Saturday, July 23, 2011

chiles and corn... summer in the Southwest

I have been thoroughly enjoying my time exploring French food with French Fridays with Dorie, but I have a confession to make - it's summer in AZ, and it's difficult to stay focussed on all things French. Well, or at least all foods French. Besides, how could I be considered any kind of "foodie" if I didn't concentrate on whatever is "locally grown"? We have a funny state here. I'm actually from the Northern half. It can be mid-May before temperatures can increase to where things actually grow. And now that I think of it, my foray into CSA  groups in central AZ didn't work either - well, I'm thoroughly confused about what grows when - but what I DO know, is that it it corn season in Camp Verde, and that there are a number of wonderful farm stands that are producing lots of terrific things - not to mention the kitchen-garden experiment at home in Sedona.

I'm also the member of a truly delightful book club. Each month one of our members picks and buys, copies of a book we have not yet read, and distributes to the group. The next time we meet, the person who chooses the book, hosts the meeting. We always have a wonderful time (and I have to remind myself not to eat that day, because there is always something yummy!). Sometimes we have food that goes along with what we're reading. Recently, one of our group had picked "Appetite for America" an amazing book about Fred Harvey (go read it - now!). At the back were recipes from his Harvey House restaurants, and we were able to feast on a meal made from the recipes included! How delightful!!

This month is my pick: These is my Words, by an Arizona author - Nancy Turner. Nancy started the book as an exercize for a writing class where she was supposed to write about someone in history that she either admired or was related to. She chose her grandmother - Sarah Agnes Prine.

I had been loaned this book and admonished (strenuously!) that I just had to read it right away. Well, I was probably in the middle of a different book at the time, so I didn't get reading quite that quickly. Once I started however, I stopped after a few pages, immediately set it aside, and ordered copies for our club for my next pick. After being repeatedly asked if I'd liked it (and replying - I don't know, I didn't read it...yet... and repeating my story), I finally was able to read the book. I will not spoil the story, but let's just say... I loved it.

One of the families in the book goes by the name of Maldonado. They are wonderful neighbors, and importantly, make wonderful food. "I could have eaten myself sick on corn tamales and roasted chilies and chicken paella..."  "roasted a piece of beef, and it had cilantro and chili in it too". So in keeping with our "sometimes theme", I've been making some Southern Arizona specialties (the story is mainly set just outside of Tucson) to share with my friends.

I decided to make Chile Colorado - a classic Mexican dish of beef cooked in red chiles. And a traditional Tucson dish - (green) corn tamales.

Chile Colorado

5 lbs beef chuck or other flavorful cut, in 1-2" pieces
1/2 c flour
garlic powder to taste
cumin to taste
1 T black pepper
1 T sea salt

1/4 c oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 jar (2 c) Santa Cruz Chile Paste (or about 1/2 c dried ground chiles - like California, New Mexico or Ancho, depending on the effect and heat level you like - just not "chili powder, which is a mix of spices)
beef broth to cover

Mix the dry ingredients together and mix with the beef pieces. Set aside. In large pan, heat oil. Add beef in batches (about 3-4) and brown nicely, not crowding the beef. Bring them out of the pan, while the next amount is being browned. Once beef is browned and out of the pot, add the onions. Cover, and let the onions cook, scraping up the browned bits. Add the beef back to the pot, the chile paste and then broth to cover. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and cook for about 3 hours until the beef is just tender and the sauce is nice and thick, making sure it does not scorch. You may wish to add some additional liquid if necessary.

Serve with tortillas, chopped onion and cilantro. This is generally quite mild, but you may wish to pass sour cream as well.

Corn Tamales

1 package corn husks - soaked in warm water to soften (it will take about 3-4 oz of dried husks, hydrated)

2-1/2 c fresh corn (either cut off with a shredder designed for creamed corn - or cut off and pulsed in a food processor)
3 c dry masa for tamales
1-1/3 c lard - room temperature
2 T baking powder
1/2 c sugar
4 t salt

fresh green chiles - roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped coarsely

I always put the corn husks into a ziploc bag with warm water, squeezing out all of the air to get the husks pliable. I typically do this hours ahead, just to make sure they are soft. Drain prior to assembling tamales/

Beat the lard with a stand mixer until totally soft and light. Add remaining ingredients. Beat on relatively high speed until light and fluffy. Determine if it's ready by placing a spoonful into a glass of cold water - if it floats, it's probably ready. I've been known to beat the batter a bit more - just because. (let's face it, home made tamales ought to be special - and light is special)

(Traditionally, these tamales can have the green chiles beaten into the batter, or put in the center. Often, a strip of Jack Cheese is put in the center, but I don't always - sometimes the cheese can be tough once it's cooked - there are better ways to get cheese into the "mix". So I did not include here - but it is entirely traditional to do so.)

Prepare a pan for steaming: you'll want plenty of water in the bottom so that over time, it won't dry out. I like to prep a steamer, then line it with husks (in this instance the green ones from the fresh corn I've added to my batter). Reserve more husks to add on top of the prepared tamales, once you've assembled them. The fresh husks will impart a wonderful flavor to your tamales. The pan you will want is fairly tall above the bottom steamer-basket, as the tamales will be about 6" long, and you'll need to be able to cover them. (crushed aluminum foil can make a great base in a large soup pot - once lined with the husks, will keep your tamales out of the water, and still allow for plenty of steam)

Fill the corn husks with dough. Take a husk that is about 6-8" across (or two overlapped to get the same dimension), and place about 1/4 c of the dough onto one quadrant of the husk (if you are unfamiliar, the husks are nearly triangle shaped - they have a wide and a narrow end - so put the batter on the quarter with the wide end, but not all the way to the top), spreading it to be about a 3" square of batter (this is rough, and these are rustic, so it's all ok!), then add some chiles (maybe a tablespoon or so) down the middle vertically. Roll the husk around the filling (there are verticle "ribs" in a husk, so you are rolling along those lines - not against them - try it, you'll soon discover - roll them the easy way), and then fold the narrow bottom half up against the the main part of the tamal to close one end. Place open-ended up, into your prepared steamer pan. As you fill, wrap and stack them, you'll fill up your pan. This recipe makes about 30 +/- tamales, and generally will fill up an average stock-pot (not a dutch oven - halve the recipe for that size pan).

Once the tamales are formed, cover them with another layer of either fresh or the hydrated husks. The fresh husks provide a wonderful flavor, but if you don't have enough, the tamales will still taste great.
Cover and bring the water to a boil. Steam the tamales for about 1-1/2 hours, without letting the pan run dry. To test, pull out one of the tamales from the middle of the pan and put on a plate. The husk should pull away easily from the tamal, and the dough should be light and fluffy with no raw taste remaining. They will finish cooking a bit as you turn off the heat. In any event, you should allow them to rest prior to serving about 10 minutes. Though they will keep for a while before growing cold.

  • Tamales are best if they are re-heated by steaming - this enhances their very light texture that you've created by beating the batter to create lightness
  • They are very nice re-heated in the microwave, however
  • Tamales can be frozen
  • IF you have leftovers and want to do something different, an iconic casserole is made of these tamales layered with Creme Fraiche or Mexican cream, cheese, sometimes strips of chiles or a good-quality home-made salsa. This is baked just until heated through.
  • Uchepos are a very regional Mexican all-fresh corn tamal, that is steamed using the fresh husks rather than dried. There are some who would suggest that these tamales are native to Tucson as well. This recipe is a nod to both. I used sweet corn picked fresh about a week ago, my closest alternative - at least that I'm willing to make!  Uchepos are traditionally made from fresh "field corn", which isn't locally available - though if you're reading in the mid-west, I can send you a recipe.
  • Except for fresh corn tamales, tamales are generally a holiday food. Because it takes some effort to make them (particularly if they have a meat filling - and by the way - the chile colorado, shredded would be perfect) they are often made at Christmas - dozens and dozens of them. Ladies get together to make them together, splitting up their efforts.
I happen to love Arizona after all of my years here, and it's always delightful to read something set in a location you love. If you get a chance to try either of these recipes, I hope you'll enjoy them. Or if nothing else, check out Sarah's story. I love the dedication - "for everyone who has ever stood alone on a hill in a storm". I think most of us can relate. I hope you enjoy!

(ffwd) paris-brest

I think it was close to a decade ago, maybe more, that I first fell in love with the Tour de France. I was no particular fan of cycling, not even of the movie Breaking Away, but I found myself in a solitary hotel room in Toronto on a business trip, and was drawn into watching a bike race across the French countryside. The network at the time had the iconic maple leaf as its logo, and though the network and the race itself, have changed over the years, it's been a driving force for the month of July. I've made decisions about various television providers, solely based on the inclusion of the current network carrying the TDF. I even bought an HD TV to watch the race, but also the wonderful pictures of France. I lived in Texas at the time (another "hot spot" in the summer) when I fell in love with the Tour, and I wanted an escape from the heat, I now live in Arizona. With due respect to the record temperatures in the rest of the country, we always have to find some alternative for the summer months, for our many hours within-doors, much like the rest of you in those cold, dark winter months. One of our escapes is the Tour.

I was charmed when I found that Dorie included this iconic dessert in her book - that celebrated a famed bike race - Paris-Brest. I am, unfortunately, a single-month-only fan, though I occasionally peek at other results. But, I thought, it would be fun to create some bicycle-themed desserts to enjoy while celebrating the ultimate test of cycling ability.

Dorie's recipe (and the classic dessert, I'm sure), contemplates a large cream puff, resembling a bicycle wheel. I, on the other hand, thought that individual "wheels" would be fun - so I endevoured to create small circles, but still filling with the amazing-sounding filling.

first, the puffs are baked
the sliced almonds did not stick to the small puffs and were quickly abandoned
I made a combination of "wheels" and tiny puffs, just for fun
thank you, my fellow Doristas who recommended leaving the puffs in the oven for a bit

blanched almonds are coated in caramel coating
and toasted
once complete, they go onto parchment to cool
then are whirled in a blender to chop finely

the chopped carmelized almonds are stirred into a classic vanilla pastry cream and then
piped into the wheels

dusted with a bit of powdered sugar and served with a
glass of French bubbly to toast the heroic efforts of the riders
in the TDF (go Mark Cavendish!)

I thought this was a lot of fun to make. If I were having a party, the large, single puff would be lovely with its toasted almonds on top. But this made for a nice little dessert, in honor of the boys of the peleton (who tonight will likely get to have some bubbly of their own. Though tomorrow they still have a ride, the Tour is mostly over - except for that last sprint along the Champs Elyses). Enjoy Paris!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ffwd - salmon and tomatoes en papillote

I've been away for awhile, though at the moment, I'm interested in everything French. No, not a trip on the horizon, but the annual epic trip around France (and into Belgium and Spain), known throughout the world as the Tour de France. Usually, I try to plan different French menus throughout the month, to at least conjure up the idea of visiting the Tour. A pilgrimage I would love to make one day.
But, it's corn and chile season in Arizona. Many things converge on the weekend of Independence Day - Wimbledon, the Tour - oh, and fresh corn from Hauser & Hauser Farm in Camp Verde Arizona start selling their locally, family-farmed corn. And wonderful it is. A friend and I made a date to go to breakfast and on to the Farm to pick the first of the season. As we were there, we were instructed to "wait - there's another load coming in", as we watched another tractor bring in a full load of freshly picked corn - driven by a couple of the teenage granddaughters. Over the years, though I don't know the kids, I've still watched them grow up in the family business and passion. It's one that all of us who love good food and our rural history share. So I've been sidetracked by Elote con Crema and other things chile & corn-ish.

But now, it's still Tour time, and time to enjoy some terrific French food. I thought that this was perfect this year because I need look no further than Dorie's wonderful book to find French food-delights to enjoy while watching the unbelievably beautiful French countryside along with cheering on my favorite sprinters and climbers.

Now it's time to cook! This week's recipe presented a couple of challenges: more notably turning on the oven to 475 when it's at least 105 outside; and... it's salmon. My niece would be incredulous to hear this - but it's not my favorite. And then, if I'm having it, my favorite way to prepare it is to grill it - with a few little crispy bits around the edges. But that's not very French - and it's time to start preparing some French food!!

my mix of ingredients ready to go
I forgot to plan ahead and bring back thyme from up north - I had to buys some
I hate that! Our lemon thyme would have been perfect!!!
I picked most things up at Whole Foods on the way home
I hated paying for the organic cherry tomatoes - but as I popped a few in my mouth
while prepping things... yum!  a "really" tomato!

A simple (and beautiful) preparation

sealed up and ready to go

12 minutes later

and plated for dinner
I thought that this was really a nice dish -  in parts. I'm not a fan of the combination of tomatoes and salmon (don't know why), but both were wonderful in their own way. I really, really liked the herbs and cooking method for both. And while a tiny bit (well, because of where I shopped!) expensive, a lovely mid-week meal. Or even a terrific one for that last-minute decided-to-have-guests-over weekend night. The combination of herbs, shallots, olive oil with the well-seasoned fish was wonderful. Nice, easy choice for getting back into my "racing form".