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After spending five days in Mexico, I have returned and am ready to cook up a storm.  Obviously my food will be nowhere near as good as the food from Mexico (it’s made by the gods), but I can try.  Lucky for me, I was able to find some dried chiles negros (known as pasillas when fresh) at the grocery store in Tucson. 

In other news, the lovely folks over at Marx Foods were kind enough to send me some samples of their dried mushrooms.  Inspired by a fantastically delicious and simple crab tostada I had on the beach in San Carlos, I wanted to pair the dark earthy flavors of the mushrooms with the mellow smokeyness of the dried chiles but still give the mushrooms center stage.  And I don’t know about you, but my favorite stage of all is a Tostada Shell stage.

The mushrooms from Marx Foods were absolutely delicious!  I used all the types of mushrooms that they sent me for this recipe, including chanterelles, lobster, porcini, black trumpet, and maitake.  I didn’t chop them before I used them, and I should have–the flavor was delicious and paired perfectly with the chiles but having mushrooms in such big pieces on the tostadas made things pretty messy. 

Chile Negro Sauce (can be made ahead of time):

  • 4 dried chiles (substitute ancho or mulato chiles if you can’t find negro…hint: Marx Foods also carries dried chiles)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups very hot chicken stock or water
  • 1 teasp ground cumin
  • 1 teasp ground coriander
  • olive oil
  • salt

Cover the bottom of a skillet in a thin layer of olive oil and toast the chiles for a two minutes on each side, then soak them in the hot stock/water for 15 minutes.  While the oil is still hot, add the whole garlic cloves, cumin and coriander.  Scrape all of this into a blender and add the chiles and soaking liquid.  Blend on high until completely liquified.  Pour back into the skillet and let sit over very low heat for 20 minutes, until sauce has thickened.

Mushroom Tostadas:

  • 2 cups assorted dried mushrooms
  • 4-6 corn tortillas, fried until crunchy in vegetable oil (or store bought tostada shells)
  • 1 small white onion
  • Crumbly Mexican cheese (queso fresco or rancherito are best)
  • Cilantro, to garnish

Soak the mushrooms in boiling water for at least 10 minutes until they’re soft.  Slice the onion, dicing a little bit super fine to garnish the tostadas.  Remove the mushrooms and save the soaking liquid (can be frozen to add to soup/other things later).  Sautee the onion and mushroom over high heat until the onion has not quite carmelized, about 4 minutes. 

Smear a small amount of chile negro sauce on the bottom of each tostada.  Pile the mushroom/onion mixture on top and serve with diced onion, cilantro, and crumbled cheese.  Enjoy!

Just in case you haven’t heard, Brian Boitano has a new cooking show and it is pretty awesome.  He’s made some delicious-looking meals and inspired me to give homemade mac and cheese another try.  I’ve tried in the past and it turns out that I wasn’t using enough milk–instead of being creamy and delicious it came out stringy and yuck.  Brian Boitano helped me correct my mistakes and this is one of the most delicious meals ever!  Talk about comfort food–perfect for a foggy spring weekend.

You could use any type of medium hard cheese here (cheddar is an obvious choice, fontina, asiago, etc) but I absolutely love smoked cheese.  The smoked gruyere is just insanely delicious–I had to make this meal right after I got home from the grocery store or I would eat the entire package of cheese just on its own. 

  • 1 cup shredded smoked gruyere
  • 1 cup shredded gouda
  • 1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded romano
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1  3/4 cup milk
  • A few tablespoons of parsley, diced super fine
  • 1 lb bite-size pasta (I used penne)

Using the flour and butter, make a roux and let cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in the milk and bring to a low boil.  As soon as it boils, immediately turn off the heat and stir in the cheese slowly and in batches, starting with the romano first (because it’s the hardest cheese of the four). 

Taste the sauce and adjust for salt–don’t add it at first because some of these cheeses are extremely salty.  Add in the parsley.  Cook the pasta in heavily salted boiling water, drain, and stir into the sauce.  Serve immediately (goes great with broccoli too!)–YUM.

How to cook rice

Some time ago, I bought a five pound bag of jasmine rice.  It’s taken me over half of that bag to finally get my technique down so that the rice doesn’t come out gooey or undercooked.  I have a feeling this is very specific to my location, altitude and ambient humidity, and that these rules will change if you are anywhere besides the north side of Chicago in springtime.

With that being said, here you go, in case you were wondering how to cook that rice for the delicious meal you’re making tonight:
The Rice Rules.

  • Measure one cup of rice and put into a thick-bottomed pan (this needs to be a thick metal pan to disperse the heat, not something thin and cheap–otherwise the rice will burn on the bottom). 
  • Cover with just under two cups of cold water.  Turn the heat on high. 
  • When the water has come to a full boil, turn the heat as low as it will go and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Put 13.5 minutes on a timer.
  • DO NOT UNCOVER.  The steam is what cooks the rice–as soon as you lift up that lid, all the steam and its cooking power are released.
  • When the timer goes off, turn the heat off and move the pan off the heat.  Don’t uncover it yet!  Let sit for 5 minutes with the lid on. 
  • After five minutes, remove the lid and fluff with a fork.  If you won’t be eating all of the rice right away, loosely cover–you don’t want the steam to be completely captured or the rice will keep cooking and get mushy, but you also don’t want to leave it completely uncovered or it will dry out. 

I did a lot of research into this rice-cooking technique and tried lots of different things–adding the rice after the water boiled, washing it first, not washing it, etc etc.  After much experimentation, this is the method that gives me the best result.  Try it for yourself, but be aware that it might not come out perfect the first time.  Learning is all about trying and failing every once in a while.

I’m not a huge fan of eggs, so it can be hard for me to use up an entire dozen eggs.  One good way to do this is to make a quiche, which Dave will eat and I will nibble small amounts of.   This uses up the second half of my puff pastry which I bought last week to make fun desserts with.  If you don’t have puff pastry, you could always use regular pie crust instead–it would work just as well. 

Really you could do any number of things with this same basic recipe–add asparagus or cauliflower, change the cheeses (cheddar, gouda, or mozzarella would be good), or make it really plain and leave out everything but the cheese and onions.  This is great to serve as brunch/breakfast, but you can make it as dinner as well. 

  • 1 sheet defrosted puff pastry
  • 4-5 eggs
  • 2/3 cup shredded jack and romano cheeses
  • 1/3 white onion, sliced and quickly sauteed
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
  • 1+ cup frozen broccoli, defrosted and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/3 cup kidney beans, drained

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Press the puff pastry into a pie tin and cut the edges off so they’re even all the way around (you can sprinkle sugar on these and bake them along with the quiche–they make a yummy dessert afterwards).   Arrange the broccoli, kidney beans, and onions on the crust.   Sprinkle the cheese over the top, reserving a little bit to put on top later. 

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs with the milk and whisk together with plenty of salt and pepper.  Pour into the pie tin–the eggs should cover everything.  Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top and bake for 18-25 minutes, until lightly browned on top and delicious.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Chocolate cream puffs

Look at me!  I found my inspiration again!  Somehow I remembered that I have a blog and that requires me to cook on a semi-regular basis…so here we go, the cooking and writing about it part. 

I just love puff pastry.  It looks so fancy and makes everyone think you tried so hard but all you did was put it in the oven.   This is one of the fanciest-looking but easiest desserts I think I’ve ever made.  Plus it only has four ingredients, so that’s pretty awesome.

  • 1 package puff pastry, defrosted
  • Sugar for dusting
  • Chocolate ganache (mine was frozen leftover; recipe available here)
  • Whipped cream (homemade or not)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut circles about 2 inches in diameter out of the puff pastry.  I used the bottom of a milk glass for these.  Then, cut smaller holes into half of the circles–I used the bottom of my cayenne pepper container. 

Using the complete circles as the base, put the cut out circles on top–when they bake they puffs up and make a pretty little cup.  I also baked the insides of the circles that I cut out.  Before putting in the oven, sprinkle them all with a little sugar.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until puffed and just barely golden. 

I used the ganache I made ages ago to go with my cheesecake–it’s been in the freezer since then so it’s kept perfectly.  Allow to come to room temperature and put in the microwave for 15 seconds, just enough for it to start to get melty.  Spoon into the puff pastry cups.  If you baked the insides of the circles, pop the top off and fill with chocolate before putting the lid back on.  Serve with whip cream and ENJOY!  Yum.

You may be asking yourself, “What makes it African?”, or “Where the hell has this supposed blog author been?”, or “Why are vanilla lattes so delicious?”  Good questions all, some of which I have the answers to.

We’ll start with the second.  I have been ignoring you, blog.  All work and no inspiration makes for a dull blog…or, more precisely, an empty one.  To answer the first, it’s the tomatoes that make it African.  My regular peanut sauce (which has yet to be blogged about, I admit) has large amounts of soy sauce, which help to make it Thai.  Nix the soy and add the tomatoes, and presto you have African.  Well, it’s not that easy…but almost. 

So, here we are again, me writing about my cooking while smelling the flowers of Indianapolis, and you reading about it while doing whatever it is you’re currently doing.  Enjoy!

  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 large or 2 small chicken breasts, cut into smallish strips
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 teasp each of coriander and cumin
  • White rice, to serve

Wash and chop the potato into bite size pieces.  Roast in a 400 degree oven for 15-20 mins, until soft on the inside.  While those are cooking, sautee the garlic and chicken in a large skillet.  Add the onion when the chicken is about halfway done. 

Before the chicken is fully cooked, stir in the tomatoes and the peanut butter.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until the potatoes are done.  Stir in the coriander, cumin, and chickpeas.   Cook for another few minutes.  Stir in the potatoes at the very end.  I didn’t have any green things but this would be better with green onions, cilantro, or parsley.  Serve immediately over rice and enjoy!

Chicken flautas

Unbelievable!  How have I not written about the tortillas from CostCo yet??  They are essentially the reason I haven’t been cooking lately–because all I want to eat is beans, cheese, and fresh tortillas.  My favorite meal of all time. 

I digress.  CostCo, everyone’s favorite discount foodarama, sells raw flour tortillas.  You cook them yourself for the first time, meaning they come out piping hot, chewy, and just fantastic.  Even if you weren’t interested in buying 4 lbs of cereal for $8 (though I don’t know why you wouldn’t be), they are reason enough to join CostCo. 

On to the meal.  It’s not very often I take a bite of something and exclaim, “It tastes like home! No, Flagstaff! New Mexico!”  One of the few things I miss about Tucson…the food.  Well, no more.  Here is a taste of my homeland on your plate, even if your plate happens to be living in Chicago.

  • Uncooked CostCo tortillas
  • 1 package (about 2 lbs) chicken, breasts or thighs
  • 1 small can green chiles
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • 2 green onions, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 red onion, diced fine
  • Jack cheese, shredded

Cook the chicken and shred.  Sautee for no more than two minutes the garlic and red onion.  Combine the chicken with the garlic/onion.  In another bowl, combine the enchilada sauce with the green chiles and green onions.

Cover the bottom of a heavy skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil and place over medium heat.  While it’s getting hot, take a tortilla (still raw) and put a thin layer of chicken in the middle, with a small amount of cheese.  Roll up like an enchilada.

Put into the skillet.  Let it cook for 30-45 secs on each side, until golden brown, then rotate onto another side.  Rotate until all the sides have been browned and crunchified.  Drizzle the enchilada sauce over the top, with a little more cheese on top and refried beans on the side.  Eat and feel like you’re in the desert.