August 24, 2009

Fresh Radish & Cucumber Ensalada or A Note about Onions

A's friend and co-worker S was taking a little trip to the land of cheese and she was gracious enough to unload some of her CSA veggies to us before she left as she wouldn't be able to use them. She was describing what she had to give us before and I already started envisioning a radish and cucumber salad dressed with lime and vinegar. Of course, jalapeño and cilantro would want to be friends as well. And so, we joined all in a lovely embrace of tart salad goodness. You will need to have all of the ingredients above and any other fresh veggies you might have on hand that you might need to get rid of. I used half of the cucumber because I didn't have very many radishes to balance it out. I also love a pretty cucumber, so I peeled some stripes into it. Also, I was making it a little more palatable for my lovely partner, she's usually adverse to cucumbers (unless they're pickled) so this falls into the general category of feed it to her even if she acts like she doesn't like it. I thought (rationally of course) that peeling off the peel might make her mistake them for something else.

You should slice it as thin as possible. Lucky for me I have a nice sharp knife exactly for these purposes. However, one of those slice-your-finger off julianne thingies would have done a really good job with this. I think the thin slices really made the salad.

Give a little piece to your kitchen assistant. She's so patient in her favorite spot in the kitchen. She also wants to tell you that one time A accidentally dyed her favorite rug robin egg blue. Lucky for her she bleached it and it came back to it's original color. Otherwise someone might be mad... me or Sandie, you can guess.

Give your radishes the same treatment - minus the pretty stripe peel (unless you want peppermint candy-inspired radishes).

Add into a bowl and keeping going down your list of ingredients, slicing and dicing. Next up, purple onion.

I'm trying to like onions more. They are such an important ingredient in Mexican and Mexican American cooking. But here's the deal, my mama does not (and I don't believe ever has) love onions. So this means I have to try extra hard to begin to like them. I like them cooked and in most foods, I think they smell lovely sauteing, especially like when I make them in my spinach quiche (which is what I paired this wonderful salad with tonight). But what onions really remind me of is my mama - as her extreme hatred of them is pretty much scarred as a notch in my brain. This distaste for onions was so bad that she singlehandedly changed her own mother's cooking to sin cebollas, siempre. She also somehow convinced my white grandma to make her little small portions of onion free dishes (of which I can't seem to remember currently) but this was no small feat, dare I say this means white grandma actually might love my brown mama. On top of this, I was forced to eat the small non-onion dishes then because when you're little and your mama doesn't like something, you don't like it either, it's a standard practice, just ask anybody.

Anyways, back to onions. Onions always make me cry. Paradoxically, this makes me kind of happy. Not because the release of endorphins associated with crying feels good, but because of the wonderful book Buried Onions by Gary Soto. The main character, Eddie, is constantly talking about how he smells onions buried under Fresno and that the oppressive smells of the onion actually make the inhabitants of the city cry (whether they know it or not). Not to give away the whole point of the book, but buried onions become a metaphor for so many things in the lives of these residents' and the only one who can really see it is Eddie.

Because of this book and because onions always make me cry, the onions also make me contemplative as I'm crying over them in my small kitchen. I am reminded of millions of families who have and continue to toil in the fields to pull up onions. I've never pulled an onion out of the ground but I can imagine, in the heat of dark soil, they probably do stink, and perhaps being in a field full of lots of burning onions in the brown dirt might inspire some tears. I don't mean to paint a picture of farmworkers as pitifully crying in fields as they pull up whatever-season-produce, because farmworkers are full of dignity in the fields in which they work, and this is noble work that not many think about. As far as I know none of my familia have worked in the produce fields. However, my great-grandfather on my mother's dad side laid down the railroad from Missouri to Colorado via Kansas and Nebraska. My mother's mother picked cotton in the South with her familia when she was young on many of her trips across the US/Mexico border. So I know the ways that hard labor shapes a person, I know the pain because it lives through me in my historical memory. In this vein, and in thinking about Soto's book I often remember these memories and feel them vividly when I am cutting an onion and crying, thinking about the ways that my own relationship to the onion that has landed on my cutting board, knowing it was touched by a farmworker's hand, before it came into my own. The onion to me holds a lot of power, it can make you cry and then you have to examine why you're crying - because while it does hurt a bit to have onion fumes enter into your nasal canal and water your eyes, it also becomes the avenue for you to explore some deep, repressed feelings if you let it. What I can assure you is that the next time you peel or cut an onion you're not going to forget to ask yourself why you're crying.

After you've finished crying because of your onion, or for whatever reasons you might be crying as long as you've contemplated why it might be that you did, de-stem some cilantro for the rest of your salad.

Next if you're feeling like some spice in your life, grab a jalapeño - I'm often amazed at how many of these I manage to have in my house at any given time. See this little piece of the end, that's how much I put in my salad, it added a bit of a kick, but it wasn't making my eyes water like that sliver of onion did. I love jalapeños but they just don't make me cry like my onions do.

I had a chance to use my jalapeño corer again today! I just scooped out was was in the middle of that little piece I chopped off and then finely, finely diced my pepper. Since I was just throwing it in with the other ingredients and I didn't want A or myself to choke on a chunk of jalapeño I decided finely dicing was the way to go.

Doesn't it look pretty and yummy? I totally snuck a taste (can't trust kitchen assistant with that job) to see how hot my pepper was. I wasn't disappointed. Lastly it's time to dress your salad. My abuela makes this delicious cabbage and carrot salad that is literally dressed with vinegar, salt and pepper and it is almost my favorite salad of all time. It might also be because she painstakingly shreds every inch of that salad out by hand and that gives it some extra love that cannot be replicated by shredding that takes place in the Cuisinart 5000 power food processor and definitely not with the pre-shredded cabbage and carrots you can get in the "I'm too lazy but bourge enough to buy pre-cut vegetables" area of the produce fridge at the grocery store. Anyways, the point of this rant is that I was saying, a) you always have to make it with love or else why bother and b) my abuela makes this delicious salad with vinegar as the dressing and I thought, what better way to bring my salad up to a delicious state but to dress them with some aged, white wine vinegar. I would've used just some plain vinegar but I didn't have any in my cabinets! The horror! Oh, and don't forget to squeeze half a lime in there (or to taste), my lime was small, I would actually say probably one tablespoon would do.

The white wine vinegar gave it the tart and sweet finish I was looking for. There were a lot of delicious tastes all mingling into one tasty accompaniment to my quiche (see who says I can't cook French food) that was serving as our main course. A even ate all of her salad! Including all of her cucumbers. What a nice little hot summer meal. It was light and refreshing all around. Fresh vegetables, check. Vinegar, check. A little creativity, check. You can do it too! I just know you can!

Sorry again for the bad pictures, my kitchen does not have very good lighting and I'm usually like an ogre in there trying to take pretty photos - as in my hunking shadow tends to block out what little light I do actually have in there. You can't tell here but I cracked some freshly ground pepper over mine and it was very tasty. I do like how I have the close up view of the salad here, but again, everything looks so dark and sad - which is unfortunate since it was quite a cheery dinner minus the tears I had to shed when slicing that onion, but one might say, I'm learning to love those tears.

PS: Has anyone seen Princess Protection Program starring the adorable Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez? I'm watching it now with A and having conflicted thoughts on it... more on this later I suppose.

August 19, 2009

Chicana Cous Cous Salad & Green Chile Turkey Burgers

Printable Recipes:

Well, I just got done with my weekly search for Assistant Professor positions and let me just tell you, procrastinating with my food blog is not going to take away from my chances on that slim job market. The good news is (see I'm all about positivity) while there might not be any jobs at this very moment you always gotta eat. This week is a special two-for-one kinda of deal, where I'm sharing both the side dish salad and main dish for a complete meal idea. If you have 16 hours to kill go for this deliciously tasty meal. Just kidding, it only took a couple hours, but you will thank me when you make the delicious cilantro lime vinegarette from scratch to adorn your alliterative Chicana Cous Cous (CCC) salad. So sit back and enjoy the meal that A said was one of the best she's had in a very long time!

The CCC Salad is an inspired recipe for a Women of Color potluck BBQ I will be attending on Friday. I wanted to try it out before I actually fed it to others. I had originally signed up to bring a pasta salad, but then it was suggested that we bring something from our culture. So, I decided, I would make a new recipe using my favorite Mexican/Southwest flavors and make a pasta salad out of it. A's response was, "but I hate cous cous." Well, even she managed to choke this down.

Let's start with the CCC salad. Once you assemble all of your ingredients (as with most salads) it's a quick and easy side dish, or could even stand in as a side dish. The amount of spice in the salad makes a refreshing cool salad sophisticated and a great accompaniment to any bbq type meal. So, to make your dressing. Take one quarter cup of cilantro, de-stem it and throw it into your food processor. If you don't have a food processor, finely chopping your cilantro should work just fine. It's all going to be mixed into your salad eventually and it's really a matter of what consistency you want it to be in there.

Chop/Pulse it until it looks like this! Take a whiff it will smell delicious. I must admit when I was younger I was kind of not a fan of cilantro. Now I'm pretty sure it runs through my veins. Just wait until I have a yard garden in the not so far off future (once I get that tenure-track job baby!) it will have cilantro coming out of it's ears.

Then take your jalapeño pepper (you can use whatever hot pepper you prefer here or omit it if you don't like spicy food) and de-core it if you happen to have the very fancy jalapeño corer like I do. It works like a dream! I chose jalapeño because it's a classic for Mexican food no? And it's one of my favorite peppers. I think this also runs through my veins.

Add it to your food processor and let it rip. I added the bottom half of my jalapeño that was pretty much de-seeded. Don't however make the mistake I did of whiffing it. I know it's tempting but if you want to threaten your entire nervous system into almost shutting down, go ahead. However, if you don't want to choke on the inhalation of jalapeño fumes and learn your lesson the hard way, be my guest. I assure you that it will be hot as you have not really tempered it beside de-seeding it.

The good news is after all this chopping all you have to do is add in the rest of your ingredients into your dressing and blend. I added in one half of freshly squeezed lime before blending. I love using that top hole on my food processor while your foods are chopping and blending pour in 1/8 cup of white sugar, 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup white wine vinegar and you will have an absolutely sweet, light, refreshing and spicy vinegarette that will almost not make it onto your salad because you'll want to keep tasting it.

Next make up your cous cous, even if your partner tells you she doesn't like it. You can of course do this part first and then make up your dressing, but if you're spreading out your work on your meal you can make up your vinegarette and chill it until you're ready to dress your salad. This is one bag of cous cous that yielded 5 cups of cooked cous cous (try saying that five times fast). After cooking, let your cous cous come down to room temperature before you begin adding in your other ingredients. I made my cous cous while writing my dissertation (surprised?). I like cous cous because in honesty it takes the least amount of time to cook, as once you put it in boiling water you immediately leave it and let it fluff up on its own. I appreciate food that can cook independently of me.

Chop up your veggies. I made the mistake of only putting in half of my green bell pepper and only half of my container of cherry tomatoes, but I would highly suggest the more the veggies the better. A also mentioned that avocado wouldn't hurt the salad. If you do want to add that in I would suggest getting an avocado that is not fully ripened so that it holds its shape when you toss it in and doesn't make your salad a goopy mess. Otherwise you might end up with cous cous guacamole and I'm not sure that is really what you want to happen.

Feed your kitchen assistant some veggies. She'll like it. Notice that pink tongue. Adorable. I swear she should be in modeling.

Look at how beautifully this salad is coming along! Although, to be honest I wasn't able to find the freshest produce at my favorite Cub Foods on Lake Street. Oh well, maybe next time. It tasted fine, it just didn't look as vibrant. Again, you all just wait until I'm a professor then I'll have my own backyard and my own garden.

Now, for the key ingredient - fresh corn, and thank goodness it is corn season! I added in corn cut from two freshly cooked ears of corn. I've always wanted to cut it off the cob like this and it was very satisfying! I estimate this was about two cups of corn off the cob. If for some reason you're in a time bind, I guess you could drain and rinse a can of corn but I wouldn't suggest that. I would however, suggest if you have a grill to roast the corn. I was going to roast mine on my gas burners but I heard my partner's lawyer voice in the background of my mind saying, "you're going to burn the house down" so I dipped them into some boiling water instead. Humph. I want a grill!

Now, part two of the key ingredient. Mexican corn is absolutely delicious, it's buttered and cheesed and cayenne peppered in a spicy, creamy, steamy delicious treat. So, I tried to mimic this in my salad (minus the queso). I buttered my corn with just a tad of butter and about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Mixed it, tasted it and it was spicy goodness! Not as fun as eating it off the cob, but delicious none the less.

Add all of your ingredients together. I would suggest putting this in a pretty glass bowl so you can see all of the deliciousness at once. A definite improvement that I will be making when I remake this on Friday for my BBQ potluck.

Toss it all together with some tongs. Watch out for flying cous cous. Call in kitchen assistant to take care of spillage if necessary.

Pour in your dressing - this is how much my recipe yielded and it was a great proportion for the amount of cous cous salad I cooked up.

Toss again and you have your finished product. You should chill it for about half an hour if you didn't chill at any point during the process. Doesn't this look so yummy? I promise you won't be disappointed! Pair it with burgers or any of your other cookout treats or even fajitas. You decide, it will be a hit though, I promise.

Now for the main event: Green Chile Turkey Burgers! The salad was a lot more fun for me to make, but the fact that I got to try out my NM Hatch Green Chile that I found at Trader Joe's made me very excited.

Also, A loves turkey burgers so I felt confident I could make one up with my own twist because of my confidence of mastering my turkey burger recipe from Everyday Food. In a bowl I mixed up some ground pepper and kosher salt (not pictured) into my meat. Be careful not to squish it too much then your burgers become tough and not fluffy - not sure if that's the right adjective, but it's what is coming to mind, and honestly I think it works better than juicy.

Combine all of the ingredients, starting with 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper for additional seasoning (since canned green chiles are not hot at all). I considered using my green chile powder that the Lone Baker keeps me up to stock with but decided to pump up the spice factor just a bit. Then mix in 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, I used Trader Joe's Three-Cheese blend today which I suggest, and half of your can of green chile. I also threw in some more purple onion from my previous recipe that I was too mad at for making me cry to throw away! Good thing I didn't it added a nice flavor to the cooked patty. I then pat out my burgers like so.

They then were covered with foil and sent to the fridge until after I picked up A from work. I'm glad to say that I need a lot on my plate to be productive. I have always been like this since I was young and so scheduling in my cooking around writing and reading and picking up A was very fruitful. I think I wrote about four pages of my dissertation when I made this up. Looks like I'll be making this once a week if I can assure this type of dedication to my studies.

I was also very excited as my loyal readers know, of the opportunity to use my Broil King 6000. Well, that's what I call her, isn't she a beaut? She cooked these burgers up like no one's business. I've been making breakfasts on her on the weekend, but this was amazing because A suggested I throw the buns onto the griddle to and they were toasted and delicious. (I suggest throwing them on clearly a bit closer to done.)

I am absolutely terrified of raw meat, so I cooked each of these burgers for about twelve minutes on each side, flipping every six minutes or so. When I say terrified, I mean terrified, the thought of biting into a raw turkey burger seems so unappetizing. So, I was sure to cook these up for a long time. You could probably go less on the time if you made your burgers thinner and spread the meat out amongst six. However, I don't do it like that, I like a round, juicy and thick burger so do at least twelve minutes per side. One way I can tell that they're ready is by looking at the meat around the edge of the burger get done.

Sorry for the poorly lit picture(s), go back to the first one to remind yourself how pretty it was. I served it with spicy mustard on mine and mayo on A's. She loved it. We also had fresh corn with the burgers and CCC Salad. Overall, we were stuffed and happy. I just wish I had a grill. But I pretended I was a fry cook on Broil King, de-cobbed some freshly cooked corn and wrote four pages of my dissertation. Overall I would say that's a successful night spent in La Kitchen Chicana no?

August 05, 2009

Enchiladas a la 'buela

While on my dissertation research journey I was lucky enough to spend some amazing time with my abuela. She is the inspiration in a lot of ways to my own love of cooking. Her delicious enchiladas, tacos, gorditas, salsa, sopa (rice) and fried chicken are unmatched in my opinion. Whenever my abuela would make us enchiladas or tacos it was an amazing adventure. All of our mouths would water in anticipation for the hours before it was made. Abuela would wake up early in the morning to start the sopa (which by the way is not an easy recipe) and her famous chile sauce, which I have tried numerous times to replicate but never really very successful. You see, like many grandmothers mine does not use recipes, she learned how to
make things by observing others, when she worked in a Mexican restaurant as a young woman in El Paso, Texas and then when she worked in a family restaurant in Greenleaf, Kansas my
abuela has been learning how to make food through sight, smell, taste and touch since she entered the kitchen. I aspire to be able to do the same one day, for some things I can, but when it counts I really feel like I need a recipe, which of course my abuela does not have. There's something very clear to be said about the history and power of oral tradition in my familia!

I also struggle with what I should do in terms of sharing family recipes. In some ways I understand that family traditions should be shared and that food is not "owned" by anyone. It's like people who feel they thought up something new, well, no one actually has "new" ideas. I feel similarly to food, which should be somewhat evident from the fact that I have posted things on my blog related to others' recipes and not really created anything "new". What is new of course, is each of our interpretations of recipes or family foods that have been passed down from generations. I have more to say about this, but I'm not sure this is the venue for this discussion. What I will say is that this blog isn't so much about a recipe per say, but about the process, which means that I won't be divulging family secrets of how to make the Estella Navarro Falcón enchilada sauce, but there will be important techniques to illuminate the old ways and the true ways to make enchiladas. I also feel as though since I didn't make it I can't divulge the recipe but when I do make these one day dear readers you will learn the truth. Don't be afraid. Heat up some crisco or lard if you have access and your heart can handle it.

The other thing about my abuela, in addition to not using recipes, is that she cannot simply be bothered to hold still so that her nieta could take a picture of her process. So, her hands are blurry, also she is a very modest and shy woman and did not want to be featured (besides her
hands) on this blog. Respecting her wishes you'll just see her in a masked abuela kind of way, kind of like superhero behind the scenes. I of course snuck in a picture of her cooking for her daughters (three out of four of them) and her granddaughter (me) but will not post it here, maybe one day I'll post it with her permission of course. She was however, comfortable with showing her magical brown hands, thank goodness.

Gather up five or six corn tortillas and dip them (carefully!) into your hot grease. You want the temperature up high enough to fry lightly but not high enough that you're going to lose your eyebrows in case a piece of your tortilla accidently falls off. Flip them over, don't leave them in there too long, we're not making tostadas. Then they are headed for a chile bath.

Just like this! Since my abuela saw me clicking away on the pictures she decided to take this opportunity to give me a teaching lesson!

It's almost as though my abuela wants to write her own food blog! She showed me that you can use utensils to dig out your tortilla, here she's using a wooden spoon.

And here she's using her fingers to dip them, but be careful because the sauce is simmering on the stove. You can also see here that she's added the chile dipped tortillas to her general pile of fried tortillas that are waiting for their time in the enchilada bath tub.

After they go into the chile it's time to put in what they are putting inside your yummy fried, sauced tortillas. On this day abuela usually just has shredded cheese, but I guess it was special and she made her carne that she puts in her tacos too. Shredded beef cooked with onion and papas.

Now if you ever want to make tacos you need to have this concoction in there. Again, there is no recipe, but basically you brown and simmer beef in some oil, until most of the liquid is gone and then you add in some boiled potatoes that have been cooked most of the way and are diced. Then you let this simmer together and mold together as thickening agents. This tastes amazingly delicious in tacos.

My abuela rolled the cheese enchiladas first and set them aside in this dish (so we could all eat at once). And then tackled the meat ones. She ended up making half and half or so. My favorites are the cheese ones because that is what we would always have whenever we went to see abuela in Kansas. The beef ones were still tasty though. You can of course put anything you want in an enchilada as long as there is some type of chile on the outside, abuela didn't put any cheese in with the meat enchiladas that she made on this day.

By the end of this wonderful enchilada making factory, with abuela rolling like mad, we had about this many. And of course between the five of us we polished all of these off with no problems. At this point abuela also told me that if you wanted to you could put the dish in the oven and warm them all together (this will also harden the tortillas some more. She also told me that if you didn't want to make your sauce from scratch you could buy one at the store, to which she said, "you know, there are some pretty good ones out there." Me, I would never do this, as I feel I would be disgracing my abuela's hard work by using it out of the can. But if one is in a pinch you can always turn to these shortcuts.

My abuela also made some fideo (a Mexican tomato pasta dish) that was our accompaniment for our enchiladas in addition to a nice green salad. This really rounded out a delicious Mexican meal. My belly was full of warm food and I was able to do a family interview for my research and collect my Aunt Gloria's oral history. Good food helps productivity, and this definitely helped me along my path to complete my dissertation. Now if my abuela could only make me a meal every day I would be done with that pesky thing by now!!

August 04, 2009

When I grow up I'm going to...

eat whatever candy I want whenever I want! Yes, this was a constant saying that I said to my mother and she also said to her mother (funny enough). Now, that I have "grown up" a little anyways I do have candy whenever I want, as many of my readers can attest, I LOVE candy. I mean, when people on facebook do quizzes or top fives or something like that which tell you to list the five things closest to you (no cheating!) at least two, if not three of those items around me are probably candy. I nearly squealed in delight when I found a bag of red hots at the dollar store last week when A and I were in the search for bingo daubbers before we left to go to the casino (and to play bingo!) so clearly candy is important to me. I love sugar candies, hard candies, soft candies, and chocolate and dark chocolate and oh, did I say chocolate? So, I had
been having a craving like no other for one of my favorite snacks and I just thought I would share, because now that I'm able to have candy whenever I want to, I need new aspirations like, when I grow up I'm going to get a manicure and a pedicure every other week, but I digress.

This recipe is also inspired by Julia Child. Yes, I mean the foodie/gourmand of all time, Mrs. Julia Child the great. I've been reading her memoir, My Life in France in preparation for Julie and Julia that is coming out on Friday (I'm so excited!) and I was thinking about how she herself also admits to not initially knowing how to cook. So, in that way, I am honoring her in the ways that she passed on information about the foods she did eventually learn how to cook, yet she never took herself all that seriously at the same time. Why do we eat the foods we do? I think because they taste good right? And for anyone who doesn't know about the best candy/nut combo in the whole world, it my dear friends, is my duty to teach you.

My best friend in high school taught me a lot of valuable lessons as I was coming into woman-hood. Her mother should get the credit for this wonderful creation because when I would go down to her house in the valley we would boldly charge into her pantry full of goodies and get out the can of salted cashews and the giant bag of plain M&Ms.

Yes, I know that Mars Co. has gone through extensive pains and troubles to change the notion that the plain M&Ms are in fact not actually "plain" but rather "milk chocolate" (I told you I know my candy ESPECIALLY M&Ms) but I am going to refer to them as "plain" because that is what they were called when I first discovered this tasty treat. Come to think of it, I did a speech in my college speech class that my best friend from college can attest to Kr to my Andace on these very issues - M&Ms. Aw, memories. Also, I refuse to call them "milk chocolate" out of sheer principal once they campaigned to resign my FAVORITE color of M&Ms and had that nonsense vote for which color to replace it with...

But this blog post is not supposed to be about my political views on M&M colors. It's about a tasty treat. Pour out your bag of plain M&Ms.

Pour in your bag of salted cashews, I got these out of the bulk bin at Cub Foods, don't they look delicious?! And I think it was a better deal than getting them in a can because these are almost all whole pieces! I bet your mouth is watering huh?

I really suggest making sure you get the salted ones because the sweet and savory mixing of the salted cashews and the plain M&Ms is divine. Stir your nuts and plain M&Ms and then eat a handful. I suggest two M&Ms to one whole cashew to achieve the proper ratio of chocolate to nut, but I'm not a control freak, you can do as you wish. The final step is to tell everyone you know that you just made this delicious snack mix so as to ensure that you don't eat the entire thing in one sitting. Luckily there is a lot left for later. Also, this is perfect for getting your blood sugar back up to a good functioning level: protein + chocolate = heaven.