Burrito Casserole

This is such a casual recipe, I’m almost embarrassed to share it. Made with a can of black beans, a bag of flour tortillas, frozen corn, and a jar of chile (salsa in a pinch), it barely counts as cooking. Oh, and I can’t claim any authenticity; the best that I can call it is generically southwestern, and even that’s a stretch. Perhaps it’s what more northern states might create and call southwestern.

Yet it’s the sort of hearty recipe that I’ll make for my family at least once a month, and we always devour it. And it’s healthy-ish and homemade-ish. And isn’t that what matters?

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c sour cream
  • 2 T chipotle powder, or 1 finely chopped chipotle in adobo
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 c frozen corn
  • 1 c cooked, shredded chicken (optional)
  • 6-8 flour tortillas
  • 16 oz jar red or green chile, or your favorite salsa
  • 1 c shredded cheddar
  • Vegetable or olive oil for greasing baking dish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine chipotle powder or chopped chile and sour cream in a medium bowl. Mix in beans, smashing some of the beans with a fork and leaving the rest whole; this will create some differing textures and make the filling more cohesive. Mix in the corn and the chicken, if you’re using it.

Lightly oil a 9×13 baking dish. Put 1/2 cup of bean mixture in the center of a tortilla, roll the tortilla around the filling, and place it seam side down in the dish. Repeat until the dish is full; I can usually fit six large tortillas or eight small ones. (If you have extra filling and tortillas, you can assemble a few extra for baking later; they freeze well.)

Gently pour the chile/salsa over the dish. Cover as much of the tortillas as possible, but don’t worry about bare spots; they get nice and crispy.  Sprinkle the cheese over the top.

Bake 20-30 minutes, until the filling is heated through and the cheese is melted and nicely browned.

Ciabatta

Bread is something that always prompts people to ask me about my problems with baking at altitude.  I find that funny, because bread is one of the few things that I find reliable at altitude.

Cakes, quick breads, cookies?  Prepare for them to be flat in the center.

Sugar and candy-making?  Be absolutely certain of the accuracy of that thermometer, and expect it to take twice as long as the recipe calls for.  Oh, use an extra-large pot, so it doesn’t boil over.

Boiled eggs?  Don’t even ask.

Fortunately, bread is surprisingly forgiving, as long as you know what the dough is supposed to look like and you’re able to adapt to the low humidity.  The yeast will do its job as long as something is there to feed it.  It’s not hard to adjust the moisture content of the dough; just try to err on the side of too little flour, and knead in a little more as necessary.  Rises tend to take a bit long in my kitchen because I have a lot of cool surfaces, but I try to choose a preferred spot on the counter over my running or recently finished dishwasher.

This ciabatta is a good loaf for branching out into making bread on a regular basis.  Although it takes a bit of advance planning (it needs to be started the day before, and requires an afternoon when you can be available for punching down dough), there’s nothing complicated about the recipe, and the results are terrific.

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients for Biga (Starter):

  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c water
  • 1/4 t active dry yeast dissolved in 1 t water

Ingredients for Ciabatta:

  • Biga
  • 1 1/2 t active dry yeast dissolved in 1 T water
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 T nonfat dry milk
  • 1/3 c water
  • 2 T olive oil

First, prepare the biga by mixing all biga ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and rest overnight.  It should expand and become very stretchy.

The next day, start working early in the afternoon if you want to eat the bread in the evening.  In a stand mixer, combine all bread ingredients.  Beat at medium speed using the paddle attachment for 5-8 minutes, until it begins to come together and take on some shape.  It will still be very wet and sticky, and nearly impossible to knead by hand, but if it’s more like a batter, add a bit more flour.  Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours, turning with a spatula after about 45 minutes.

Pour the dough onto a well-oiled surface.  Divide it in half and shape each half into a long oblong shape, about 10 inches long.  Place each half onto a parchment-covered, well-oiled baking sheet.  Cover with well-oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Remove the plastic wrap, oil your hands, and poke deep holes into the dough.  Re-cover and allow to rise for another hour.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the plastic wrap and spray the loaves with water.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.  Turn off the oven, remove the loaves from the baking sheet, and place them directly on the oven racks.  Prop open the oven door and allow them to cool in the hot oven.

Mexican-Style Chicken and Greens

Like many recipes, I’m posting this one as a way of remembering an incredibly successful meal; if I write about it here, there’s some chance that I won’t forget it and fail to ever cook it again.  Forgetting about this recipe would be a very sad thing.

I’m not sure that you’ll understand why when you first read about it.  It’s not a complex recipe, and it doesn’t have much visual appeal.  It looks like any other taco filling.  But somehow, there’s a lot of complexity that comes out of these simple ingredients and techniques.  It’s rare for everyone in my house to devour leftovers; usually, leftovers become my lunches, and that’s only because I feel too guilty about throwing out good food.  In this case, though, we all wanted the leftovers, and then the leftover-leftovers went into a pot of tortilla soup that we ate two days in a row.  Yeah, it was that good.

Adapted from Rick Bayless. My biggest change was adding more greens, and I think it could use even more.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 poblanos (mine were very large, so I only used 2)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken breast
  • 1 large white onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 oz baby spinach
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 c creme fraiche
  • Salt
  • tortillas or chips for serving

First, roast the poblanos: place poblanos on oven rack 4 inches from the broiler and roast, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened all over.  Put in bowl and cover until cool enough to handle; covering them allows them to steam, making the skin easier to remove.

Heat the oil in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and brown on both sides, 5-6 minutes per side.  Set aside, and don’t worry if the chicken isn’t quite cooked through.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, remove the skin, seeds, and stems from the poblanos, and slice into pieces 1/4 inch wide by 2 inches long.  Add the onions and garlic to the caramelized onions and cook for one additional minute.

Add the greens and broth.  Stir until the greens start to wilt, then continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost evaporated.  Stir in the creme fraiche and cook for about five more minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thick.

While the sauce is cooking, cut the chicken into 1/2-inch cubes.  Add them back to the sauce and cook until the chicken is cooked through.  Season to taste.

Serve as a stew, as a taco filling, or with chips.

Paczki

I learned of paczki when I was in college in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Detroit suburbs are most often known for Middle Eastern food, particularly in the Dearborn area, but for Fat Tuesday the city embraces its Polish heritage. Paczki are jelly donuts on steroids – extra-large, extra-high-fat, extra-eggy, bursting with a fruit or cream filling. It’s easy to see why, for a week or so each year, they appear in grocery stores and bakeries all over the area (and then disappear again before everyone gains 10 pounds and tires of them). And it’s easy to see why they’re so popular with college students slogging through the middle of the semester in dreary, gray February in Michigan.

Oh, and they’re pronounced “poonch-key” – approximately.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been making my own, and then giving as many as possible away to friends and coworkers. It’s not quite the same as buying one from a real Polish bakery, but it’s delicious nonetheless. I fill mine with local raspberry preserves, seedier and fruitier than any filling I ever ate in Michigan. And of course, a freshly-fried donut really can’t be bad.

Adapted from about.com

Ingredients:

6 eggs at room temperature
1 t salt
4 1/2 t (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
1/4 c warm water
1/3 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
4 1/2 c flour
1/3 c brandy
1 c whipping cream
About 1 c of your favorite preserves
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Powdered sugar for dusting
Beat eggs and salt at high speed until thick and frothy, about seven minutes.

While eggs are beating, stir yeast into warm water and set aside. Cream butter and sugar.

When the yeast mixture is foamy, beat into the butter/sugar mixture.

Combine brandy and whipping cream.

Alternating, mix the flour and liquid into the butter/sugar/yeast mixture in the following order:

  1. 1 c flour
  2. 1/2 c brandy/cream
  3. 1 c flour
  4. remaining brandy/cream
  5. 1 c flour
  6. beaten eggs
  7. remaining flour

The dough will be extremely sticky, almost a batter. Cover the bowl and let it rise until doubled. Punch down and let rise again until doubled. In my cold kitchen, it takes 3-4 hours for the two rises.

Scrape/pour dough onto a well-floured surface and roll out to 1/4-1/2 inch thick. The dough should have more body by now; it will still be very sticky, but you shouldn’t need to knead much flour into the dough to make it workable.

Cut out 3-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass (I like a one-cup canning jar). For each paczki, set one round on parchment paper, top with 1 scant teaspoon preserves, brush the edge with water, and top with a second round, sealing the edges well. Let rest for 20 minutes, or refrigerate until ready to fry.

In a dutch oven or other deep pot, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Deep-fry the paczki in small batches until dark brown on both sides, 4-5 minutes for each batch. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Beets beets beets beets…

A few things I didn’t know about beets until recently:

1. Beets are delicious. Yes, some of you know this already, but I only discovered it about a year ago. As a kid, I can’t recall a single time that my family cooked beets for dinner, and as a young adult, I carried that prejudice with me. I always thought those beet salads looked kind of pretty, but never once tried them. Now I’m regretting all of those missed opportunities. Roasted beets are sweet and earthy and have a wonderful slightly firm texture; if you can get over the idea that you dislike beets, they’re actually a great transitional root vegetable.

2. Because beets are a cool-weather crop, here in Santa Fe, I can find awesome fresh beets with the greens still attached now, and through most of the winter.

3. Beet greens, when cooked properly, are as good as the roots.

4. Beets aren’t much trouble to clean and prepare. Yes, those roots tend to hold a lot of dirt, and the first time I made them I was turned off by the idea that I wasn’t getting them completely clean, but that’s because I was following a recipe that called for roasting and then peeling them. For the easiest cleaning, just cut out the dirtiest part, where the root meets the stems. Scrub the root, then peel it with a vegetable peeler, then wash it again. Squeaky clean beets! (Oh, and just rinse the greens like any other green…)

5. You can eat them raw! I first learned about the magic of roasted beets, and I admit that I’ve never tried canned beets (it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much), but you can grate a beet into a salad and enjoy the beet-y goodness with almost no work on your part.

This recipe is adapted from http://www.fortheloveoffoodblog.com, and I’m completely in love. The sweetness of the beets works really well with the Asian flavors, and the use of both the roots and the greens creates a sweet/savory effect. I used fairly small bunches of chiogga and golden beets, and devoured almost all of them myself.

Sesame Roasted Beets

Ingredients:

2 bunches of beets
3 T toasted sesame oil, divided
1 leek, white and pale green parts sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ginger root, minced
2 T Bragg’s liquid aminos
1 T sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the toughest stems from the beet greens and chop (they’ll cook down, so don’t worry about getting them too small – just make them manageable), then set them aside.

Peel and chop the beets. Mine were pretty small, so I cut each into four or five pieces. Toss the pieces in a roasting pan with one T toasted sesame oil and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Turn once or twice during that time.

While the beets are roasting, heat one T toasted sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and saute for one minute. Add the beet greens and the liquid aminos and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, 15-20 minutes.

Add roasted beets to beet greens and toss with the last T of toasted sesame oil. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Slow-Cooker Posole

I could say something here about how I have a new year’s resolution to maintain this blog, and something about how much it means to me, and so on… but I feel like I’ve said this before. And I’ve never trusted new year’s resolutions.

But here’s the thing: I really do feel that this blog is a great opportunity, and it’s a hobby that I’d love to pursue more often. So let’s be optimistic here. I think I can do it!

Posole, at its most basic, is a simple soup of hominy, corn stripped of its bran and germ. It’s livened up with red or green chile and meat, often chicken or pork.

The thing about posole, though, is that it can be pretty dull if you use too much corn – a mistake I’ve made before. (Once again, in a move similar to my green chile stew debacle, I’ve been misled by the name.) This version is very porky, with just enough corn to thicken the soup and provide some texture. I used the slow-cooker because I wanted plenty of low, slow heat for the meat, and because I wanted to ignore the pot until dinnertime. (Living at high altitude, covered pots tend to bubble vigorously even on low, and I didn’t want to have to watch it.)

This recipe served the three of us for three days, and as usual, it improved with each day.

Slow-Cooker Posole

12 oz dried posole (I used blue corn posole from a company called Los Chileros)
1 T olive oil
3 lb country-style pork ribs
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 c red chile sauce
1/2 c green chile sauce
4 c chicken broth
Salt

Soak posole overnight in a bowl of cold water. Drain and rinse.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides and transfer to the slow cooker; this will probably take at least two batches. Add the onion to the skillet and cook until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 30 seconds, then transfer garlic and onion to the slow cooker.

Add posole, chile sauces, and chicken broth to slow cooker. Add water as necessary – I needed about two cups.

Cook on high 6-7 hours; posole with “pop” and open. Pull out the pieces of pork, shred the meat, and return it to the pot. Once again, if it’s too thick, add more water. Season with salt to taste.

Serve with tortillas.