What I Been Craving

I was reading the NY Times food section a week or so ago. An article caught my eye about the author’s search for a kind of authentic Mexican street food called chiliques he tasted south of the border while on vacation. His quest took him through the five boroughs of New York City looking for that exact taste in bodegas, taco stands, and latin restaurants.

Long story short, he finally found a perfect match and wrote, with loving emotion, of how it felt, finally, to have that taste and fond vacation memories whenever the mood strikes. 

I should be so lucky as him. Although I did whip up a pretty good fake version of his Mexican breakfast favorite of my own tonight for dinner, what I truly want in this food centric Pacific Northwest town called Portland is true New Mexican food. Chiles from Hatch made into rich green and red sauces smothering fresh corn tortillas layered with moist chicken or even some generic American cheddar and sideled up to a nice pile of pinto beans and traditional Spanish rice. And, for a truly New Mexican touch, the whole thing needs to be topped with a runny fried egg.

There is one restaurant that comes close to making it just like Daniel’s momma,in this town, just like some of the places the author of the NY Times article found in the NYC, but none that really measure up to what I grew to love and even become addicted to in my adopted southwest home. 

For the last two summers I have tried to grow my own chiles, but the climate does not provide enough of that dry heat that brings out the true fire of the chiles grown in Hatch. I have green chile powders and red chile powders, all from New Mexico, that help in creating a decent fake, but nothing around here matches the true thing. A thing that if you have the bug, is nearly unbearable to live without.

I work with a guy who lived fairly close to me in Albuquerque’s famous south valley. The valley was not really famous for much except some of the best home cooked chile based foods and sauces in the entire state. My buddy and I wax poetic on a daily basis about how wonderful it would be to run to Frontier, or Los Cuates, or El Patio, or even Sadie’s in the otherworldly north valley for enchilada plates and sopapillas (fluffy dough  fresh out of the deep fryer and drenched in honey) for lunch instead of pizza or something asian.

Alas, the one place putting out good but not great New Mexican cuisine is only open at night and so far south of where we work as to be impossible to get to even if it was open in the day time. The guy in New York had five boroughs to search for perfection. I only have one town of 500,000 and I know I only have one place to sort of get what I want. My basic complaint about our New Mexican restaurant is the lack of heat in the chile. Gringos just can’t handle it so they make it to appeal to the masses….. Sucks for me and my friend Daniel. Eating there is like eating a second class burger or steak, or anything else. It will fill the belly and sort of quells the true hunger inside. 

So, unlike the guy in the NYC, I will, to quench our thirst for anything New Mexican, pull the last chiles out of the freezer on Sunday and whip up a batch of Green Chile Chicken Stew, with the addition of hotter than hades green chile powder, and use my last, straight from Albuquerque, Sopapilla mix to whip up something we can eat on Monday that might just satisfy our hunger for our kind of food. it’s hard to be so far from home and so far from the best cold cure in the world. 

I love living in this city different and I love eating all the wonderful things you can find in every neighborhood. I just want to be able to get enchiladas as easy as I can get a plate of duck fries or a bowl of steaming, fat mussels without making a mess in my own kitchen.

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When Culinary Dreams Take A Back Seat To Cancer

I paid my dues in professional kitchens, working my way up the food chain from back kitchen prep, to line cook, to lead, to sous chef, and then a shot at running the show in one of this city’s oldest restaurants. And, after an injury ended my professional kitchen career I found myself wondering what an old chef did with the rest of her life.

About the time I thought I might have to get a real job that did not involve food at all, my mother passed away and left me enough money to start over and to create the kind of career that would feed my love for all things culinary and for something a little less physically taxing on my older, but still usable body. Unlike the Tony Bourdains’ and Mario Batallis’ of the world, I knew that television was not the ticket out of my culinary doldrums. I just ain’t traditionally “purtty” enough for the small screen and it is not my cup of tea anyway. But, I did have journalistic chops honed at several print publications in the time of dinosaurs, or more precisely, before the computer put most newspapers out of business.

In a bold and what some would consider foolish decision, I convinced my partner to quit her job. We bought a lovely used RV we named Ruby Sunshine and set off on a 10,000 mile, five month culinary adventure to find, eat, and learn about the authentic cuisines of the southern regions of these United States. My grand plan was to sharpen my old writing and photography skills and to put finger to keyboard or finger on the shutter and capture everything we saw, ate, touched, and created. I went to cooking schools all across the south to learn how to prepare dishes with a long and storied histories. I had hopes of teaching regional cooking classes and writing about food and travel for the rest of my days. It would have worked out, except for the beast that came knocking at my door.

Towards the end of our trip, we were in Washington, DC I think, a small mole on my back started to grow. Slowly at first. By December of 2008 I knew something was really wrong, and I was right. Stage 2A Melanoma that had spread to the lymphnodes in my right hip area. After two surgeries to remove any suspect tissue and enough lymphnodes to cause sometimes painful lymphadema, my focus changed. Instead of travelling more and cooking more and writing more, and teaching I have been going to doctors more, and doing chemo treatments and taking harsh-assed horse pills and letting them stuff me in a tube to see if my cancer has moved inward and made things worse. In simple terms, I’ve lost my chops to my fight to survive. Culinary pursuits, for the last three years, have been on the farthest back burner of the stove that is my life.

Sad really. I still want to do all the things I planned on back in 08. Unfortunately, the money is gone from paying my own way along this road that has had so many twists and turns. My mind has been occupied with so many things, and a mundane job has taken my days of growing food and cooking from me. It is spring 2012 and I am itching to get back into the garden and into the kitchen. I am tired of not being able to do the things I really love, except in very small doses. But, with even small doses, I feel my chops coming back and my love of all things food related growing again. I am cooking for friends, developing new dishes, and, with this post, putting finger to keyboard and trying, in spite of my disease, to keep on writing and living and being grateful for every day above ground. I hope to teach some this summer when the tomatoes are green and ready to be coated in egg and cornmeal and fried just like Anne taught me when I was living the dream in New Orleans back in the summer of Twenty Oh Eight.

I might not yet have the career I want, but today I do have a belly full of my very amazing tomato and basil pasta sauce and even that will do… for now.

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Two For Sunday

Creamy Cajun Smoked Shrimp salad is done. Salty, toffee, pecan, semi sweet chocolate brownies cooling on the counter.

It feels good to get my culinary on today!

Cajun Smokey Shrimp Salad

2 doz. medium Cajun boiled shrimp

2 stalks celery

1/2 cup mayo

1/4 red onion

2 Tbs freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice

1 tsp celery salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp liquid smoke

Cut shrimp, onion, and celery to desired size. I like my pieces about the size of the nail on my little finger.

Put first three ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Add mayo, lemon juice, celery salt, pepper, and liquid smoke. Mix throughly and cool in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.

How you serve it is up to you, but I think a butter lettuce cup, over mixed greens, or in the hollow of an avocado are good choices. It can also become a po’ boy slathered on a good, crusty roll.

Makes enough for five or six servings.

Fudgy Chocolate and Salty Toffee Brownies

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/8 cup each of chopped pecans, semi sweet chips, and toffee chips

6 Tsp Dutch processed cocoa

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp course Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350

Melt butter, add sugar and mix throughly. Add eggs, vanilla and salt, incorporate all. Add flour and cocoa and mix until completely smooth. Fold in chips, nuts and toffee. Spread evenly in an 8×8 square pan and bake for EXACTLY 25 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

 

As my favorite chef says, “Happy Cooking”. (Jacques Pepin)

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When You Have Cancer Healthy Eating Matters

With that in mind, yesterday I cooked black beans with onions, garlic, a dried red chile pod and bit of bacon fat. I whipped up a chopped salsa fresca with all standards, sans the jalapeno and used New Mexico red chile powder instead. Rice goes on the stove in a minute and there will be black bean burritos for dinner tonight…… It is widely believed that beans and rice are the prefect carb/protein combo and good for you.

This morning, I saw my copy of The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins that has been sitting on my bookshelf since before cancer came to visit. I swore up and down that I would get to it, get to the new way of eating that might help me drop pounds, add healthy vitamins to my blood, and help with my overall feeling of well being.

Two years into my fight with cancer, I finally grabbed it off the shelf, blew off the dust and cracked the cover and started to read. I am going to try a Julia and Julie experiment and see if I can follow the diet and cook at least three recipes a week, while trying to work and being on chemo at the same time. I plan on writing about and sharing it will all of you, and the folks who follow the livestrong stream on Facebook.ImageImageImageImage

I know it will be a challenge, but I plan on carrying the book with me to work, and to leave it on my bedside table and make it, not some movie, my bedtime story.

Doubt there will be a book deal in this for me, but it really is not what I am going for. What I want is less fat on my body and more healthy food in my belly and hopefully less symptoms from my new style of chemo. 

Stay tuned….. First recipe is coming up tomorrow.

 

 

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Today’s Menu

On today’s lunch menu: Garlic, Garam Masala and Tandori spice boiled prawns, and some cooked in bacon grease and cracked black pepper. With said crustaceans there was crispy fried black forest bacon, roasted pecans, dried cherries, extra large croutons, mixed field greens and spinach. Dressing for this amazing salad was a mix of mayo, cherry balsamic vinegar, Meyer lemon juice, a bit of maple syrup and olive oil. Want the recipes, just ask!

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Fresh, French Influenced Cuisine

My pal Kate and I checked out Little Bird in Downtown Portland for lunch yesterday. Gooey melt in you mouth pork belly with sausage and white beans…. plump, buttery, done to perfection mussels in a rich tomato broth…. tenderly roasted brussels sprouts with onions and garlic….. amazing chocolate pot au cream and tiny glazed doughnuts….. and Cotes du Rhone to wash it all down. AMAZING! 

Great service and an atmosphere that made me think, for a moment, that right outside the door was Notre Dame and the Pont Neuf….. 

Get there…. lunch for two ain’t exactly cheap, but won’t break the bank either!

 
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Quiche Success

Success feels good. No matter what it is you  are trying to perfect. For me, my recent attempts to create a potato crush quiche that both looks and tastes good has been a challenge. Last go round, the filling was stellar but the crust stuck to the pan and wasn’t at all what I had hoped for in the pretty department. This time, I used more oil on the slices of russet potatoes and didn’t try to form the shape I wanted by placing another oiled pan on top of the slices while I pre baked the shell. This time he shell was perfect and came out of the oven, after about 15 minutes, ready for what I choose to call my Cajun filling; a mix of country sausage, caramelized onions, garlic, fresh spinach, and paprika dusted chunks of gulf shrimp. Oh, and what’s a quiche without the eggs.

For those with gluten issues, this is an alternative that works. For the rest of us, it’s just a change up from a standard pie crust. Try this recipe, and then expand on it. Add your favorite ingredients. Mix it up…. call your friends, and get ready for a party in your mouth!

Potato Crush Quiche

Six eggs, well beaten

1 Lg. Russet Potato, washed but not peeled

1/2 pound ground country style sausage

1 dozen medium shrimp peeled, deveined, and cut into chunks

1/2 of a large white onion, thinly sliced

2 cups fresh spinach leaves

2 Tbs canola oil (one for the pan, one for the potato slices)

1 Tbs chopped garlic

1 tsp bacon grease or oil for frying

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp paprika

Optional Ingredient: 1/2 tsp cajun seasoning (if you want some heat)

Remember, all the ingredients in this recipe, besides the eggs and spinach, need to be cooked to a semi done state before assembly. Half way works. The time in the oven will finish everything off nicely.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Start by slicing the potato into long strips on a mandolin. You want them to be almost an eighth of an inch thick. I take the slices, unwashed, and coat them in oil. Next, place enough of them in the bottom of a WELL OILED pie pan to pretty much cover the bottom. I take the rest of the slices and put them, length wise, around the edge.

Put the pan in the oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes. You want the slices to be pliable, but not fall apart soft. Once you reach this stage, pull the pan from the oven and cool it for 5 to 6 minutes. This gives the crust a chance to set.

Layering of the ingredients is up to you… but this is how I did it.

First layer: the onions and garlic that had been cooked in a bit of bacon grease until they were translucent had a tiny bit of golden coloring.

Second layer: the sausage, cooked until it was no longer raw, but not browned. Drain off the grease before adding it to the shell.

Third layer: the spinach leaves, uncooked.

Fourth layer: the shrimp, gently tossed with the paprika, salt, and pepper (here is where you would add the Cajun seasoning too) and then cooked over medium heat for about a minute and drained of their liquid.

Finally, pour the egg mixture over the top and bake at 425 until set. It takes about twenty minutes.

Let it cool for three or four minutes then cut and serve. Makes four dinner size servings, and eight small portions.

I like this dish served with a salad that includes apples, sunflower seeds, carrots, and greens. Drizzle it with a simple Dijon Vinaigrette.

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