Last night was Oscars Night and we headed to Carol’s house to watch the festivities and to compete in the family predicting-the-winners sweepstakes. This is a long tradition at Carol’s, and we have been invited each year since our move to California. Carol had planned to have steak and cold boiled shrimp for what was our usual Sunday family dinner, but she has been under the weather lately. I suggested that I make some odds and ends of thing so that she could stay off her feet. She insisted on the steak and shrimp – which was alright by me – but I went ahead and made some snacks that we could enjoy in front of the television. I tried to make the food simple so that nobody had to do too much cooking. This dip is simple. It takes about 30 minutes to assemble and with store-bought tortilla chips makes an attractive party platter.
The seven layer taco dip turned out to be a big hit. The first time that I ever enjoyed it was over fifty years ago at a family gathering. Susan’s sister, who was famous in the family for no-fuss party foods brought a huge platter that was devoured in short order. Like so many classics of fifty years ago, taco dip has faded into obscurity. I’m not sure why because it is tasty, a crowd pleaser, and easy to make. It was popular last night. As an aside, I was nowhere close to winning the sweepstakes. Just like last year, the teen-age film buff walked away with the prize, although she was tied by her dad, who is also a movie fan. Susan, who is oblivious to movie stars, always gives the two champs a run for their money. How does that happen?
Layer One: refried beans
Layer Two: avocado
Layer Three: sour cream and cream cheese
Layer Four: salsa
Layer Five: tomatoes, peppers, onions and lettuce
Layer Six: cheddar and jack cheese
Layer Seven: black olives
The end result
Seven Layer Taco Dip
- 14.5 ounce can refried beans
- 1 envelope taco seasoning
- 2 ripe medium avocados
- juice of 1 lime
- 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sour cream
- 16 ounce bottle salsa
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
- ½ green bell pepper, chopped
- 3 snacking peppers seeded and chopped
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced, green tops included
- ¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded finely
- 2 cups grated cheddar/Monterey jack cheese (packaged pre-shredded is great)
- 4 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
- salt and pepper
- hot sauce (optional)
- Layer One: Combine the refried beans and taco seasoning. Spread on a 12-16 inch serving platter.
- Layer Two: With a fork, mash the avocados, along with the lime juice, in a small bowl to your preferred consistency. Spread on top of the refried beans.
- Layer Three: Combine the cream cheese and sour cream until they are smooth and completely blended. Spread on top of the avocado.
- Layer Four: Pour the salsa over the cream cheese mixture. If the salsa is too runny, you may wish to drain it in a strainer over the sink before pouring it over the cream cheese.
- Layer Five: Combine the tomatoes, chopped peppers, and green onions. Arrange on top of the salsa and then add the shredded lettuce.
- Layer Six: Sprinkle the grated cheese over the vegetable layer.
- Layer Seven: Top with sliced black olives.
- Serve with tortilla chips. Adjust seasoning of each layer as you go with salt, pepper, and optional hot sauce.
Our stove is still unrepaired so I continue using my daughter’s slow cooker. I hope that she doesn’t ask for it back any time soon as we’re still uncertain about how much longer the stove will be out of commission. The rotisserie chicken for Sunday dinner turned out well. I had done two chickens so there were lots of leftovers for us and for Carol. I tried to think of how I could use the chicken in some slow cooker recipe. Soup immediately came to mind, but it seemed too hot outside for soup. I couldn’t figure out how to make chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings without a stove. Old-fashioned chicken spaghetti sounded like a good option. We ate chicken spaghetti at the East Texas farm for as far back as I can remember. The recipe was a treasure of Susan’s mother and included a generous amount of Velveeta. I suspect the original recipe came from a Velveeta box and that it has been copied onto 3 x 5 cards in many families. This is not the authentic recipe. I used sharp Cheddar instead of Velveeta. I also wound up cleaning out the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator along with using up all of the leftover chicken. Since the leftover chicken had been topped with garlic butter, I did not add garlic, but you could if you like. The slow cooker was the perfect utensil for the project.
Slow Cooker Chicken Spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
- leftover roasted chicken, bones and skin removed, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
- salt and pepper
- Sweat onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes with slow cooker set on High. Add pepper, celery, and optional garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add chicken stock and cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
- Break the spaghetti into pieces that will fit into the slow cooker and stir into the pot. Cook for 20 minutes on High or until the spaghetti is just al dente.
- Reduce the heat to Low. Stir in the grated cheese until it is melted. Add the chicken and cook just long enough to warm it thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Things just came together. Our range and oven have been out of service for over two weeks while we await a back-ordered replacement computer board. We have been relying on ancillary kitchen appliances: the microwave, an induction plate that I bought, a George Forman grill, etc. We had not yet used our waffle iron, so it was time. Peter and René had brought us a bottle of Canadian maple syrup from a recent visit to Montreal. Finally, the cupboard was nearly bare as I had been putting off going to the grocery store. A waffle supper with fried eggs done on the induction plate, bacon cooked in the microwave, and waffles in the iron seemed obvious.
This is an old family recipe. Carol made these many years ago for a family gathering in Santa Fe. The waffles were so good that I asked her to contribute the recipe to the family cook book. She called them the best ever, so I titled the recipe, “Carol’s Best-Ever Raised Waffles”.
Actually, the recipe is not original. It came from Marion Cunningham’s masterful revision of The Fanny Farmer Cookbook. Since then the recipe has been reprinted countless times, often verbatim, and including the internet sites, Epicurious and Food52. Most of the internet reviews are glowing, with some notable exceptions. One writer said that the waffles were so limp and tasteless that she threw the remaining batter down the disposal. While it is true that the waffles will not be as crisp as what you might be used to, my hunch is that she used bad yeast or forgot to add the eggs in the morning or something. Other writers substituted oil for melted butter, vanilla-flavored almond milk for milk. or gluten-free flour for all-purpose flour. Some complained that the batter was too thin and added ¾ cup of flour. You could do any or all of those things, but then you would have a different recipe and a different waffle.
If you follow the recipe as written, you will wind up with a waffle that has the yeasty aroma of a French boulangerie, the taste of a fresh sweet roll straight from the oven, and a lightness that absorbs the unctuous flavors of added melted butter and maple syrup. My latest effort resulted in waffles just as I remembered them from Carol’s introduction years ago. Keep in mind that if you plan on breakfast waffles, you need to start the night before; if you plan on a waffle supper, start in the morning.
- ½ cup warm water
- 1 package dry yeast
- 2 cups warm milk
- ½ cup (1 stick) melted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand for 5 minutes to dissolve.
- Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer until smooth and blended.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature over night or all day. The batter should rise to about double its volume.
- Just before cooking the waffles, beat in the eggs and baking soda, stirring until well mixed. The batter will be very thin.
- Pour ½ to ¾ cups of batter into each mold of a very hot waffle iron. Bake the waffles until they are golden and crisp. Serve immediately or cool on a baking rack to prevent then from getting soggy.
What a surprise to find authentic Hatch chiles in busy Los Angeles. My daughter, Carol, told me that a local grocery store brings in a big shipment every summer. On a certain Saturday they have a chile roaster operating in the parking lot – just like Santa Fe! Unfortunately we missed the roaster, but we bought a supply of green chiles. I roasted them in two batches: first with my trusty fail-safe portable device. (I have written about it several times in the past. It is available at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and they ship.) I wound up going to Carol’s house because she has a gas stove – and our stove at the apartment is out of commission with a sick electronic board. (My grandmother’s wood-burning stove always worked if you could chop the wood. To my knowledge, it never required a board replacement. End of rant.) I roasted the second batch on the gas grill in our apartment common area.
When I first learned of the availability of Hatch chiles in Los Angeles, I made the rash commitment to make chiles rellenos. That effort is widely recognized as an affirmation of a grandparent’s love for his or her family. That is because making chiles rellenos is a multi-step process – nothing really difficult, but definitely labor intensive. Still, it is always worth the work. The enthusiasm of the diners is much appreciated by the tired cook. Make plenty. Two to three per person is a good target, but serve them quickly after you fry them. A fresh, fluffy, crispy chile relleno is a thing to savor; an old soggy version is forgettable in an unforgettable way. We ate ours for Sunday family dinner along with Margaritas, Mexican rice, refried black beans, and de-constructed Caesar salad. Everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. And then Carol served an ice cream tart with a delicious nectarine sauce. The perfect ending.
STEPS IN THE MANUFACTURE OF CHILES RELLENOS
Roasting the chiles
- Turn on your heat source and top with any special roasting device you might have. A gas flame works better than an electric range. You could use a wood fire. A broiler in your oven will also work. In any event, it is important that the source be very hot.
- Arrange chiles on the roasting surface. If you are using the broiler in your oven, use a heavy pan that will not warp with the high heat.
- With long tongs, turn the chiles frequently as they roast. The chiles will become blistered, charred, and black. Don’t be alarmed. That is what you want. Adjust the chiles over the flame so that all sides and all parts become charred.
- As the chiles become charred to your wishes, move them to a plastic bag that can be folded over to contain the heat. REMEMBER: the chiles are hot at this point, so be careful not to burn yourself.
- Add more chiles until you have roasted your supply, and they have all been transferred to a plastic bag.
- Allow the chiles to cool completely in the bag. This may take thirty minutes or longer.
- Remove the chiles from the bag. Under a thin stream of cold water, use your fingers to pull the charred skin off of each chile. The char should pull off easily, and you will have a smooth, olive-colored chile for the next step in the process. Repeat the process until all of the chiles have been peeled.
Preparing the chiles for stuffing
- With a sharp, pointed paring knife make a slit along one of the edges of the chile. Start at the stem and extend the slit about 3 inches.
- Under a stream of cold water, gently open the slit, and with your finger pull out the seed bundle located directly under the stem. The paring knife may help in the process. Rinse free any loose seeds. Pat dry with paper towels or a dish towel.
- Cut “fingers” of good melting cheese – Monterey jack, cheddar, mozzarella, Chihuahua, asadero – about ¼ inch x ¼ inch x 4 inches. I like to use fingers of two different cheeses for each stuffed chile. Slide the cheese fingers gently into the chile through the slit. Don’t pack the cheese too tightly or the chile will burst. Not enough cheese and the chile will be undistinguished.
- Fold the loose sides of the slit over the cheese so that it is completely covered.
- Refrigerate until you are ready to fry the chiles.
Coating and frying the chiles
Ingredients (enough batter for about 12 chiles)
- 3 eggs, room temperature, separated
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
- flour for dusting chiles
- vegetable oil for frying
- In a large, wide bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Then stir in the milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil. Whisk together until most of the lumps are gone. Let rest for 30 minutes and whisk again. You should have a smooth mixture.
- Meanwhile, whip the egg whites with a rotary beater or hand mixer until they form peaks. Fold the stiffened egg whites into the batter mixture. Let rest for 30 minutes and then stir gently to incorporate any fluffs of egg white that may remain.
- When you are ready to fry the chiles, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375°F in a sturdy, deep pot. Dust the stuffed chiles with flour. Then, working one by one, use the stem as a handle to dip a chile into the batter, making sure the cheese is completely enclosed and the chile is covered with batter.
- Carefully lower the chile into the hot oil. Be very careful not to burn yourself. If there is room in the pot, add more chiles, but do not crowd them.
- When the chile is well-browned on one side, turn with long tongs, and brown the other side. Remove browned chiles to a plate lined with paper towels to keep warm in the oven until all of the chiles have been fried. Replenish the oil as needed.
- Serve immediately with your favorite salsa.
Fried chicken has always been popular in our family. Probably it is in most families. And there have been lots of family cooks who have staked their reputation on their version of the delicacy.
My mother was celebrated among her family contemporaries as the champion, and her special family dinner was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. A picnic in the mountains was an anticipated treat of childhood. My mother would fry up two chickens, pack them into a big glass jar that she reserved for the occasion, and arrange the jar in the back window of our Willys Overland Americar to keep the chicken warm until we reached our destination. (Why none of us ever came down with a fatal food-borne illness I will never know.) At the picnic table we would reach into the jar and pull out a favorite piece – or the back if we were too late. There was never any chicken left.
My mother-in-law often served fried chicken when family had gathered around her table at the farm. The crispy skin and juicy meat stimulated sibling rivalry at the table, sometimes triggereing mild rebuke from PopPop, the patriarch, who had high expectations for table manners.
Sarah, also known as Sally Hurricane, has for years made fried chicken for family meals at the restaurants where she has worked. Now she serves an off-menu treat at RT Rotisserie that is known as Sally Hurricane’s Southern Fried Chicken. I have written about it in this journal, and there is a story about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Susan and Carol also make some mean versions of fried chicken, but Susan has largely turned from cooking to gardening, and Carol doesn’t like to fry things. So, for a recent Sunday family dinner I decided to make fried chicken (one of Carol’s all-time favorite foods) with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes instead of the usual mashers but keeping the traditional cream gravy.
Sprigs of rosemary
Welsh smoked sea salt
Salt-crusted fingerling potatoes
Inspired by a recent visit to RT Rotisserie, I have been thinking about fried chicken a lot lately. RT ages its chickens before roasting them on the rotisserie. The cooks arrange trussed chickens on big racks in a large cold room in order to dry them a bit and make the skin crispier. That’s similar to what is done to make the skin on Peking duck so crispy.
Also, I have become interested in slower cooking: a potato baked longer at a lower temperature seems fluffier, and a braise at a lower temperature seems more flavorful. (Think crock pot?) Usually I start frying chicken at a high temperature until it is brown and then reduce the temperature to complete the cooking. I thought that I would give “slow from the start” a chance. All in all, my experiments turned out ok. I thought the chicken was crispy and tasty. What more can one ask? One important thing I did learn was that when you fry chicken at a lower temperature be sure to get the skin as dark as you want it before you turn it. Turn each chicken piece only once; otherwise it will stick to the pan and you’ll lose the crispy skin that you have been trying so hard to achieve.
In the frying pan
Ready to serve
Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy
- 1 whole chicken
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil for frying
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Using a very sharp large chef’s knife, cut the chicken into serving pieces. You should wind up with 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 or 3 pieces of breast meat depending on how you cut it up, and the back, which you can fry after cutting into 2 pieces or for some other purpose such as making chicken stock. If you prefer, you can buy ready-prepared chicken parts.
- Place the cut-up chicken in a large pie plate and set in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Turn occasionally while it rests.
- When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and poultry seasoning in a sealable quart plastic bag. Mix well, then reserve 2 tablespoons in a separate bowl to be used later for making cream gravy.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is up to heat before you add the chicken. (I used a ceramic cooktop set at 2.4 with a full range of 10)
- When the frying pan is heated, add one piece of chicken to the plastic bag, seal and shake. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake loose any excess flour mixture and place in the hot oil, skin side down.
- Repeat the process until all of the pieces of chicken have been floured and added to the frying pan. If you have one, cover with a spatter shield. Do not cover with a lid.
- Fry the chicken without turning for 15 minutes or until the skin has browned to your liking. Turn the chicken pieces and continue to fry, again not turning, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer may be useful at this point. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 170°F.
- Transfer the fried chicken to a large plate and place in a warm oven until the gravy is made.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and return the pan to the heat. In a Mason jar, combine the reserved flour mixture, milk and chicken stock, seal with a screw lid and shake until completely mixed. Add the mixture to the heated frying oil.
- Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a low boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve while still warm along with the fried chicken.
Our six-months probationary period is up, and I think we now qualify as Angelinos. We drive, relatively terror-free, on the 405 and think nothing of an hour+ cross-town odyssey for a 15 minute appointment. The very best part of our transplant has been getting more involved with our children and their families. As part of that, the Sunday dinner has become a firmly entrenched tradition that we all anticipate each week.
I have written a number of times about our family dinner. The guidelines are fairly straightforward: the venue alternates between our home and Carol’s family home; whoever hosts is responsible for the main dish and sides; the other is responsible for appetizer and dessert; both bring a bottle of wine that is interesting; cleanup is sort of a joint effort except that the home team winds up finishing the dishes. These guidelines have remained intact except that the appetizer has been dropped from the menu. That is because even without it, there is a lot of food. Everyone is on a diet, and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to Los Angeles. Of course, this dish is not responsible for all of my weight gain, but it certainly helped push us to dropping the appetizer rule.
The recipe is an adaptation of one from Melissa Clark of New York Times fame by way of Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift in their cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends. If you choose to make it, I guarantee that there will be gasps of amazement when you bring the finished torte to the table. Then there will be complete quiet as folks sit around wolfing down the whole thing. At the same time, it is easier to make than you might think. I know that Carol saves it for special occasions. You might want to do that, too.
Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte
- 2 cups feta cheese, drained, dried, and crumbled
- 1½ cups cottage cheese, drained
- 1½ cups Asiago cheese
- 1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 2/3 cup chopped fresh dill fronds
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- juice of ½ lemon
- zest from ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed according to instructions on the carton
- 3 sticks unsalted butter, melted
- In a large bowl, prepare the filling by combining the four cheeses, onion, dill, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. Stir in the eggs, and set aside.
- Unfold the stack of phyllo leaves on a work surface covered with plastic wrap. Cover the stack with another layer of plastic wrap and a damp kitchen towel. Keep unused sheets of dough from drying out while you work with individual sheets.
- Brush the inside of a 12-inch Bundt pan with some of the melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo across the pan, pushing it down against the sides of the pan and breaking a hole around the center tube of the pan. Repeat in a crisscross fashion with additional sheets of phyllo until the inside of the pan is completely covered with many layers of the dough.
- Fill the lined Bundt pan with the cheese filling, folding the free ends of the phyllo sheets over the filling and pressing it together gently. With a sharp knife, pierce the assembled torte all the way through to the bottom of the pan in many places – 2 or 3 dozen. Pour the remaining melted butter over the torte.
- Place on a baking sheet and bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 75 minutes or until the torte is browned and puffy.
- Cool in the pan for 1 to 2 hours.
- When ready to serve, unmold the tart by flipping it onto an inverted plate. Remove the baking pan, garnish the torte as you please, and serve. Pass honey to be drizzled over individual slices as desired.
Four-Cheese-Stuffed Phyllo Torte
It was Carol’s turn to create the main menu for our weekly family dinner. (Soon I hope to share some of her recipes.) She always comes up with an array of interesting dishes that go well together. Did I mention she is a good cook IMHO? This past Sunday she made some delicious toasted walnuts with rosemary, sea salt, and brown sugar for the happy hour. The walnuts were impossible to resist. Then she served a salad of tomatoes, shaved fennel and green beans, all from the farmers market. The main dish was grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto. Corn on the cob and muffins made with zucchini from the farmers market rounded out the menu. As usual, my assignment was dessert.
This time of year it is so easy to build a meal with offerings from the farmers market, and I followed the theme. Peaches and other stone fruit are at the height of their season along with berries of all sorts. This past Saturday we went to the Torrance Market, one of the largest in the Los Angeles area, instead of our smaller local event. The choices available were astounding. One of the biggest stalls specializes in stone fruit, so I could choose yellow peaches, white peaches, yellow nectarines, white nectarines, pluots, plums, all with several varieties of each. Remembering a classic recipe from the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I went with white peaches that, from the samples available, were much sweeter than the yellow varieties. I had to go to the berry booth to find plump and fresh raspberries.
The recipe for pêches cardinal is deceptively simple: poach the peaches in a heavy syrup; make a sauce with the raspberries; cover the peaches with the sauce; serve. Of course, you can embellish the dish with ice cream, whipped cream, toasted nuts and/or whatever appeals to you. However, the devil is in the details, as they say. The peaches should be poached in a single layer with their skins intact. The raspberries should be forced through a sieve to form a puree without the seeds. If you don’t take that somewhat tedious step, the seeds will haunt you in the finished dish, even if you use a Vitamix to make the final sauce. And all of that is worth the effort, because the sauce becomes velvety. Warn your guests that the peaches still have their pits. Even though the preparation is easy, the result is both elegant and delicious.
Fresh white peaches
Peaches, skins on, poaching in vanilla-flavored syrup
Poached peaches ready to be chilled
The finished dish
Poached Peaches and Raspberry Sauce: Pêches Cardinal
- 6 cups water
- 2¼ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 6 fresh, ripe, unblemished peaches
- 2 pints raspberries, 18 raspberries set aside for garnish
- ¾ cups sugar
- 6 mint sprigs for garnish
- sweetened whipped cream for garnish
- chopped toasted walnuts for garnish
- vanilla ice cream (optional)
- In a large saucepan that will hold the peaches in a single layer, combine the water, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the peaches, and return to the simmer. Turning the peaches occasionally, simmer them for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 20 minutes. Drain the peaches on a rack, and peel while still warm. Arrange the peaches in a deep serving dish, and chill in the refrigerator.
- Force the raspberries through a sieve to remove the seeds. You should wind up with about 1 cup of raspberry puree. Combine the puree with sugar. Blend in a Vitamix or conventional blender on a high setting for 3 minutes. The mixture should thicken and turn a beautiful pink color. Chill.
- When both the peaches and raspberry sauce are well chilled, spoon the sauce over the peaches, and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- When you are ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and garnish with the reserved raspberries, mint sprigs, whipped cream, and walnuts. Serve in bowls along with a scoop of ice cream, if desired.