Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hatched a Plan

Somewhere along the line, my food education was wanting. I recently discovered that what I wanted was Hatch Chilis, specifically, fire roasted Hatch Chilis wrapped up in a whole wheat tortilla with a slice of that fabulous Mexican Queso cheese that is so flavorful and similar to Feta in texture. I mentioned Hatch Chilis in the blog on Barefoot Chili, but have decided that they are quite blogworthy on their own.

Fire Roasting Chilis!
Hatch Chilis are a remarkable pepper grown in New Mexico with a very limited growing season. If you are very fortunate, you live in a place where there is an HEB fire roasting these glorious peppers right outside the door to the store where the incredible aroma simply propels you over to the table for a sample. Not to worry if you do not like heat, there is a mild as well as a hot version, so ask which is which before tasting. The problem with tasting the bit of pepper cheese and tortilla is that you are then driven by forces beyond your control directly to the counter where you must immediately purchase all three items. If you buy a bunch of bags, remember to freeze them as they will spoil quickly - in just a few days.

If you want to moderate the heat, slice open the spicy chili and scrape off some of the seeds. Otherwise, just decapitate the stem, lay it in its full blackened beauty across the center of a fresh whole wheat tortilla, cut a thick slice of the fresh cheese, roll up, and nuke it for a few seconds just to the point where the cheese begins to melt. Instant heaven for lunch.

Add them to your homemade chili. Make chili rellanos. Add them to all stews and meats for fajitas. I may not try them on oatmeal, but in the morning I will add one to my egg scramble. I simply cannot wait.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Dragon Fruit Experience

I found two lovely looking Dragon Fruit at the HEB this morning! Will have them for dessert tonight. Here's a pic. I'll edit this post later with pics of the cut fruit and a description of the flavors and aromas!

The skin was remarkably easy to peal - as you can see by the picture to the right. Did not notice any aroma at all, but it looked just like the web pages, juicy with the pretty speckles of tiny black seeds. The texture was very similar to a pear and the taste extremely mild and refreshing. Reminiscent of a kiwi in texture so it's easy to see why they would be good for smoothies.

Very glad I tried them and will definitely have it again. Not sure what the season is like and hope I did not hit the end. Dragon Fruit and Kiwis would be very pretty on my black stoneware.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dragon Fruit

These spiny colorful fruits are absolutely gorgeous. I've never eaten one, but after seeing this painting by Sarah Jayne Blackhall, there is no question that they must be delicious.

The pretty flower opens at night so is pollinated by bats. Is that cool or what. According to a host of websites, the Dragon Fruit is incredibly nutritious whether eaten fresh or dried and contains significant quantities of Carotene, fiber, protein, phosphorous, along with Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C. Health claims include: regulation of blood sugars, lowering of bad cholesterol, improvement of the skin, speeds the healing of wounds, enough calcium to make a positive impact on bone health, and if consumed in sufficient quantities world peace is more than just a dream...ok, maybe I made that part up. But what else is there for this fruit to do? Ok, there one more thing, if you are one of the many who are juicer aficionados, they are supposed to be marvelous for that as they are easy to process.

Peel (make sure all skin is removed even little bits) and slice (the seeds which may or may not be present are edible too) - those are the instructions for consumption, so now all I need to do is locate a Dragon Fruit. The search begins tomorrow.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

Barefoot Chili

Usually I make a white chili with turkey and white beans. Yesterday, I tried something different from the Barefoot Contessa - Devon's Chili. Very talented chef, and I have bookmarked her website.

Made some minor changes - I am not a fan of green peppers and nearly went with red peppers when I discovered that it is fresh Hatch Chili season! Whenever these beauties are available the local HEB fire roasts them which makes them absolutely divine.The nice HEB roasting guy lays the blackened chili in a tortilla, adorns it with slices of white Mexican cheese, rolls and cuts it to bite sized bits for our sampling pleasure...I went back for more samples...well I had to make sure didn't I? After eating a bite or three you can only watch as you put a bag or two in your cart...along with the cheese...and the tortillas. Very interesting out of body experience.

Now, being me, I chose the spicy rather than the mild hatches. For this recipe, I was a tad dubious about a full tablespoon of cayenne powder and tablespoon of red pepper flakes rather than using some more full flavored variety and thought, hmmm, I ramped up the heat with the hatches so I'll slightly more than halve the cayenne and flakes figuring I'd add more later if I over did the reduction.

Other then that I made the recipe pretty much as directed. Unfortunately, I could not adjust the spices because I like to do that by aroma as well as taste and had managed to spill mass quantities of chili powders during the sauteing process (stove, hot burners, kitchen island, floor, bills, pen holder, wicker basket, etc). This meant that the entire kitchen and an assortment of other rooms in the house smelled rather too strongly of chili. In fact, just about everywhere I went I took the pungent aroma with me as it had settled firmly in my nose and would not be dislodged. Had to do the thing on trust.

The taste from the pot a little before serving was ok, hot but not nuanced. So I warned all that this was an experiment and apologized in advance. However, as the pot sat on the table, the flavors began to sing the same song rather than a cacophony of tunes in a variety of keys and beats. As it attained the place of honor in the bowl, the flavors continued to morph. By the time we were done eating, I was convinced that the chili was still not yet done changing and that a sitting over night in the fridge would complete the process. I'll let you know...and yes, the sitting a spell turned this excellent dish into just perfect.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rabbit and Eggplant

Went to a concert in a small offbeat under the freeway dive with decent food and a fake beach music venue called the Last Concert Cafe. Saw a mediocre warm up band and was getting bored by the delay when the main act arrived - Gram Rabbit. A remarkably energetic, polished, and talented bunch. May have to join the Royal Order of Rabbits (their page for fans). The show was a great blend of music, lyrics, and showmanship.

Before the concert, we had dinner at a great Vietnamese restaurant that was given the very original name of Vietnam Restaurant. Clever, no? While the location in The Heights is new since 2003, the original location was in downtown Houston in 1880. Excellent food was had by all. I particularly enjoyed the Vietnamese Eggplant which featured crispy fried slices of eggplant, grilled onions and jalapenos in a wonderfully flavored brown sauce and served with brown rice.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mushroom Spinach Quesadillas

Love having quesadillas for dinner. Fast and very simple. Decided to make a black bean topping tonight instead of just spooning on Pace picante sauce. Also wanted to see what happened when I added BBQ sauce to the tortilla. What happened was deliciousness!

Mushroom Spinach Quesadilla:

Brush a large tortilla a little bit of BBQ sauce (about 1 t) combined with four shakes of McIlhenny's Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce. Cover the tortilla to about 1/2 inch of the edge with a very liberal sprinkling of sharp cheddar. Top that with a sauteed mix of portobella mushrooms slices and chopped red onion. I used Habanero Olive Oil, but regular oil is fine. Then tear about a cup of fresh spinach in to pieces entirely covering the cheese and other veges. After spraying a non-stick pan with a light spray of oil, heat the pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, place a second tortilla on the spinach. Pan grill the quesadilla on one side for several minutes (check for brownness and melty cheesy goodness before the one and only flip). Before flipping, spray a bit of oil on top of the uncooked tortilla and continue to cook til a nice brown. The tortilla will crisp up a bit. Cut in to fourths.

Black Bean Topping:

To one can of rinsed black beans add about 3/4 of a can of crushed tomatoes with chilis, a generous dose of chili powder, cumin, and Chipotle Pepper sauce. Simmer until hot, spoon over the quesadilla.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spicing Things Up

Made one of my favorite breakfasts today - a pile of chopped onions and sweet red pepper sauteed in habanero olive oil until the veges start to turn a pretty brown. Sprinkle with turmeric - one of the foods and herbs that work wonders for my arthritis - and stir a minute. Add about a cup or so of torn spinach and saute until wilted. Finally add two Country Hen eggs and scramble til you get the consistency you like. Incredibly aromatic way to start the day. I folded the egg scramble inside of a slightly warmed tortilla. No need for cheese - I've tried it and it competes with rather than enhancing the other flavors.

When you cook with eggs, always go for the high quality humanely raised by happy chicken eggs that you can find at a local farm or farmers market. Or you may get real lucky and find some in your local health food store. Do avoid eggs from egg conglomerates as the poor chickens there lead terrible lives and nobody wants to contribute to that. Be mindful of your egg choices.

Unfortunately, I finished the bottle of oil with this breakfast but can order another! I also ate it all before remembering to take a pic. So, for your visual enjoyment, here's another beautiful acrylic painting by Sarah Jayne Blackhall, entitled Habanero.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Aline's Chicken Stew

I work with a lovely woman from White Castle, Louisiana named Aline who is a fabulous cook. As do all the best cooks from Louisiana, her recipe begins "first, you make a roux...". But, because Aline has learned over the years that some short cuts work as well as the original long cuts, she also said that I should use Tony Chachere's Instant Roux, and you know what? That stuff works great! Five minutes from powder to roux. In the recipe below, you are more than welcome to make your own roux if you are too good to use instant. Aline uses vegetable oil and I use butter in the traditional roux, you use what you like. Aline and I will use instant roux.

This is absolutely Louisiana home style comfort food at it's best. I served it over brown rice and added a side of green beans for color. I've been told that the appropriate way is to serve it over rice with a side of baked macaroni and cheese, and a frosty cold Barg's Root Beer from a bottle. Maybe I'll try that next time, but first I'll ask Aline for the proper mac and cheese recipe.

 Aline's Chicken Stew

One cup prepared roux
2 pounds chicken thighs (either bone in or not as you prefer)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 T Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning for Chicken (brand preference is mine, you use what you like)
2 cups chicken stock
3 t garlic, chopped
fresh cracked pepper to taste

First, make a roux. See! I told you! You only need to make the roux first if you are not using the instant roux. If you use instant you can make it right before it is to the sauteed veggies.

Season the chicken thighs with a couple teaspoons of the Magic Seasoning and cracked pepper. Place in a baking pan that has been sprayed with your favorite cooking oil. Roast in a 350 oven for 30-45 minutes until  browning but not quite done.

While the chicken is baking, saute the onions and celery in a little olive oil in a large pot, add the roux, the rest of the seasonings, the chicken, the stock, and simmer covered for 15 minutes to finish cooking the chicken - the 15 minute finish the chicken part is what you do if you used bone in chicken. At this point you would remove the chicken and take the meat off and return it to the pot if you don't want bones and skin at the table. Otherwise, just proceed with the simmering. I just used boneless chicken so all I had to do was discard the skin... which I did at this point!

You can either use prepared chicken stock, or make your own. Or, if you started cooking and realized you don't have any stock, add a couple cups of water to the pan drippings from the baked chicken and simmer a bit, adjusting flavor to your taste with some pepper and maybe some garlic or a dash of Tabasco.

Continue to simmer 45 minutes - or longer if you want the chicken to fall apart. The falling apart chicken was to die for. Just cook the chicken until it's dinner and don't fuss the time too awfully much.

If the gravy is too thin, add more roux (mix the instant roux with some of the gravy and add back to the pan so you don't have to worry about lumps). If it is too thick, add more stock. Make it as thick as you like. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.

You know you have the seasonings are right when your son comes in from the garage and says "what is that? Even the garage smells great!"

Excellently and mindfully served over brown rice with a side of tender green beans.

Turkish Lamb

I apologize for my lack of professional bloggery, I am a newbie, you know. Had dinner at a terrific new Turkish restaurant nearby and failed to remember that I needed to take pics of the food and stuff and use them in my blog. Again, my apologies to you and to the owners of what I hope will soon become a very popular restaurant.

Dinner at Ephesus Mediterranean Grill began with a beautifully seasoned soup made with red lentils and tomatoes. Also shared a huge salad of cucumber, tomatoes, feta, and a wonderful lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and herb dressing. The entree was a superb marinated lamb sis kabob on a pile of seasoned rice with onion, red cabbage, roasted pepper, and roasted tomato. The lamb was perfectly cooked to medium rare tenderness. The staff even enjoyed a long chat with my husband about some interesting happenings he experienced at a restaurant in Turkey. Service was attentive but not hovering. The decor minimal, but what they had was right. Good deep golden sand colored walls paired nicely with obviously Middle Eastern in design sheers on the windows. The music was well chosen, and made one wish they knew how to belly dance.

My new goal in life is to make sure this place gains a loyal and large clientele as I plan to eat there regularly.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Maple Goodness

Breakfast is usually oatmeal with almond butter or eggs and whole wheat English muffins. Today I did a rare thing and made French Toast! Rare in part because I don't want to start the day with an excess of dishes and rare because of my consciousness of daily calories. I mixed two fabulous Country Hen eggs (a whole post on these beauties one day!) with some Very Vanilla Silk Soy Milk, dipped in a few slices of whole wheat berry bread and grilled them over medium high heat with a pat of butter in a non-stick pan til they were the level of brown that I prefer - in other words, not too brown.

I used to slather the typical syrups on pancakes and French Toast, but as I am removing items that have marginal qualifications as whole and real foods from my diet, I avoid high fructose corn syrup. These lovely toasts have been given a glistening drizzle of Pure Maple Syrup from Maple Grove Farms, far more flavor than the puckeringly sweet "taste" of HFC. If you have not tried pure maple syrup, do not expect the flavor to be like the "maple flavored" syrups usually served. They are maple flavored in name only. Take the time to enjoy your food today!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gnocchi in a Hurry

Gnocchi are wonderful little lumpy Italian dumplings of comfort food goodness made with potato and flour. You can buy them shelf stable and in the pasta aisle of your store. Or if you are very adventurous, you can make them. Found a fabulous recipe at

I've had a package of whole wheat gnocchi in the pantry for some time and this recipe was the perfect way to use it. The stove top casserole was brightly flavored, very pretty with bubbly aromatic sauce bursting through the cheese. Slices of Italian sausage would be awesome added to the dish itself or served whole on the side. Serve as it is described below with a hunk of chewy rustic bread.

I have to add an post-script (ok, it's not exactly at the end, but it is a day late!). The dish was pronounced delicious by all, rather like a concerto in flavor as you could identify all the parts. They played together beautifully, but there were distinct stars. My son is finishing the left overs as we speak and has informed me that it has gone from a concerto to a full symphony. The flavors have melded into a wonderful cohesive flavor performance - a totally different dish left over. Just wanted to let you all know that this is definitely a dish to serve the next day too! I think I'll add a splash of cream to the original recipe next time.....

Skillet Gnocchi with White Beans and Spinach

2 T olive oil, divided
16 oz Whole Wheat Gnocchi
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small package of proscuitto, sliced into bite size strips
6 cloves garlic
1/2 c water
6 C spinach - one bag pre-washed
30 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 t Italian seasonings (or use basil, oregano, parsley, dried garlic, etc as you prefer)
15 oz can white beans, rinsed
freshly ground pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste (unless you use salt)
pinch of sugar
1 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C Parmesan


1. Heat 1 T olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook, stirring often until they plump up and begin to brown - about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2. Add the remaining 1 T olive oil to the pan with onion and prosciutto, stir over medium heat for two minutes, stir in garlic and water. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes until the onion softens. Add spinach, stir until it begins to wilt (1-2 minutes). Stir in tomatoes, beans, seasonings, pepper, and bring to a simmer.

3. Stir in the gnocchi and simmer til hot taste and adjust seasonings, sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and cook til cheese is melted.