28 April 2010

Shrimp with Mushrooms and Chiles

I may be having a bit of trouble adjusting back from our vacation- you mean I have to work and commute and run and blog again? I can't while away my time in an outdoor cafe? Blasphemy! It doesn't help that Paul and I moved in together, and all our possessions have been in boxes for weeks as we sort out what to do with 2 couches, 2 dining tables, and 2 of every blender, mandoline, and zester ever made. One of us may be a pack rat, I'm not saying who.

But don't worry, I wouldn't miss out on a chance to tell you about our excellent trip to Oaxaca, where we went to cooking school and learned about chiles and ate in the markets and in superb restaurants. Paul is already scheming to go back to some of the restaurants, and I'm busy trying to apply all the things I learned in our home kitchen.

We chose to go to Oaxaca, the southernmost state in Mexico, because it's known for its unique regional cuisine, much of which carries on ancient native traditions. Oaxaca is famous for its moles, the complex sauces which come in black, red, green, yellow and many other varieties. The famous mole negro is made from chiles, almonds, sesame, raisins, garlic, onion, spices, and chocolate. We loved the food culture in Oaxaca, the freshly ground chocolate factories, the central market with at least 100 varieties of chile, the ice cream and the fried grasshoppers. But we also loved Oaxaca because it's just a pleasant little town, with a big central square, and a handful of nice museums and shops, a town that's walkable and safe even late at night.

We took cooking lesons with the wonderfu Jose Louis at el Teatro Culinario, where they teach both classic and contemporary Oaxacan cuisine. I really enjoyed the contemporary class, where we learned to use traditional ingredients like chiles, avocado leaves, yerba santa, epazote and quesillo Oaxaca in contemporary dishes which I could easily stir up at home. The Teatro Culinario is also a spectacular restaurant, which serves 6 or 8 course meals of delicately presented contemporary Mexican food like nopales salad with fig paste, hibiscus sauce, requeson and squash blossom quenelle and balsamic reduction.

We're still lusting after the lamb chops in red sauce we had at Casa Oaxaca, and the cajeta ice cream, and most of all, the ability to forget about email and cell phones and while away our afternoons in a shady sidewalk cafe.

Shrimp with Mushrooms and Chiles

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lb mixed mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 each pulla, guajilla, and pasilla chiles
1 tablespoon each diced epazote, yerba santa, and cilantro
about a cup of water
salt, pepper, olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Using scissors, slice the dried chiles very thinly into a bowl. Let the chile seeds fall into the bowl as well, set aside.
2. Heat some olive oil in a saute pan. Add the onion and garlic and saute until tender and translucent. Add the mushrooms, saute them for a minute, the add the chiles, chile seeds, herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Let this cook, stirring for about ten minutes, until the mushrooms are soft and reduced.
3. Meanwhile heat some olive oil in another saute pan (make sure it is oven-proof). Add the shrimp and saute over high heat until pink on the outside, but not fully curled up or done. Add enough water to fill the base of the pan, sprinkle with salt, place a lid on the pan and place in the oven to steam. Bake for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp are very plump and cooked through, but not overdone.
4. Spoon mushrooms on a plate, spoon shrimp over. Serve over pasta or as desired.

05 April 2010

Chile Rellenos Strata

I like spicy as much as the next person, a fiery Thai curry or a smoky warm chili, but I have to admit, I'm intimidated by cooking with chiles. The unpredicatability of the heat, the need to wear gloves, those stray little seeds, I'll pass thanks. I know my intimidation comes from lack of knowledge, and that I need to learn more in order to get comfortable cooking with chiles. Also, to remember not to touch my eye after chopping poblanos, because that was pretty painful.

So, while I'm on vacation (yes, in Mexico, learning about chiles), I'll bring you this item from my archives, a chile rellenos strata. This is a cross between an Italian savory bread-pudding dish of strata, infused with the classic flavors of chile rellenos: poblano chiles, cheese, and salsa verde. It's a perfect breakfast dish since it can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, and would also be a great side dish to bring to a potluck or barbeque. Do you cook with chiles? What are the varieties you enjoy? Do you live in the northeast U.S. and have trouble even finding interesting chile varieties in the store? Let me know in the comments.

Chile Rellenos Strata
Adapted from chow.com. If you have the extra time, make a fresh tomatillo salsa to go into the dish and then serve the remainder alongside.

4 poblano chiles (I couldn't find any, so I substituted jalepenos)
8 cups stale bread, cubed
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 cup low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt
1 cup grated white cheese like Monterey Jack
optional: an additional 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
1/2 cup salsa verde
1/4 cup minced cilantro
6 eggs
2 cups milk (whole or 2%)
1 tablespoon salt

1. Over the flame of a gas stove, or under the broiler, toast the chiles using tongs until blackened on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for 10 minutes. When the chiles are cool enough to handle, remove to skins, remove to seeds and interior veins, then dice them.
2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place the bread, chiles, red onion, cilantro, and salsa verde in a bowl and toss to combine. Add the yogurt/sour cream and cheese and toss around until coated.
3. Spread the bread in a greased baking dish (9x13 or a round souffle dish). Whisk together the eggs, milk, and salt and pour over the bread mixture. If you want you can refrigerate this mixture overnight, let come to room temperature before baking.
4. Bake for 50-55 minutes, until puffed an golden brown and just barely set in the center. Serve warm, with sour cream and salsa.

01 April 2010

Fromage Fort and a Vacation

Last week we had a party- I cooked for days ahead of time, and you know what? I didn't take a single picture. What a terrible food blogger. Some of the things were things I've shared here before, the muhammara, the black lacquer chicken, my favorite quinoa salad. But that wonderful rhubarb custard pie, the cheese salad? Undocumented, lost to the wilds of imagination.

Add to that blogging offense, and we're headed out of town for a couple weeks on vacation (woohoo!). We're planning on taking some cooking lessons on our trip, and I hope to come back with much to report. But in the meantime, I'm culling through the 3,299 photos on my laptop (and I wondered why it runs slow sometimes), trying to find those items lost in the archives. Hopefully they'll keep you entertained in my absence.

First up we have an easy appetizer and a great way to use up those random tidbits of leftover cheese. Fromage fort, or strong cheese, is simply a mixture of cheeses blended with wine, garlic, and seasonings. What's so nice about fromage fort is that it can work with almost any combination of cheeses, even strong cheeses like blue cheese or epoisses. It helps to include a soft cheese, to bind the mixture together, but really anything goes. In this particular mixture I used provolone, parmiggiano reggiano, and camembert. The mixture is quite good in it's plainest form, but you can also add in any herbs (chives are great) or spices like fennel or turmeric.

Fromage Fort
The cheese can be served as a dip, or spread on toasts and run under the broiler until bubbly and fragrant.

1/2 lb cheese in pieces
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper
chives (optional)

Pulse in a blender until smooth.