Friday, April 25, 2014

Authentic Hatch Green Chiles: Southwest Green Chile Strata and Garlic, Green Chile and Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

My parents always told me to take responsibility for the mistakes I make in life, so I am calling myself out for one that I made last August. It's not really that big of a deal I guess . . .  unless you come from the Hatch Valley that is.

The Hatch Valley is an area in New Mexico stretching north and south along the Rio Grande River, from Arrey in the north to south of the village of Hatch. The favorable soil and climate conditions in this area contribute to the desirable flavor of the green chiles that are grown here and have made this area famous. Only chiles that are grown in this area can truly be called Hatch.

Starting in late summer and extending through the early fall, the air in the southwest part of the United States is thick with the scent of roasting chiles. Markets everywhere set up big mesh drums and fill them with green chiles. The drum is turned over and over as the chiles are roasted over a hot flame. Between the roasting and the tumbling, the skins are burned and removed, leaving behind a tender, smoky, skinless chile and an intoxicating, spicy aroma in the air.

In celebration of chile time last year I posted a recipe for Green Chile Cheese Dip. To illustrate this dish I posted a photo of a handful of chiles resting on a white plate. I identified these chiles as Hatch thinking that they were, and to be quite honest I thought if not what the heck, a chile looks like a chile right? Who would care anyway?

Well, as it turned out someone out there cared a lot. Preston with The Hatch Chile Store somehow found my blog and my mistake and left me a comment correcting me, which did sting just a bit, but I deserved it for being careless and identifying "Buenos" as "Hatch".

After a couple of e-mails back and forth, my new favorite saying, "Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station" was proven to me as Preston offered to send me some of the authentic Hatch chiles from his company. He didn't have to ask twice, and before I knew it 5 pounds of delicious roasted, peeled and frozen, medium heat, authentic Hatch chiles were on my doorstep.

Garlic, green chile and sharp cheddar mashed potatoes. No recipe needed for this one. Just cube and boil 4 large potatoes in salted water with 3 cloves garlic. When soft, drain and mash together with a little butter, sour cream and pepper. Fold in some sharp cheddar and lots of green chiles. 

Since receiving this box a few days ago, we have eaten them in and on EVERYTHING. My husband is a happy man with all this green chile testing going on. So far his favorite recipe has been the garlic, green chile and sharp cheddar mashed potatoes that we had last night. Even though I loved those too, my favorite has to be the southwest flavored strata that we had for Easter brunch. The medium heat chiles that I received add the perfect pepper flavor (with just a spark of heat) to everything I have added them to.

Thanks to Preston and The Hatch Chile Store, I now have a couple of packages of these authentic and delicious chiles in my freezer to use whenever I want. If you are like me and missed the chance to put some away for the off season, you are not out of luck. The Hatch Chile Store is a great source for both fresh or frozen chiles. You can order frozen chiles now, which they are happy to ship to your door, or preorder fresh chiles for the 2014 season.

So as you can see my mistake worked out to the benefit of everyone in the end. I now have a bunch of chiles to play with, Mr. H can now have chiles on everything and you have a great source for fresh or frozen authentic Hatch chiles. In fact this worked out so well I might just give misidentifying Dom Perignon or beluga caviar a try and see how that works. On second thought, maybe not. I really hate making mistakes.

Southwest Green Chile Strata

I often serve this for brunch but find that it is just as delicious for an evening meal. Don't worry if this looks like more than you need, I guarantee you'll love the leftovers just as much as the first meal.

6 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed and cut into large cubes
4 medium to large size Hatch chiles, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
3 green onions, chopped
1-1/2 cups grated cheddar/jack cheese, divided
1 small bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
8 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup half and half or whole milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Spray a 7" x 11" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle the bread cubes in the baking dish. On top of that sprinkle the chiles, green onions, 1 cup of the cheese, and the cilantro leaves; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, half and half, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper until it is a smooth and frothy consistency. Slowly pour over the bread cube mixture in the baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove plastic wrap and place casserole in preheated oven. Bake for 45 - 55 minutes or until it is golden brown and puffy in the center. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Serves 6

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Birthday Mom: Remembering You With Your Holiday Ambrosia

My mother's birthday was a couple of Sundays ago. Sadly, there were no celebrations, no birthday cake or balloons, just a couple of bittersweet moments filled with fading memories when I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that it was once her special day.

My mother died when I was 21 years old, which was more years ago than I care to admit. Her death at 41 became a marker in time for me, replacing the girl I once was, with a young woman who had been forever changed by her death.

Before I totally depress everyone here, I want to say that I did survive.  In time I slowly emerged from my sad place and gradually began to walk in the sun once again. It took years but the sadness of her loss was slowly replaced with fond memories of good times that made me smile instead of cry. The sound of her voice and her laugh, and the smell of her perfume are all memories that I hold very close to my heart.

It occurred to me a couple of years ago that at the time of her death she only had one grandchild, who was just an infant at the time. By the time my sister and I were finished growing our families, there were seven grandchildren in all, six of whom were never held in her arms.

This realization set me on a mission of sorts to tell our children the tales of our family so that they will know who they come from (whether they want to or not). Some of these tales are good, and like many families, some not so good, but that's family for you.

One of the good things about our family is that we come from a bunch of really good cooks that loved teaching the younger generation what they knew. My mother in particular was one of the best. Just about every recipe that I cook has a touch of her in it, whether it is a recipe in itself, a method of cooking or a helpful hint, she's in there somewhere.

This time of year she is very much in my mind and I think of her when it comes to my Easter feast. It seems like mom always cooked a glazed ham. With the ham she would cook up some great sides like summer squash casserole, fresh green beans and new potatoes, but my favorite was her ever present ambrosia.

I guess my mom's ambrosia was more of a relish than a true side dish, which I ate in small bites to compliment the saltiness of the ham. Like most good cooks from the southern part of the US, her ambrosia was a heavenly combination of mandarin orange segments, pineapple tidbits, shredded coconut and marshmallows, all suspended in a slightly tart, sweet, creamy sauce.

So whether you are a grandchild of my mother or a reader of my blog, here is a postcard from the past in the form of an old fashioned well loved recipe. I hope you will make it and enjoy it, and when the time comes, remember me by it, just like I remember my mom when I make it. We would both like that very much.


I learned a valuable lesson when I made this recipe. If you don't want your fragile mandarins to break up, which really didn't bother me too much, but it might have been prettier had they not, then gently fold them in at the very last once everything else has been stirred together.

3 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1- 20 ounce can pineapple tidbits in pineapple juice, drained with juice reserved
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 - 11 ounce can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups miniature marshmallows

Place cream cheese in a small bowl. To the cream cheese add 3 tablespoons of the reserved pineapple juice a little bit at a time, mixing well to combine; set aside.

Whip whipping cream with an electric mixer until it just begins to thicken. Add the granulated sugar one tablespoon at a time along with the vanilla extract. Continue to whip until mixture becomes almost stiff; set aside.

Place pecans in a small non-stick frying pan that has been set over medium heat. Toast pecans, stirring frequently until they are browned slightly and their aroma is released. Transfer to a cool plate to cool completely.

Place pineapple, oranges, coconut and marshmallows in a large bowl. Gently stir to combine. Add the cream cheese mixture, whipped cream mixture and pecans. Gently fold ingredients together until they are combined.

Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Easily serves 8 as a side.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not: Strawberry Lime Sorbet

My local supermarket has strawberries on sale right now. They always look so promising in their clear plastic clamshells all red and ripe, but unfortunately the promise is all you usually take home these days. Too often strawberries in particular appear to be beautiful and plump when in reality all they are is dry and tart at best. No sweetness, no juice, no nothing.

In an effort to save my $2.50 investment in the dream, I knew I was going to have to coax the flavor out of them with a little sugar and some cooking, but then what? I didn't have any rhubarb to pair them up with, I am bored with refrigerator jam and I just wasn't in the mood for a cobbler.

I have to be honest and admit that I did consider just tossing them into the trash, but I am much too frugal for that. I considered stewing them and placing them in suspended animation in the freezer until I came up with a need for them, but knowing myself too well, I decided I needed to use them now instead of throwing them away when I clean the freezer out in the fall. So, as a last resort I decided to make some strawberry sorbet.

I usually save sorbet making for summer. When seasonal fruits are on sale (and I just can't pass up a good buy), sorbets are a great way use up an excess of bargain berries or juicy peaches that have hung around a day or two too long. A tub of sorbet in the freezer at our house insures that everyone eats their fruit.

Strawberry Lime Sorbet

Most sorbet recipes do not call for the fruit to be stewed in the simple syrup, but those recipes must start out with juicy, seasonal fruit. I have found that cooking tasteless fruit just a bit extracts any flavor that might be hiding inside.

1 pound fresh strawberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 small limes, zested and juiced (mine yielded about 1 teaspoon zest and 2 tablespoons juice)

Remove tops and hulls from strawberries. Chop into small pieces; set aside.

Place sugar and water in a medium size sauce pan that has been set over medium heat. Bring to a low boil. Add the strawberries and lime zest; return to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for approximately 10 - 15 minutes or until the juice is bright red and the berry pieces are soft. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice and cool completely.

Place cooled strawberry mixture into the bowl of a blender or food processor; puree. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze until it is thick and slushy. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.

Served scooped into dishes plain or enjoy as a base for a Strawberry Lime Prosecco Float (OMG), shown below.

Add desired amount of sorbet and a slice of lime to a champagne flute, wine glass or sorbet cup.

Top with prosecco, sparkling wine or lemon-lime or plain seltzer or soda for a non-alcoholic drink. The prosecco to sorbet ratio is totally up to you.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Something From Nothing #23: Light and Crispy Homemade Waffles

Bacon Waffles

While I was doing my last post for brined chicken strips, I thought it would be a cute photo to set some on top of a couple of waffles. It just so happens that I have a killer recipe for waffles that I have used for years, given to me by my mother, so I baked some up. Little did I know that this was going to cause such a sensation at my house.

Although the combination of chicken and waffles has probably been eaten for as long as they have both been around, it was made famous most recently by Long Beach, CA restaurant, Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles. Rumor has it that this dynamic duo was served here to late night diners who didn't know whether is was time for breakfast or dinner, so they ate a little of both. It soon caught on and made Roscoe's famous.

I can attest to the fact that the combination of light, fluffy, crispy waffles and the slightly salty brined and fried chicken, brought together with the sweetness of the maple syrup is probably one of the best flavor profiles on earth. I can totally understand why this is loved by so many people, including my husband and son.

Seeing that most of us don't have Roscoe's down the street, I feel it is my duty as a mom and food lover to provide you with great recipes for both. Since my last post was about chicken, this one of course had to be all about the waffles. This recipe is great, and while delicious on its own, can be easily customized with your favorite add-ons sprinkled in. My favorite is bacon, but they are also good with a couple of chocolate chips, a sprinkling of cheese, some berries, toasted pecans or anything else you might think up.


I really hate to call a recipe "something from nothing" that needs a special appliance to be prepared, but as you will see in some of the photos, waffle irons don't have to be fancy to work. Take mine for example. I bought this thing at Walmart almost 15 years ago for probably $10.00. It isn't much to look at, has a hot spot in the middle and is stained from years of use and being sprayed down with non-stick cooking spray, but it has never let me down. As you can see, I am just like many of you out there. I don't always have the best kitchen appliances or the fanciest gadgets, but no one knows that when I set their plate down on the table.

1-3/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cooking oil (if I'm also cooking bacon, I replace 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil with 1 tablespoon of bacon drippings for flavor)
2 room temperature eggs, divided

Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium size bowl; stir well and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the milk, oil and egg yolks. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and stir in the milk mixture until it is completely combined. Don't worry if it is a bit lumpy, the lumps will disappear as the waffles cook; set aside.

Preheat waffle iron while you finish your batter.

Place the egg whites in a medium size bowl. Beat whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the batter.

Yep, that's my old, ugly and stained waffle maker in the background. It's clean, but it's ugly. If it ever stops working, I'll buy a pretty one I promise.

Depending on the size of your waffle iron, pour 1/3 - 1/2 of a cup of batter into the hot waffle iron which you have lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake waffles until the ready light on your waffle iron lights up, or until steam is no longer being emitted. Remove waffles and serve or place on a wire rack in a warm oven while the rest are prepared. If you place them on a plate at this point waiting for the rest to cook, they will often times get soggy on the bottom.

This recipe makes about 12 waffles. I usually have some left over, and cool them completely before placing them in a zipper seal freezer bag and freezing them. To reheat, remove from the freezer and thaw about 5 minutes, toast lightly in the toaster, watching carefully so they do not burn.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Juicy Brined Chicken Tenders

Now that spring has arrived and summer is around the corner, fried chicken recipes are popping up everywhere you look. I don't know why it is, but fried chicken seems to be a seasonal favorite. Maybe it is because it reminds us of picnics and lazy Sunday afternoons, but whatever the reason, all this talk has made me fried chicken hungry.

For years I was part of the "no brine" camp of poultry cooks. I just really didn't see the need of making a big deal out of frying a chicken or roasting a turkey, then I tried it and found out that what they say is true. This extra step elevates poultry (and pork) from good to glorious. All you need to do is mix a few simple ingredients together and give it all a little time to do its magic. Oh yeah, you might need to make some room in your refrigerator too.

This brine recipe is good for boneless or bone in chicken and pork chops of any size or thickness. Your meat will not only be moist and tender after cooking, but it will also have flavor all the way through. The only thing I have to say about pork is, if your chops are thick it is probably best to bake or grill them and leave off the breading which could come out soggy because of all the moisture.

Juicy Brined Chicken Tenders

These are delicious served with Louisiana hot sauce and blue cheese, barbecue sauce and ranch dressing or just plain old honey, but you can't go wrong serving them with a pile of crispy waffles and lots of warm syrup. This is the stuff that legendary Easter buffets are made of.

1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lightly packed light brown sugar
1 large garlic clove crushed
3 cups water
2 pounds chicken breast, cut into strips
2 cups all-purpose flour
Oil for frying

Place salt, brown sugar and garlic in the bottom of a medium size, deep bowl. Add the water and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the chicken strips (brine should cover the chicken); cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

When you are ready to cook, drain brine from chicken. Pour flour onto a large plate. Dredge the chicken strips through flour; mounding on a second plate as you do; set aside.

Pour enough oil into a large frying pan that it is about 1" deep.  Heat over medium high heat until the oil is hot and shimmering.

If chicken breading has gotten a little sticky from the moisture while sitting, dredge through flour once again. Place one chicken strip into the hot oil. If the oil is ready it will immediately sizzle. Place several strips into the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry for approximately 8 minutes on one side or until strips are golden brown. Turn and cook for an additional 4 - 5 minutes on the other side. Transfer to a rack set over a cookie sheet or baking pan to drain. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 - 6