cup piñon nuts

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup blue corn meal (Do not use atole. It is too finely ground.)

1 Tablespoon gluten powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 oz canned chopped green chiles (choose your heat – mild to hot)

½  Cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese

½ Cup chopped green onions including the tops

1½ Cups buttermilk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 Tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Grease a heavy 8 inch cast iron skillet generously and place it in the middle of the oven as you preheat the oven to 425°. Meanwhile prepare the batter.
  2. In a dry skillet over high heat, toast the piñon nuts until the oils are released and the nuts have begun to brown slightly. Be careful not to burn them. Allow them to cool and then chop them coarsely. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the corn meal, flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.  Add the chopped, toasted nuts, green chiles, grated Cheddar cheese, and green onion. Mix well.
  4. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, beaten eggs, and melted butter.
  5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture and stir together until they are well blended. Do not overbeat.
  6. Remove the preheated skillet from the oven and pour in the batter, working quickly. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  7. Cut into wedges and serve immediately with plenty of butter and honey on the side.

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BOUILLABAISSE

Live lobster

Fish soup or chowder in one of the true delights of an early winter evening this time of year. There are so many delicious soups that it is hard to list them: clam chowder – both New England and Manhattan – cioppino, fish stew, seafood gumbo, and on and on. Probably the most elegant of all, though, is bouillabaisse.

Cooked lobster

Lobster ready to go in the soup

In Volume I of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, Julia Child reminded us that bouillabaisse started out as a simple fish soup made from the catch of the day or from leftovers of the fish monger. These days, though, the soup has morphed into something special served at the best restaurants.  There are hundreds of variations of this French classic, and each is claimed to be more authentic than the next.

Fresh vegetables for the soup

Prepared vegetables

Whenever we visit our daughters, they always try to make something special and yet also play on one of our favorites. This year, we visited our daughter in Los Angeles during the Thanksgiving week. This is her version of bouillabaisse, based upon a recipe by Alfred Portale in his classic cookbook, “Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook”, Doubleday, 1997. It is filled with lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, and crabs. You can add any other fish you like, and squid is also a good addition.

Stirring the pot

Ready to be served to the hungry crowd

The recipe is lengthy, to say the least, but worth the effort and expense.

Serve it with a light salad. My daughter chose a salad of roasted golden beets, sugared pecans, and warm goat cheese on a bed of mesclun. She also served a crusty French bread for dipping after the shellfish and lobsters are all eaten.

Roasted beet salad with candied pecans and warm goat cheese

RECIPES

Ingredients

Bouillabaisse

2 live lobsters

1/2 Cup olive oil

4 Cups fish stock

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 Cup chopped fresh fennel

1/2 Cup chopped leeks, whites only

1 head garlic, cut in half

2 teaspoons ground fennel seed

2 teaspoons ground white pepper

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 star anise

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/8 teaspoon red pepper

1 bay leaf

4 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 Cup canned tomatoes with juice

1 Cup dry white wine

2 Cups chicken stock

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon saffron threads

24 large, unshelled shrimp

24 Manila clams

20 mussels

8 ounces lump crab meat

2 Tablespoons Pernod

Bouilli Butter

3 three-inch strips of orange zest

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 large garlic clove mashed to a paste with salt

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

Kosher salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground star anise

1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed

1/4 teaspoon saffron

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

  1. Bring at 3 gallons (12 quarts) of salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Plunge the lobsters in the boiling water, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes.
  2. Remove the lobsters to a cutting board, twist off the large claws and return them to the pot for an additional 4 minutes.
  3. Separate the lobster heads from the tails. Cut the tails in half lengthwise and combine them with the cooked claws in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a large stockpot over medium heat, heat the oil and then add the lobster heads. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the lobster heads are bright red. Then add the fish stock, onions, fennel, leeks, and garlic. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the fennel seed, white pepper, thyme, tarragon, star anise, saffron, paprika, red pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, tomatoes, and wine. Raise the heat to high and cook until reduced to about half.
  6. Add the chicken stock and enough water, if needed, to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.  Remove from the heat for 20 minutes. Then strain into a large container, pressing the solids to extract the flavor.
  7. Cook the fingerlings in  a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside in the cooking water.
  8. In a large stockpot, heat the remaining oil over low heat. Add the onion and fennel, cooking until tender. Add the red and yellow peppers, cooking for another 15 minutes
  9. Add the strained stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the potatoes and add them to the boiling stock. Add the shrimp. clams, and mussels. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the cooked lobster with its juices and the crab.  Cook until all the shellfish open, about 3 minutes.
  10. In the meantime, prepare the bouilli butter. Blanch the orange zest in boiling water for 1 minute, drain, chop finely, and combine with paprika, star anise, fennel, saffron, cayenne, and white pepper. Add to the softened butter and combine throughly. Place the mixture on a plastic wrap, shape into a log, and chill for one hour in the refrigerator.
  11. Strain through a large colander into a large bowl. Transfer the shellfish and vegetables to a large serving bowl. Pour the strained liquid back into the stockpot and bring to the boil. Add Pernod and 4 tablespoons of the prepared bouilli butter. Then pour the soup into the serving bowl.
  12. Serve in large, deep soup bowls with plenty of good French bread for dipping.

Serves 6 to 8

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