Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tomatillo Salsa

After only discovering the joys of tomatillos two weeks ago, I made use of another pound on Saturday by making tomatillo salsa.  I'm single-handedly supporting the tomatillo farmers of California.  And yes, my obsession with Tex-Mex continues.  So long as the recipes keep impressing us, I will pretend I know what Tex-Mex is supposed to taste like.  So what if I've never been to Texas and I spent my childhood eating at Taco Bell?  What I do know is that this tomatillo salsa is one of the best I've ever had and it's incredibly simple to make.

I spend all week discussing with my friends over email the types of things I have cooked and will be cooking soon.  When I told people I was making tomatillo salsa, two people independently asked if I was roasting the tomatillos.  Luckily for me this recipe requires no roasting or anything fancy and tastes better than any tomatillo salsa I've tried before.  The freshness and simpleness is addictive and paired with some good chips or chicken tacos you can go through a huge amount in an evening.

I've had no problem finding tomatillos at Whole Foods, though I can't vouch for other stores.  Finding tomatillos is probably the most difficult part of this recipe, but an extra trip to the store is well worth it for this delicious treat.

Don't worry, Harper hasn't taken ill by eating tomatillo salsa, she is just damp and exhausted.  We had a fun doodle play date at the dog park today and were met with lots of mud puddles and rain.  Harper had a blast, but went through every last ounce of energy she had for the next few hours.  After a well-deserved bath she rested under the table in a towel big enough for three Harpers.

Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Homesick Texan

1 pound tomatillos (about 12-16), husked and cut in half [buy a few extra in case you buy some rotten ones]
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 serrano chilis, stems and seeds removed (1 for mild, 2 for medium)
1/4 medium onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon canola oil, for cooking salsa
Kosher salt, to taste (I used about half a tablespoon)

In a blender, puree the tomatillos, garlic, serrano chilis, onion, cumin, and lime juice until smooth.  Heat a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  When warm, add 1 tablespoon canola oil and heat until warmed.  Pour in salsa and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The salsa will change from bright green to a more olive color as it cooks.  Taste and add salt to your liking.  Serve warm or cold with lots of chips.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Five Things

I decided to continue my Friday Five Things posting and make it a two-week tradition.  I've had a good, but busy week and have spent most evenings playing with Harper and cooking.  John's mom gave me some fleur de sel for Christmas and I have to say, I'm not sure I can go back to regular salt.  It came with the perfect container and tiny spoon.  It's amazing how much easier it is to evenly spread the salt around when you have a tiny utensil to help.  

My immersion blender has gotten tons of use this winter and I won't stop until everyone I know buys one.  It will change your life and your soup consumption.

Recchiuti peppermint thins are the most amazing chocolate peppermint combination imaginable.  A more adult-version of Junior Mints crossed with York Peppermint Patties.  Recchiuti has a store in San Francisco, which is convenient for me, but you can order them here if you are so inclined.

Brussels sprouts are still my favorite vegetable, and this season's crop has been a bit pitiful.  Luckily some good ones are starting to show up in the market again, and I've been able to get my fix.

Puppies have an intoxicating smell that you can't help but be overtaken by.  Harper's puppy scent is fading, and I will be soaking it up as much as possible while it lasts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup

I admit to having somewhat of an obsessive personality.  I'm not sure if I'm more obsessive than the next person, but I do know that when I get something in my head - be it a television show, a food, a puppy, or a band - it's my main focus.  I will watch every episode I can find of a new show I love; I'll listen to a new band's album day in and day out; I'll read everything I can get my hands on about raising a puppy; and I'll eat a food until I can't stand to taste it ever again.  Nowadays I'm obsessed with two ingredients: butternut squash and chipotles.  It's only natural that I would find a recipe that combines the two in an irresistible soup.

This soup is even spicier than the curry squash soup I made previously, which means I like it even more.  A little drizzle of sour cream (whisked with a splash of water) helps to cool the burn.  If you have some toasted seeds to throw on top, all the better.

It's a testament to this soup that I even made it on a 70 degree day.  I know bringing up 70 degree California weather isn't the nicest thing to do when the rest of the country is dealing with the usual below-freezing February temperatures, but we all have our faults.  

This girl, of course, has no faults.  Other than the nipping, and the chewing, and the occasional whining, of course.  She is a puppy after all.

Did you know if you want your puppy or dog to give you that quizzical head tilt that will melt your heart all you have to do is pant at them like you're a dog?  Works like a charm.  She gives you a look like "Chipotles again, Mom??"

Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, diced
1-2 chipotles canned in adobe, chopped (use two if you want it to be spicy)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 large butternut squash, roasted (about 5 cups butternut squash)
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup cream
Sour cream thinned with water, for drizzling

Split a butternut squash in half from root to tip and scoop out the seeds.  Place in a large roasting pan cut-side down with 1/4 inch of water.  In a 400 degree oven, roast your butternut squash for 50 minutes, until the flesh is very soft.  Scoop out with a large spoon.  Either use it immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge.

In a large dutch oven or pot heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add chopped onion and cook until softened.  Add garlic, cumin, and chipotle and cook for an additional minute.  

Add chicken stock, butternut squash, oregano, and salt to the pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce the heat so that the soup simmers for 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  (Alternatively, work in batches to puree the soup in a blender making sure to vent the soup to avoid an explosion.)  

Add the lime juice and cream and heat for another couple of minutes.  Serve with a drizzle of thinned sour cream.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wet Dog

I'm so used to having a dog that hates water of any kind - baths, rain, oceans, etc. - that it constantly surprises me when Harper willingly prances around in the rain and even lays in wet grass.  Poodles and labs are both water-friendly dogs, so it is no surprise that labradoodles love the water too.

It's a good thing she can handle water because she gets a bath every weekend.  The bath part she is learning to like, but afterwards when she is wet she just looks so...sad.  We dry her off as best we can, but she's damp for hours and always looks less than thrilled about it.  So once a week we have a wet dog looking quite pitiful, and that's our cross to bear.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chipotle Mac & Cheese

Am I the only one who thought of chipotle as more of a Mexican fast-food joint than an item you cook with?  Apparently, chipotles are dried jalapenos, and the ones canned in adobo (the can comes with almost 10 peppers) are extra flavorful.  I bought a can of chipotles in adobo to make this recipe and I'll never be the same.  When mixed in well it makes the whole dish taste of spicy smokiness.  Yum.

It's shocking I haven't managed to put bacon in mac and cheese before, but needless to say, it makes a great thing even better.  But what puts this mac and cheese over the top is the combination of chipotle and bacon.  Both have a smokiness and richness that tastes perfect together.

The pasta cooks in the oven (lasagna-style), so you don't have to bother with the pre-cooking step.  Instead of cooking in water, it absorbs the flavor of chipotle-spiced milk it cooks in.

This mac and cheese gets a crispy top and crispy sides, which means even more of the best part of the mac and cheese.  Honestly, this is one of the best things I have made in ages.  I might even make it again next weekend it was so good.  And it happens to be a lot easier than other mac and cheese recipes, which makes it even better.  If you don't like spicy food you could just make the recipe without the chipotle (though I would add some fresh pepper), and if you don't like bacon then you know what to do.

Speaking of bacon...Does someone smell the bacon?  Harper rarely seems interested when I cook dinner, but bacon piqued her interest like it would to any good LaBarre.

Chipotle Mac & Cheese
Adapted from Homesick Texan

Butter for the pan
2 cups uncooked elbow pasta
2 cups whole milk
1 cup cottage cheese
1 chipotle chili canned in adobo (look in the international section)
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of cumin
Kosher salt to taste
3 cups freshly shredded cheese (a mixture of Monterey jack and cheddar)
4-6 pieces of cooked bacon, chopped into small pieces

Cook 4-6 pieces of bacon in a 400 degree oven  for 15 minutes (or until crispy).  Drain on paper towels.  When done, change the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch cast iron pan or a 9x9 baking pan.  Add 2 cups of uncooked elbow pasta to a large bowl.  In a blender, mix 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 cups whole milk, 1 chipotle chili, 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder, 2 minced garlic cloves, pinch of cumin, and kosher salt until smooth.  Add milk mixture to the bowl with dried pasta.  Stir until mixed completely and then stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese (a mixture of Monterey jack and cheddar).  Pour the soupy mixture into the greased pan and cover tightly with foil.  Bake for 30 minutes and then remove from the oven.  Stir in half the bacon (it will still be soupy) and then top with the remainder of the bacon and the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese.  Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until the top is bubbling and browned.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Five Things

I decided to take a page from Cupcakes and Cashmere and do a Friday post on five things I am currently smitten with lately. The first of which is Satsuma mandarins.  I've sung their praises before, and this citrus season I'm in full obsession-mode again.  I usually bring two to work and snack on them during the day.  Easy to peel, no seeds, and more flavor than a tangerine.  Addictive!

I can't seem to get enough butternut squash lately.  Natalie made an amazing butternut squash risotto last weekend, and I have high hopes of making a chipotle butternut squash soup soon.

I finally got around to getting a second enameled cast iron pan at Williams Sonoma last weekend.  I haven't broken it in yet, but I have a feeling it will get plenty of use in the next fifty years or so.

My dad has been unearthing old photos and emailing them to me recently.  I can't say it's a trip down memory lane because I was never there.  It's amazing how similar you look to your parents when you see them at your own age.  Here's my mom at a cart buying garlic in Italy back in the 70s.  A farmers market of sorts.  Like mother like daughter.

And how could I end a list of my five favorite things without including Harper girl?  She's just as cute as ever, but you knew that already.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Green Chili

You can officially consider yourself a fan of spicy food when the checkout person at the grocery store stares in marvel at the amount of peppers you are purchasing.  "I think you are buying every kind of pepper we have!  Oh wait no, habaneros."  This made me want to go back and get a habanero to show him I can take it, but orange doesn't go well with green chili.  "What are you making?" he asked in astonishment.  I proudly responded that I was making green chili, and then I went home and made him proud.

This recipe calls for 6-8 of the big poblanos, and at least 4 jalapeños and serrano chiles.  This is serious business, folks.  A nice dollop of sour cream can cool down the spice a bit, but even without it, the chili isn't overpowering if you like spice.

The recipe came from a Texan who abhors beans in chili, so this just has meat and a nice spicy sauce.  The tomatillos were a new experience for me.  Surprisingly the outer sleeve leaves a sticky residue on the outside of the fruitable (fruit-vegetable thingie).  The seeds are held in much more firmly than tomatoes, and when you cook them down for an hour, the tomatillos completely disappear into the chili.  All that's left are their tell-tale seeds.  

There is a lot of pork in the recipe, and it is important to try to cut off the big pieces of fat from this fatty cut.  I mean it is pork butt afterall.  I'm surprised there is any meat at all.  If you don't cut off the big hunks of fat you will taste them in the meat, and not in a good way.  I'm sure this recipe could also be made with chicken or beef if you are so inclined.  

Like all good chilis, this one is even better the next day.  And if there are only two of you, I promise you will have leftovers - despite your best attempts to polish off this delicious green chili.  Also, keep in mind this recipe takes 3 hours total cooking time or so - don't start it at 6PM like I did!

Green Chili

4 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 1-inch cubes, trimmed of large pieces of fat
1 lb poblano peppers (6-8)
4-10 serrano peppers, stem removed and sliced into rounds
4-10 jalapeño peppers, stem removed and sliced into rounds
1 lb tomatillos (6-8), cut into 1/8ths
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons cumin, divided
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, divided
2/3 cup cilantro, divided
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup dark beer
1/4 cup masa harina (found in a latin market or in the international aisle)
Salt to taste
Peanut or olive oil for frying

Roast the poblanos on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven until blackened.  This will take 30 minutes or so, perhaps longer.  Make sure you wait until they are blackened or the skin will not come off.  Once blackened, place in a paper or ziplock bag for 20 minutes and then remove the skins.  Dice the peeled poblanos.

In a large soup pot cook the onions over medium heat in peanut oil or olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes.  Add in 6 minced cloves of garlic and cook for another minute.  Turn off the burner and let it sit.  

In a large pan or pot (I suggest a pot b/c of the spattering), brown your pieces of pork in peanut or olive oil.  Work in batches so the pieces brown and don't steam.  No need to fully cook the meat, just brown it.  When browned, throw the pieces into the soup pot with the onions. 

Once the pork is done, add 2 cups chicken broth and 1 cup beer to the soup pot.  Throw in the cut tomatillos, 3 tablespoons cumin, 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano, and half of your sliced jalapeños and serranos.  Heat the mixture until it boils and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour (uncovered), stirring occasionally.

After an hour add 3 more tablespoons of cumin, 1 more tablespoon of Mexican oregano, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, and salt to taste.  Cook for another 30 minutes on low, uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Use a ladle or spoon to remove the fat/grease from the top of the chili.  Then add your chopped poblanos, the second half of your jalapeños and serranos, and 1/3 cup cilantro.  Cook for another 30-45 minutes.  

Add 1/4 cup masa harina to a small bowl.  Add some of the chili liquid and mix until a thick paste forms.  Stir into the chili and mix until there are no lumps.  Cook for another 15 minutes and serve with sour cream and tortilla chips.   

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Harper's First Trip to Fort Funston

Harper took her first (of what we can assume will be many) trips to Fort Funston this weekend.  She looks eager even though she doesn't know what fun is in store.

Hi, Mom!

The famous San Francisco fog started rolling in as soon as we got there, luckily Harper didn't mind.

I'm pretty sure her eyes are fixed at some dogs romping off in the distance.  All those off-leash dogs off in the distance.  Sorry, Harper, you can't go off leash yet!

This is my favorite Harper picture in weeks.  We weren't feeding her, so I can only assume she's snacking on sand.

Macy, an 8-month old doodle had a great time teaching Harper how to play.  Even though Macy was much bigger than Harper, she was playing so nicely with her.  They had a great time.

Wet sand...huh?

I couldn't get Harper to focus on me for even a second once we got to the beach.  Too much to look at!

We took her out to the small waves at one point and once the water came she just stood there in shock.  We forgot she hasn't learned yet that if you run away from the waves you can actually avoid getting wet.  Her attempts to do that in the bathtub have been fruitless so she decided to just give in.  

We can't wait to take her back!

Friday, January 14, 2011


Wanted: the sharped toothed pup who had the audacity to chew up my book.  More specifically, I'm looking for the puppy who devoured the box that this book came in and this book when the dog walker left it downstairs with her.

Ironically, this is a book entitled The Art of Raising a Puppy.  I think it's safe to say today was further evidence I need to read this book.

The suspect is still at large.  Please call if you know of her whereabouts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Gifts that Keep on Giving

No, I'm not talking about Harper as the gift that keeps on giving.  I mean, she is.  She will provide us joy, companionship, and plenty of poop for hopefully years to come.

What I am referring to, however, is the new additions to my cookbook library.  These gifts will be used until the bindings are breaking and the pages are stained and creased.  And in all honesty, these gifts will especially keep on giving to my dear husband.  He should start stocking his wishlists with cooking gifts for me, honestly.

Baked Explorations was high on my wish list, and luckily my mom/Santa reads my blog.

I need to make speculaas this weekend or else my life will not be complete.

Ready for Dessert will probably make me gain two pant sizes, but that's okay since it will be worth it.  This summer I really want to make the mixed berry pie.  Is it berry season yet?

John's mom got me Best of the Best, a cookbook by Food & Wine that picked out the best recipes from the best cookbooks of the year.  The above recipe for roasted tomato soup caught my eye.  Not only is this cookbook concept a dream come true for home cooks, but it also lets you have a cookbook with all types of cuisines and foods in one book.  Not many have Italian, Latin, and Grilling all in one.

Ah, my beloved Peter Reinhart.  It's amazing that this is the first book of his that I actually own.  I've gotten almost all of his work from the library at some point, so it's about time I finally contributed to his livelihood.  Maybe his kids need braces or something.  Mine will need artisan breads every day, so we're even.

Monday, January 10, 2011

If He's a Good Boy

While John got me one big present for Christmas, I got him lots of smaller gifts, like this one.  Of all his gifts, I think this was his favorite.  How could it not be?  An adorable ornament that's the spitting image of Maddie girl.

If you would like to surprise a pet lover in your life, order an ornament next year from Clay Greys on etsy.  I sent the artist a few pictures of Maddie and she created this gem.

Looks just like her!  Next year if he's a good boy John might get a Harper ornament.  Santa will be watching.  
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