Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tamale Lasagna

Sometimes a mistake turns out pretty darn good.

Seems I got me some bad corn tortillas. Didn't check the date, a tad on the stale side.

So when I tried to make My Kitchen in the Rockies' enchiladas, the tortilla just crumbled when I tried to roll them up.

The horror, the horror!

Ahhh, but all is not lost. Simple fix. Instead of rolling them up into enchiladas, layer the tortillas a la lasagna. The corn will get a bit mushy from the salsa, and will ever-so-slightly resemble a tamale.

Follow their recipe, right up to the point where you assemble the ingredients.

(I really like her tomatillo-chile sauce. Nice and tangy. Made a double batch, and got half in the freezer ready for the next "forgot to plan dinner" moment.)

Then, instead of stuffing the tortilla and layering them in the dish, do this instead:

1. Pour the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a baking dish, just enough to cover it.

2. Cover that with the corn tortillas that wouldn't cooperate before. (That'll teach 'em, not wanting to roll up on command.)

3. Layer veggies with sauce, tortillas, cheese, meat with sauce, tortillas, etc, until you get even with the top of the pan or run out of food, whichever comes first.

For the cheese, it's great if you can get some real Mexican quesos, but if you can't, just use mostly cheddar with a bit of something tangy, like feta or goat, mixed in.

After your last layer of corn tortillas, spread a little more cheese and then enough sauce until it soaks through the top layer.

4. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 20-30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

5. Let cool for 5 minutes, just long enough for the cheese to set, then slice and serve like you would lasagna.


Keeping It Real

Just needed to remind myself: if you can't have this much fun in the kitchen, it's time to hang up the apron.

It is an honor and a privilege, not a chore, to prepare something that someone else might find tasty.

Now, someone, fetch me my knives!

Simple Currant Scones

We tried this idea the other day. Wasn't a 100% success, but it might work for you, depending on your grater.

I always have trouble cutting butter into a pastry dough. Scott Peacock says to use your hands (as described in our cheddar scone recipe here), but that seems to take forever and I always miss a couple of pieces. The easiest way, in my opinion, is a food processor, but then you have a lot of extra cleaning to do.

But here's an idea from a friend: freeze the butter and then use a cheese grater to grate the butter into the dough.

We used a Pampered Chef grater, which was so simple even a two year old could do it. And it worked great, except that the butter melts from friction and collects in the innermost corners of the grater. I'm guessing about 5% of the butter never made it into the dough. So it's not perfect, but it works.

If you used a box grater, you'll have to work a bit harder, and the very last sliver of butter will melt in your hand, but you can just toss that into the dough and cut it in with your hands, pastry cutter, fork, or whatever.

Maybe I just need to find a better pastry cutter?

Or ... and I'm leaning towards this one ... just use the food processor, but to make the clean up worth your while, make a double batch and freeze half of it. That's what we did with the strawberry shortcakes the other day.

We have shortcake biscuits in the freezer, which take about 15 minutes to thaw before tossing into the oven.

(By the way, I guess I'm the last one to find out that to make homemade whipped cream, all you have to do it take some cream and whip it. Seriously. It's that easy. You can add a wee bit of sugar and vanilla extract if you want, but basically, whipped cream is — get ready for this — cream that has been whipped. Who knew?)

Lots of options ... will have to work on all of them before deciding which one to stick with.

Simple Currant Scones

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
(1 tsp sugar for sprinkling over the scones later on)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 Tbs) butter (freeze for 30 minutes)
1/2 cup currants or raisins
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400º.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a 4 quart mixing bowl.

Grate the frozen butter into the dry mixture using a box or cheese grater. Mix thoroughly with your fingers, a fork, or a pastry cutter. (Or, mix the whole thing in a food processor.)

Blend the sour cream and the egg in a measuring cup or small bowl. Stir the wet mixture into the flour, slowly with a fork. Just as lumps start to form, with your hands, press the dough into the bowl to make a ball. Don't worry if the dough doesn't look wet enough — it should still hold together. If not, gently knead it once or twice and try again.)

Pat the dough into a circle on a lightly floured surface, and pat it down to about 3/4 of an inch thickness. Sprinkle with sugar, and then draw a knife through the dough to form eight triangles.

Using a small spatula, place the triangles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the tops are golden brown.

Favorite variation: add lemon zest to the dry mix and sub blueberries for the currants.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The good thing about being out of ideas ...

... is that there are plenty of other folks out there doing the thinking for ya, should you become so stumped.

F'rinstance, I wanted to come up something for dinner that we could whip up once and then chow on for the rest of the week ... and just then, I stumbled onto Big Red Kitchen's lasagna piece.

Tomatillas were on sale at Sunflower Market, so I grabbed a bunch but wasn't sure what I was going to do with them ... and as soon as I got home, My Kitchen in the Rockies had a great looking enchilada recipe.

(Will have to talk about this one next week ... because I couldn't get the corn tortillas to roll up without cracking, so I just layered them in a baking sheet instead and came up with a faux Mexican lasagna or tamale pie or something in between.)

Then I wanted to do something different for dessert ... and when I opened my Google Reader, Dine and Dish had this gorgeous strawberry shortcake recipe, via Reluctant Entertainer at the top of the page.

(Did you know ... that to make homemade whipped cream, basically you just whip cream? Sounds crazy, I know ...)

A week's worth of great meals, without having to do any heavy thinking on my part.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cutting edge or traditional? Why not both?

Chef Jose Andres was on 60 Minutes this past weekend. He's doing some amazing things in the kitchen with this molecular gastronomy thing. Some of it is pure chemistry, such as the gin and tonic that has separate spheres of membrane-enclosed liquid. Some of it is just a little odd, like cooking a two-pound fish in a crust of a full pound of sea salt.

60 Minutes with Chef Jose Andres

It would be easy to dismiss Chef Andres as just a stuntman, a performer with a shtick, if the only thing you need about him was his love of chemistry. But the same guy who is creating visual feasts that make you go "hmmmm" has been working with the D.C. Central Kitchen for the past two decades, making simpler dishes that make you go "mmmmm." He volunteers in the kitchen, he helps prepare 4,000 meals a day, and maybe most importantly, he has hired the graduates of their cooking school and has helped them start their own careers.

Participating in the NPR "How Low Can You Go?" challenge, I thought his Moorish stew was the best of the entrees by a long shot. With the task of making a dinner for four for under $10, he provided an old family recipe that can be whipped up in about 20 minutes.

It's easy to see why the press is all a-ga-ga over his culinary chemistry set wonders, but I'd love to see a feature about his roots, and about the traditional cooking that still inspires him.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One in Three

One in three.

In a lot of competitive programs, on the first day of training the instructors will tell the candidates: look to your left, and then look to your right. Come graduation day, one of you won't be here.

Now imagine you're in an elementary school classroom. Ask the kids to all look to their left, then look to their right. One of those three will develop Type II diabetes, according to the CDC.

That's where FoodCorps is trying to make a difference. From their website:

FoodCorps responds to the needs of the current “obesity generation.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children born in the year 2000 is on track to develop Type II diabetes. For minorities, the prediction worsens to one in two.

The program addresses this multi-faceted epidemic with a mechanism that, as philosopher Wendell Berry says, “solves for pattern.” The simple tool of a schoolyard garden positively addresses six of the eight contributing factors to obesity identified by the CDC. Gardens that engage children provide better food choices, encourage physical activity, reduce sedentary behavior, and lead to healthier environments at home, at school, and in the community.

Further, the CDC has singled out Farm to School as part of a community based solution to the obesity epidemic.

Building on the leadership of the White House Garden and the USDA People's Garden Initiative, the President's Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and model programs in states like Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin, FoodCorps will help bring healthy food infrastructure to the schools facing the most severe challenges of diet-related disease.

I can't get that number out of my head. One in three.

Think about your kids, and their closest friends, teammates, neighbors. How many is that? Now, pick one-third of them to get Type II diabetes.

And the worst part is, the kids aren't doing anything wrong. It is the adults in their lives who are failing them.

(Hat-tip to 5 Second Rule.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

How Food Shapes Our Cities

Today's Pause and Ponder:

"Architect Carolyn Steel discusses the daily miracle of feeding a city, and shows how ancient food routes shaped the modern world. Understanding the flow of food will help us reconnect with what we eat."

From her October 2009 TED Conference presentation.