Chilaquiles.

I am such a sucker for a recipe with multiple iterations. A recipe that sticks around for a week or two, until you’ve finally become ready for a break. It’s probably why I’m such a big fan of the salad dressing/kale salad combo from last week. Probably. That and the fact that the dressing is awesome. Duh.

We had the original version of this recipe what I think was two weeks ago. I’ve had the remainder of the salsa in the fridge since. What can I say, I push the limits of leftovers, but it was totally fresh when I made it. Like farmers’ market fresh. So I’m sure it’s good.

And then I found some corn tortillas in the fridge. So today (well, not today, as in the day you’re reading this, but today as in Sunday afternoon), I made baked a few of them into tortilla chips, I poured some more salsa over them and some cheese I found in the bottom drawer (feta, this time), and I cracked an egg over it all and baked it all together.

Just as good as two weeks ago, that’s for sure.

That said, I’m not sure this kinda dish really warrants an actual recipe, but I’ll give you one, for the sauce if nothing else. I like my salsa (sauce? salsa? sauce? I dunno…) extra-spicy, and this one definitely is. After that, you basically take said sauce/salsa/whatever and dump it over tortilla chips coated in the cheese of your choice, and you finish it off with a fried egg or two.

Easy peasy.

You could make it for 1, for 2, for 4, you get the point. I’m not one to judge (ok, maybe I am, if you deserve it) but it’d be a crying shame if you left out the cilantro and lime to finish it all off.

And if you can handle it, a little extra sauce on top. A margarita by your side to tame it all down? Brilliant.

Chilaquiles with Fried Eggs
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; serves 4

time commitment: 45 minutes

this is such a super simple dish that’s jam-packed with flavor. if i were you, i’d make the salsa ahead of time, then you have a really quick weeknight meal in about 10 minutes flat. we had these for dinner two nights in a row, so i made the salsa and grated the cheese on the first night, then had them ready for the second night in no time. you’re welcome. also, we had plenty of salsa left over, so you could do all sorts of things with it, or just have chilaquiles all week long ;).

printable version

ingredients
red chile salsa
7 dried ancho chiles
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
1 medium white onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jalapeño, with seeds, chopped
1/4 t smoked paprika
2 T vegetable oil
2 t honey or agave nectar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

everything else
36 large tortilla chips
1 c (4 ounces) crumbled queso fresco or mild feta
1 c (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack
4 large eggs
cilantro, freshly chopped
Lime wedges
1 avocado, sliced

instructions
red chile salsa
Place chiles in a medium bowl; cover with 2 cups boiling water. Let chiles soak until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid. Place chiles in a blender, discarding stems (you can also discard seeds if you want, but i just tossed the whole thing in). Add tomatoes, next 4 ingredients, and 1 cup reserved soaking liquid; purée until smooth.

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add purée and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes (add more reserved soaking liquid if too thick). Stir in honey and season to taste with salt and pepper. (You can  make this days in advance, if you’d like. Cover and chill until ready to use.)

putting it together
Preheat broiler. Toss chips and 1 cup sauce in a large bowl. Transfer half of chips to a large ovenproof platter or skillet. Scatter half of cheeses over chips. Top with remaining chips and cheeses, along with 1/2 cup more sauce. Broil until cheese is golden and melted, 4–5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour oil into a nonstick skillet to lightly coat. Heat over medium heat. Add eggs and fry until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes.

Top chilaquiles with cilantro, lime wedges, and avocado. Top with fried eggs and serve with remaining sauce alongside.

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Born on a Bayou

It isn’t too terribly often (or ever) that Chris gets so excited about something  in the kitchen that he whips out his iPhone, snaps a quick photo, and Facebooks it. But when he does, I know it’s going to be an extra-special meal.

These are the meals that can’t go long without a mention here, for fear that I’m leaving you out of something really awesome. I’d feel really bad if I did, you see.

My somewhat long commute has led me to develop a cooking tradition, of sorts. Weeknights are now reserved for meals that take less than 1 hour to make, from start to finish. I used to tackle arduous meals on any day, be it Friday with a nice glass of wine at my side, or Tuesday with silence in the house, other than the sounds of my knife tapping the board, piles of vegetables slain and piled high as mountains, and an oven heating up to 350.

Things are different now. Driving 2 hours each day is enough to make you ten times more tired when you get home, no matter how stressful or boring your actual day in the office was. I have to fit in exercise too, (who am I kidding; this is once-a-week endeavor at best right now) writing here, and last but certainly not least, finishing the last season of Castle on Netflix.

This leaves the weekends for the hefty meals, the labors of love, the ones your gramma used to make every day like it was her job. Probably because it was her job, at least it was in my family. This is one of those meals: two hours from start to finish, and every minute is well worth it. And one more thing: the cost of groceries is, too.

This here, my friends, is a gigantic pot of goodness that will feed your whole block, or building, or the two of you for at least a week. And that’s the beauty – all that time is a bargain, when you sit right down and do the calculations. Check it out: 2 hours of work + 10 servings of the most amazing jambalaya on the west coast = 12 minutes per serving. If you roll like I do, and choose to use this dish for another dinner and a couple of lunches, you’ve also cut some kitchen time outta the work week too, which some would consider a bonus.

Now let me tell you about this slice of heaven before you. For starters, there is so much meat in this recipe that you won’t be able to take a bite without it, even if you tried. It is so spicy, in a good way, that you want to pack your bags, hop on a plane, and fly straight to New Orleans to eat everything Creole in sight because you just can’t get enough. It’s more than plenty to feed a crowd, if you want to share, but the leftovers heat perfectly, and I can attest to that wholeheartedly, as evidenced by the bowl I just emptied 4 nights later.

And probably (probably) most importantly – it will make you the most wonderful mammal in your house for at least a couple of hours afterwards. That is, until you start nagging about the dishes…

Chicken & Sausage Jambalaya
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2011; serves at least 10

time commitment: 2 hours, half of which is active

printable version

ingredients
12 oz applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 1/2 lbs linguiça (or other smoked, cooked sausage), halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick semi-circles
1 lb andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 lb smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 lbs onions, chopped (4 to 5 cups)
2 large celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 T paprika
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 T chili powder
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 28-oz can fire-roasted diced tomaties
1 small can diced green chiles
2 1/2 c beef broth
3 c (19 to 20 ounces) Basmati rice, uncooked
8 green onions, chopped (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper
Chopped fresh Italian parsley

instructions
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 350 F. Cook bacon in very large pot over medium-high heat until brown but not yet crisp, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes. Add smoked sausage, andouille, and ham. Sauté until meats start to brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes. Mix in chicken. Cook until outside of chicken turns white, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Mix in paprika, thyme, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. Cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, chiles, and broth; stir to blend well. Add more cayenne, if desired. Mix in rice.

Bring jambalaya to boil. Cover pot. Place in oven and bake until rice is tender and liquids are absorbed, 45 minutes. Uncover pot. Mix chopped green onions into jambalaya and season with salt and pepper to taste; sprinkle jambalaya with chopped parsley and serve.

Fried & True

When I was in grad school, vacation was a non-issue. Every 10 weeks, a quarter would pass us by and we’d be off for a bit – free to cause trouble in the big city, take a real vacation (as if one could afford that in grad school), or head back ‘home’. For most of my time in grad school, I was juggling gettin’ my learn on with planning a wedding that was to take place in North Carolina, so school breaks typically meant heading there for cake tasting, photographer shopping, and finding that-dress-I’d-never-wear-again-in-my-life. Although, if I find myself getting hitched again, I’ll do the green thing, and I’ll recycle it.

Having the luxury of being in my home state so frequently was certainly groovy for wedding planning, but it was also great for something else: indulging in, and by that I mean eating a hella lot of, my favorite foods.

It should come as no surprise to you dear friends of mine that one of the foods on that list was fried chicken. But let’s set the record straight so there’s no chance for confusion: not just any fried chicken. I’d happily eat two kinds, and those two were either given to me in a yellow box through a window along with sweat tea, dirty rice, and honey mustard sauce, or hand-dipped in buttermilk and flour and pan-fried by, on a good day, my Aunt Faye (on a semi-good day, my pops). And served with biscuits, clearly.

I dare you to find better. Double-dog dare you.

Many of you may remember my most recent trip back to North Carolina, a visit filled with emotions, both happy and sad. As would be customary when there’s a death in the family, the need for cooking is generally placed on the back burner, so to speak. And though my Aunt, in my mind, has probably made fried chicken at least every weekend of her adult life, that weekend was different, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the Bojang is relatively close by, therefore her kitchen counter was loaded with yellow boxes and about ten thousand other things as well.

I’ve had a hankerin’ for another piece of fried chicken since that time. I didn’t dare try to replicate Aunt Faye’s, though.

Unsure of whether I’d really make it or not, I’d clipped this recipe from a Saveur magazine I’d purchased a few months back, and remembered it when I opened the freezer and realized I had a whole chicken that was practically begging me to fry it. Following a perusal of the recipe, I’d deduced that it was relatively basic, straightforward, but spicy. It was right up my alley, and aside from the matzo meal (let’s be honest: does any non-Jewish person keep that around?!) I had all the ingredients. What the hell, right?

There’s something magical about dunking a lightly battered chicken leg into a container of crazy-hot oil. The oil, calm aside from a pop here and a pop there, is suddenly engulfing the meat, sizzling furiously, erupting dramatically, volcano-like. The smell – regardless of the differing recipe – immediately teleported me back to NC, back to the dome house my Aunt Faye has lived in for most of my life; I, yes I, was frying chicken that smelled like hers. Minutes later, the sizzling continuing, it’s cooked and transferred to a napkin-lined plate to cool (and sure, to drain a bit, too). Crisp to the touch, I can hardly wait for the oil to cool, but fearing burnt lips, I do.

When that moment arrived, that moment when I could finally feel that crunch I’d been staring at for at least 5 minutes, it was nothing short of remarkable. Crunch? Oh baby, yeah, and I thought, “Why doesn’t everybody fry with matzo meal?!”. The spices? permeating every bite – a bit of smoke proving the wise doubling of paprika, a bit of freshness from another wise addition of zest, and something clean and crisp, despite the oil bath it received. This was not my Aunt Faye’s fried chicken, that’s for sure. But over time, it might just become mine.

Spicy Fried Chicken
Adapted from Saveur, April 2010; serves 4

let me reiterate – this won’t beat the taste of your mom’s, or your gramma’s, or in my case, your aunt’s and dad’s fried chicken (though if you’re not from the South, it could, actually). but if you’re into a little spice and a lotta crunch, you must give this a try. Matzo meal = a new frying staple in this house. serve this with kale chips (a couple of posts back) and mashed potatoes. a biscuit isn’t a bad idea, either.

printable version

ingredients
canola oil, for frying
1 t hot smoked paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t Italian seasoning
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites, beaten
1/2 c flour
1/2 c matzo meal
1/4 t baking powder
1  3-lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper

instructions
Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 5 quart Dutch oven.

Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375 F. Combine smoked paprika through lemon zest; set aside. Put egg whites into a bowl. Combine flour, matzo meal, and baking powder in another bowl and mix half of spice mixture into bowl; set other half aside. Working with one piece at a time, dip chicken into egg whites, then flour mixture. Shake off excess; transfer chicken to a rack set inside a sheet pan.

Working in two batches (or more, depending on the size of your vessel), fry chicken until crispy and cooked through, 10-12 minutes each, trying to keep heat of oil as close to 375 as possible. Transfer to paper towels, and season with salt, pepper and remaining spice mixture. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.

Redemption Song

{If you’re hoping for a recipe for the 4th, this probably isn’t it. But check here for a bunch of past summer recipe suggestions – there are plenty of things to be grilled, especially my favorite burgers!}

I’m not about to delve into my years as a young, semi-hell-raising teenager; on occasion, my mom reads this blog. But I’ll share a few tidbits.

In my family, I was the smart, oddly-dressed, middle child who, according to my sister, was never grounded and always got her way. Rightfully so, my senoir superlatives were as contrasting as apples and oranges: “most likely to be a millionaire” and “most retro”. Clearly, I failed to live up to the former, and in terms of the latter, I only occasionally wear polyester pants & platform shoes; in fact, the most retro I get these days is wearing a sleepytime t-shirt from the 90’s. And truthfully, I wasn’t grounded often. The key to avoiding such punishment is simple – don’t get your ass caught, sista.

I went through what you might call a hippie phase, and then a grunge phase, and then I couldn’t decide so I just went with both. Amidst the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin there was Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I rocked the “60’s retro-wear” on some days and my dad’s flannels and corduroy pants for the days I jammed to Jeremy and Porch. For a few months I shaved the back of my head and I still can’t figure out the point in that. Somewhere, Bob Marley fit into these crazy years too, but fortunately for me (and others) I never had the desire to abandon hygiene and “grow” dreadlocks. There’s still time for that…

I like to think that my musical choices haven’t changed, but have instead broadened. I still break out the grunge rock somewhat regularly, but less often do I find myself singing Sugar Magnolia or breezing through Songs of Freedom. I’m not sure I’d use the term evolve here, in fact I know I wouldn’t, because that implies a sense of improvement and lemme tell ya, you can’t improve upon that stuff. In fact right now I just changed my Pandora station to reggae. What the hell.

Now for the transition you’ve all been waiting for: in contrast to music, food choices do evolve, or mature. Remember the tomato story? Exactly. And sometimes you really get smacked in the face, front-on, by something you thought you hated, despised even, but then months later you realize how nutty you were, how naive, or maybe quite simply how horribly this certain ingredient was prepared.

This dish here is a perfect represention of food evolution, or redemption. The first time I made quinoa, I almost spit it out because it “felt weird”. Then I learned how to cook it. And remember my diatribe about escarole? Well, ignore it. When I pulled it out of the CSA box last week, I stared at it, wondering how many sleepless hours I’d endure if I just casually tossed it in the garbage. The answer? too many, because food costs good money and wasting it is lame. So I sucked it up and found a good hot preparation for some of it that was reasonably yummy (and not overly bitter), and then used the rest of it in the recipe below instead of the suggested spinach. Maybe I got a bad batch before, or maybe this batch from a local, organic farm was just better. Either way, both quinoa and escarole have redeemed themselves.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I have leftovers to eat and jammin’ to do.

Quinoa, Bean, & Escarole Salad w/ Smoked Paprika Dressing
Loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010; serves 6-8

ingredients
1 1/2 c red quinoa (regular works too), rinsed & drained
4 c chopped escarole or other bitter green
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1 can white beans, drained & rinsed (or dried, cooked beans)
1/2 unpeeled English cucumber, halved and sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T fresh oregano, chopped
3 T fresh basil, chopped
1 c crumbled feta cheese (~5 oz)
1/4 c Sherry wine vinegar
1 T sweet smoked paprika
1/2 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice
salt and pepper

instructions
place quinoa in large saucepan and add water until quinoa is covered by 1 inch. bring to boil and reduce heat; simmer on med-low for 15 minutes. drain, if needed and let cool completely (toss out on sheetpan and refrigerate if needed).

combine lettuce, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and feta in an extra-large bowl. add cooled quinoa and toss gently.

in a small bowl, whisk vinegar and paprika together. slowly add olive oil, whisking constantly until incorporated. season with salt and pepper. pour over salad and mix. add lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

A Marriage of the Minds = Music + Meatballs

Pearl Jam set


We are getting ready to head out to Napa for a 4 day weekend. Tomorrow will center around finishing up some things at work amidst a day full of seeing patients and talking about genetic testing, grabbing some last minute goods at the shops such as new sunglasses (we haven’t seen too much sun here in Chicago so they haven’t been a necessity yet as they probably/hopefully will be for Napa) and picking tunes for the drives up and down highways 29 and 128. Then packing. Packing sucks. I dread it immensely and without fail will forget something. Luckily I haven’t forgotten PJ’s in a long time, but that’s about due.


One of Chris’ responsibilities, which he would consider it more of a leisurely activity than a chore, is picking out our music. A chore is something like taking out the trash, holding the mail, cleaning the litter box – all things he is very skilled and adept at completing. We’ll be driving around a decent amount (unless I can talk him into a hot air balloon ride which is practically out of the question giving his relentless fear of heights, or perhaps a bike trip. That might happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me), and since we’ll be in the car, we absolutely can NOT enjoy the silence and quietly breathe in the fresh open air of the valleys and wineries beyond, perhaps the ocean. We can NOT enjoy each others voices, at least we can NOT enjoy our voices unless we are screaming above some new music such as the Decemberists or some old music such as Pearl Jam’s Ten Collectors’ Edition. Not that I’m complaining. I love music. Just not quite as much as he does. But on the same token, he doesn’t love cooking, reading about food, and eating food quite as much as I do. So we meet in the middle. And it works. It works quite well.


more Pearl Jam set


Let me use tonight’s experience as my example. Following a full work day for the both of us, I was looking forward to a glass of Pinot and a fettucine & meatball recipe I’d pulled out of my recipe stack. He was looking forward to coming home and slowly perusing his new Pearl Jam vinyl, which is a collectors’ version of their first album, Ten. Now, PJ is one of my absolute favorite bands. Hands down. Next to the Chili Peppers. I too have been looking forward to this purchase. I’m sure he has tracked the shipping since it left Amazon. It arrived today. He took his lunch break to begin the process. Once he arrived home, he was saddened by my inability to meet his excitement – which wasn’t because I was truly not excited, but because I was right smack in the middle of browning meatballs in my favorite Dutch oven. Meatballs that were being stubborn and sticking because I didn’t dump enough oil into the pot. He decided to start the first side of the vinyl and enjoy the music, and he’d wait until I had a “break” from cooking to share the other goodies with me. How nice of him – he IS a doll. Most of the time 🙂

So, he sat and listened. And I browned meatballs. Every now and then, he’d point out some differences in the new-and-improved album. I’d agree. And I’d return to browning. By this point I was making the sofrito (onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes – similar to the French mirepoix). He’d meandered over to the kitchen with some of the goodies. Which meant he was getting antsy and wanting to share his new treasure. I had a break and had just turned the heat to low to let the sauce slowly simmer its way to a thick aromatic consistency. And I can prepare pasta with my eyes closed, so I was practically finished.


sticky balls


So together, we delved (he re-delved) into this work of art. If you are a Pearl Jam fan, you should consider this purchase. What is cooler than a re-release of one of the best albums, if not THE BEST album, of the early 90’s?! A re-make two years in the making, packaged in a cloth-bound vinyl shaped box with CD’s, vinyls, memorabilia, concert posters, and a cassette tape of Vedder’s first audition to be a part of this wonderful band. Can’t get much better.


sauce making


And as if the Pearl Jam box o’ wonders wasn’t good enough, we still hadn’t eaten dinner! oh my! So I did have to get back to the stove and finish the meal. It was definitely a recipe worth being on my waitlist. Full of flavor. Smoky. Spicy. Meaty. Yummy. And similar to the PJ album, it was a reinvention of an old standby, spaghetti and meatballs. This time with fuller flavor but with all the old charm. If you can’t stomach the small fortune the PJ remake costs, this meal will for sure fit the bill. I think the most expensive ingredient was the ham – but if you buy extra you’ll have some yummy samiches for a later day.


smoky meatballs in serrano ham sauce


Smoky Meatballs in Serrano Ham Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine; serves 4


ingredients
 
  • 1 (1 1/2-ounce) slice white bread
  • 1 pound 92% lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces serrano ham, finely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely shredded aged Manchego cheese
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

instructions

 

1. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 12 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, beef, and next 7 ingredients (through egg) in a bowl. Using wet hands, shape mixture into 20 (about 2 tablespoons each) meatballs. Set aside.

 

2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ham to pan, and cook for 3 minutes or until well browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add meatballs; cook for 5 minutes or until browned, turning often. Add meatballs to ham in bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Add sherry; cook for 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes and meatball mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

 

3. Place 1 cup pasta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 5 meatballs, 3/4 cup sauce, and 1 tablespoon shredded Manchego cheese. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.

all mixed up