A Harmony of Flavors

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raspberries on Sale Equals Raspberry Bars

I think raspberries have been top of my list of favorite fruits, like forever. Growing up we had a yard with so many fruits already growing there, it was a little paradise. Raspberry bushes had taken over a large area, and there were also some black raspberries. We were sent picking for Mom to make raspberry jam every summer. A friend of mine, Tetiana, had given me a bunch of raspberries after the open house last Sunday, and I said something about raspberry pie. She said, "Make bars. They are so much prettier when cut!" 

And I thought, wow, I guess bars have so rarely been in my vocabulary, that might just be an excellent idea. I had been hoping to combine raspberries and rhubarb, and I still probably will, but yesterday, on a trip to the grocery, there was NO RHUBARB! Gasp! 

My Raspberry Bars
Okay then, raspberry bars it would be. But just as bars have not been part of my vocabulary, neither has that kind of crust been. Most every recipe I read online had some mixture of flour, sugar and butter. Some had eggs. Some had oats. Actually a lot of them had oats. And there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the amounts. Some had a recipe (that would be part bottom crust and part topping) using 4 cups of flour to be crust and topping for a 9 x 9-inch pan, and some had 1 1/2 cups flour to make crust and topping for a 9 x 13-inch pan. This made me wonder, for sure. That is quite a spread between extremes.

I really like crusts. And I love things like streusel. In my recipe for my Best Apple Crisp, Ever, the topping mixture is quite unusual, in that almost every apple crisp has oatmeal in the topping. I love oatmeal; truly love, love oatmeal. For some strange reason, it just is not my "cup of tea" when it is in Apple Crisp toppings. Since the topping for my Best Apple Crisp Ever is such a spectacular (oat-less) mixture, I thought I would try a sort of riff on that concept. 

Making the Crust and Topping Mixture

I wanted to use the same idea for bringing the mixture together into a streusel-like mixture as I use in the Apple Crisp Recipe. Eggs are whisked together and then tossed in to moisten the flour, butter and sugar until crumb-like. The difference is that the topping on the apple crisp has melted butter poured over top before baking. That wouldn't work for the raspberry bar crust, so I opted to grate in the cold butter and cut it in quickly with a pastry cutter. As an alternative, just pick up handfuls and rub the butter between the palms to combine with the dry ingredients. 
In the photos here:
  • #1 dry ingredients in the bowl
  • #2 the cold butter grated in
  • #3 toss the dry ingredients over the butter shreds
  • #4 cut in with pastry cutter or hands
  • #5 pour whisked eggs over the crumbly mixture
  • #6 mix quickly with a fork to moisten
This method worked excellently, and the crust is both flavorful and perfectly textured. On this method I would not change a thing.

Thoughts on the Filling

In early April, I tried to make a raspberry pie for the first time, ever. I had 4 little packages of the most perfect raspberries I had seen for a long while. I read about a dozen recipes for raspberry pie. Why in the world would I never have made a pie of raspberries? Mom never did, in my memory, even with all those berries growing in the yard. Somehow, this was just missing from my childhood, and after that never came up as a concept. So I was all ready one morning. We still had our guests visiting, so I thought I would get a jump on the pie while it was still quiet, before breakfast. I mixed up a recipe as I had it created, adding in some sugar and cornstarch to the berries and set them aside while preparing the crust. I was all set, bottom crust in pan, and I looked at the berries, expecting a soupy mixture. 

Bottom crust partially baked, the berry mixture poured over and the topping set in place, ready to bake

Imagine my shock when they were totally dry, and the sugar and cornstarch still all there, dry as can be. Well, I figured (wrongly, as it turned out), they will surely burst open and mix once in the oven, so I proceeded, pouring in the berries and all the dry sugar and cornstarch, then topping with a pretty lattice crust and popped it in the oven. Nearly an hour later the very first tiny bit of bubbling occurred. The crust was way done. The berries and sugar were still dry for the most part. There was a soupy mess in the bottom, but it never got a chance to thicken. A total disaster. It was great scooped over vanilla ice cream though!

Perfection! Raspberry Bars
I have not made a second attempt at a raspberry pie, though I will sometime this summer! I believe that partly crushing some of the berries and mixing in the sugar and cornstarch  to combine would aid in making the proper outcome. This is what I did for the bars. Half the berries went in a bowl with the sugar and cornstarch and once mixed well, the remaining whole berries were added, and the mixture, while completely watery going in, came out perfectly thickened once baked, as shown here in this gorgeous photo.

Here is my recipe, which came out wonderfully well and is most decidedly one of my new favorite desserts. I am looking forward to rhubarb raspberry bars, and peach bars . . .  Here is my recipe:

Raspberry Bars

makes one 9 x 13-inch pan


4 cups fresh raspberries (from 3 1/2 to 4 six-ounce containers)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated finely
pinch salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon rosewater, optional

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups cold, unsalted butter
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Place 1/2 of the berries in a medium mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, a spoon, or hands, partly crush the berries. Add in the sugar, ginger, salt, cornstarch and rosewater, if using. Mix well until all the dry ingredients are moistened, and then add the remaining berries and toss to combine. Set the mixture aside to macerate while making the topping.

Parchment-lined pan                                 |               berries partly crushed with sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhand on the long sides. Use cooking spray to coat the inside of the parchment lined pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crust. Grate in the cold butter on a large holed grater, or cut the butter into very small cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or rub mixture between palms to incorporate, until the mixture will briefly hold clumps. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs and the yolk. Pour this into the bowl and using a fork, quickly toss the mixture until it is fairly moistened. Scrape up dry bits to moisten as well as possibly. Use fingers to bring the mixture to point, when it will hold clumps very easily, but is still loose. 

Pour about 2/3 of this mixture into the prepared pan, gently maneuvering the crust to the edges and corners. Do not tamp down, but just use fingertips to press down slightly. Bake this crust for 10 or 15 minutes. It will still be soft and only have a spot or two of golden to the top. Remove from the oven. Stir the berry mixture once more and pour the berries over the partly baked crust, gently pushing the fruit to the edges and corners without disturbing the crust too much.

Add the sliced almonds to the bowl with the remaining crust mixture, tossing to combine. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the berries. Bake the bars for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 20 minutes more. The top crust should be golden and the filling bubbling. Allow the bars to cool completely. The parchment overhang can be used to lift the entire dessert free of the pan, making for easier slicing.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chicken and Grape meets Waldorf Salad

As I have written before, I make versions of chicken and grape salads. I change what goes in them based on what is on hand at the time it is being made. Sometimes there aren't even grapes in it! I don't believe I've ever specifically gone to the store and said, "hmmm, I need this, this and this for a Chicken and Grape Salad." It just happens sometimes that I have leftover chicken, usually from a rotisserie chicken I bought for another reason and this salad, which my husband also loves, is always a sure bet in our household.

So last November we took a road trip and were in Denver visiting two of my sisters. One of them, whose house we stayed at, has some complete taboos on things like mayonnaise and mustard. This tends to limit making certain recipes, including chicken and grape salads. So, she had some leftover chicken and she said we could put together a sort of chicken and grape salad or a play on Waldorf with chicken. All this sounded great. She was at work, and I was at home to make the salad. As I started assembling the ingredients on the counter, it suddenly hit me! She doesn't eat mayonnaise, so what in the world makes her Waldorf or Chicken Grape Salads?
Waldorf-ish Salad

I called her up and she had a couple of suggestions, one of which was using Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion Dressing. And I thought, hmmm....well, I guess that could be good. It's not mayo, and I am not one to buy many salad dressings, as I'd rather make them myself. Still.... if we were to have dinner, at least this dressing would probably be acceptable to my husband. As it turned out, I was really taken with the flavors of the salad. I can't recall exactly what ingredients went into the salad that time, but when we got back home I went and bought a bottle of the Ken's dressing, so whenever the time came, I could use it again. 

Last evening was finally the time.

My husband eats a little salad with his dressing. Literally, there is usually more dressing than anything green. Many salad dressings just aren't thick enough to suit him, so he sticks to things like Thousand Island or one of the thickened (preferable sweet) French dressings. With mayonnaise in the Chicken and Grape Salad, it is no problem, as long as everything is well coated. I had wondered (at my sister's house) if the Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia dressing would be thick enough, but apparently it was, plus it is sweet, so I felt safe in getting the dressing to have on hand here at home. 

Last week I made a Chicken Enchilada Casserole and used a rotisserie chicken for that part of the recipe. To make the amount of chicken I needed for the recipe, I used the whole (admittedly quite small) chicken - all but one little lonely breast that was left over. It sat in the fridge all this time, so last night, while it was a little bit of meat, it is easy to stretch when adding other things. I had one handful of grapes left in a bowl on the counter. I had some dill left from making the Herbed Goat Cheese Ball or Spread I wrote about yesterday. I thought finally the time had come to make this salad again and use the Ken's Dressing!

A Waldorf Salad is comprised of apples, walnuts and celery in a mayonnaise dressing. Chicken and raisins or grapes are sometimes added. It is usually served over lettuce or in lettuce cups. As I use whatever is on hand, I had no lettuce on hand so no lettuce bed. In the spirit of all this, I am dedicating my version of a mayo-less and lettuce-less "Waldorf-ish Salad" to my sister Michele.

Waldorf-ish Salad

Waldorf-ish Dinner Salad

Serves 2 or 3

2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cups celery, sliced 
3/4 cup green bell pepper, cubed
3/4 cup green grapes, halved
1/2 medium apple, cored, cubed
1 - 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup walnuts, broken
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup loosely filled with fresh dillweed
1/3 - 1/2 cup Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion Dressing
extra dill fronds for garnish

Combine is a bowl the first 8 ingredients, sprinkling the apples with the lime or lemon juice. Toss well. Mince the dillweed and add, along with the dressing and mix well. Serve as is, or serve over a bed of lettuce if desired. Garnish with dill fronds. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Cheese Ball or Spread for an Open House

Guests enjoying the foods we prepared
Yesterday my good friend Tetiana, of Re/Max Preferred Choice here in Aberdeen, asked if I would come with her to help out with food for an open house she was hosting at 1620 Mel Ros. I had made little appetizer foods for an open house here last summer. Despite being a truly lovely home, it is still on the market as of today. Tetiana assured me she was making the foods this time, but would appreciate help with serving, while she was busy with potential buyers. Still, I wanted to bring something, so I elected to make a version of some little filled sweet peppers I had made for the holidays a while back. 

Little Sweet Peppers
I started out with the idea of making them just as I made the ones back in December of 2013, but true to form, I cannot even follow my own recipes, even if they were great. Those appetizers were wonderful. I used a cheese ball mixture but softened it to fill those little sweet peppers that are available everywhere now. In lovely colors of red, orange and yellow, and perfect sized for appetizers, they are really attractive. In reading the mixture I made for the cheese ball, I immediately thought of substitutions. And more substitutions. And pretty soon it was such a different recipe that here I am, writing about it. 
My Cheese Mixture in little Sweet Pepper halves

Cheese Balls and Variations

Cheese Balls come in so many types and styles that there is really no particular way to make them. Almost any cheese, as long as it is either a smooth, soft type like cream cheese, chevre, blue, Gorgonzola and the like, with something that can be shredded, like cheddar, Jack, Parmesan or others, can be bound together into a cheese ball. It seems that little individual cheese balls have started popping up lately in magazines and on TV, but I came up with this concept on my own a little over 2 years ago. I thought of making tiny individual balls for this Open House, but then remembered those little sweet peppers and went that direction instead. 
"Cheese Ball" Filled Sweet Pepper

Many recipes for cheese balls, if left to soften at room temperature, are also good as a spread, or can be if thinned a little with milk or oil. In this case, I opted to leave out the bacon and go for a more herbal mixture. It seems that cream cheese is a sort of universal "base" or binder for other things. I really wanted to use goat cheese, but chevre tends to be a little crumbly, so cream cheese came to the rescue once again. I had planned to use plain chevre and add my own herbs. I did add more of my own herbs, but while perusing the options at the local grocery, I decided on a 4 ounce log of lemon flavored chevre and a 4 ounce log of garlic and herb flavored chevre. Between these two, there would already be a tasty base for the mixture. Other things to add to a cheese ball are so numerous it hardly seems possible to ever cover them all. I chose dried cherries for a sweet note, and used dill and parsley as the extra herbs. 
Tetiana made these Mini Cheesecakes with Jam and Raspberry 

Though this new mixture was used to fill little sweet peppers, it could just as easily be formed into a ball and rolled in more herbs or nuts or cheese. Once chilled it is plenty firm enough to be used this way. Additions to this cheese ball recipe could be things like cracked black pepper (which I meant to use and forgot!), finely chopped fried bacon, nuts left in small chunks instead of ground. Cooked chicken could be finely chopped and added, or smoked salmon or trout. For more ideas see the recipe on my website here

If the mini sweet peppers are not available where you live, regular bell peppers of assorted colors would also work. They would need to be cut into approximately 1 1/2 x 2-inch sections. If the cheese mixture is fine enough, it could also be piped or scooped onto endive leaves, cucumber or zucchini medallions, celery sticks or even carrot coins. These ideas can be seen here.

Herbed Goat Cheese (Ball or Spread)

Herbed Goat Cheese Filled Sweet Peppers
makes enough to fill one (1 pound) bag of sweet peppers 

8 ounces chevre such as lemon and/or herb flavors
8 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, or more, if desired
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/2 cup nuts, chopped or ground (I used walnuts)
1 pound bag mini sweet peppers

Allow the cheeses to soften at room temperature for about 1 hour. Place all the cheese into a bowl and with a hand mixer whip the cheeses until smooth. Add in all the remaining ingredients except the peppers and mix again to evenly distribute. 

Cut off stem end of the peppers, then slice them in half lengthwise. Remove any seeds and membranes. With a small knife, fill each pepper half and smooth evenly. They can be served as is, or topped with a dill or parsley sprig. if desired.

If making a cheese ball, once all the ingredients are well blended, allow the mixture to firm up in the fridge. Once firm, scrape all the mixture together and roll into a ball. Roll the ball in one of the following: ground of chopped nuts, minced herbs (for this recipe, a combination of more minced dill and parsley), or shredded cheese such as finely shredded Swiss, or Parmesan or Romano.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chicken Enchiladas from Easy to Complex at Whim

Yesterday I spent all morning researching Enchiladas, then I sat with ideas and fleshed them out, till I had a recipe I thought was do-able, then walked to the grocery for the things I was missing and spent the next couple of hours implementing and refining the recipe. All in all, I am very happy with the recipe. I believe the only thing I would do differently next time is to make a whole batch of my Red Enchilada Sauce. At minimum I wanted the equivalent of a can, usually 10-ounces, but all I had left was one cup, just barely full. And then at another time, I would like to try these with my Green Sauce (Salsa Verde - see recipe here), and have them more in the line of Enchiladas Suizas.

Chicken Enchiladas
There was nothing wrong with the recipe as I made it. They were really good, and I am looking forward hungrily to leftovers for dinner this evening. A few things I did are things not everyone may have the ability to duplicate, depending on where you live and what sort of grocery stores are available. I am relatively fortunate in that, even up in northern South Dakota we have a really great grocery store; Kessler's. Kessler's is not an inexpensive place to shop, but they really do have an amazing selection of foods. But even in Kessler's it is sometimes chancy whether a certain thing will be available, so I just try to go with the flow and get what is available.

Tortillas, and then Tortillas

I had totally and completely fallen in love with the La Tortilla Factory brand green chile corn and wheat four tortillas. I bought them over and over again over a period of time . . . and then suddenly Kessler's stopped carrying them! If I had access to these tortillas, I would absolutely have used these for this Enchilada recipe. As it happens, Kessler's and even Wal-Mart, have been carrying ever-changing versions of corn and flour tortillas. For preference, I want corn tortillas. I learned to eat corn tortillas in Guatemala, where at the time, they were made fresh, from hominy that was just cooked, ground and skillfully hand-patted and baked on a comal into tender, flexible, amazingly-flavored rounds of goodness. And then, to come back to the States, only to find that any corn (or flour, for that matter) tortilla has been pressed out into perfectly round, perfectly flat and brittle things that bear so little resemblance to the real thing that aside from some little corn flavor, well, there is just no resemblance.
Excuse my rant, there. My husband will only eat flour tortillas. To me, wheat can be had anywhere, all the time. We have far too much wheat in our diets as it is. A critical difference of opinion, but that is par for the course, with us. So when one day I was wandering in Kessler's, and found these La Tortilla Factory corn and wheat tortillas, I was at first taken with the look and feel of them. Even through the bag they were in, I could tell they did not have that friable quality most store-bought corn tortillas have. The look and feel was similar to real hand-patted corn tortillas. There was enough flavor of corn to satisfy, and obviously enough flour to make them pliable and differently textured.

Inside my Enchiladas
. . . And then they stopped carrying them. I was really frustrated. No other brand, to date, even comes close to the flavor of La Tortilla Factory brand. One other brand, which I was lucky enough to find at Kessler's yesterday (they are not there all the time, by any means) is Don Pancho. The biggest difference with the Don Pancho brand of corn and wheat tortillas is that they are the larger sized ones, about 8-inches in diameter, rather then the smaller normal corn tortilla size of about 6-inches.

On to the Enchiladas

This brings me to the recipe and why it may not be a completely simple "follow-the-directions" sort of recipe for some. If one makes this recipe using flour tortillas, there are flour tortillas in the 8-inch size, readily available in most places. However, if an 8-inch corn and flour tortilla is not available, you might have to resort to the little 6-inch corn tortillas, and that way this recipe will make a whole lot more than the 10 large enchiladas from my recipe. I would venture to say that the recipe might be doubled (in amount of tortillas used), if using the small ones.

If perchance you are using all-corn tortillas, you will absolutely have to first pass them briefly through a small bit of hot oil to make them:
  1. more pliable and
  2. less apt to burn in the oven
I did this step anyway, just in order to have the tortillas less prone to dryness and burning at the edges. All that is needed is a tiny amount of oil in a hot skillet large enough to accommodate the tortilla. It takes maybe a minute or so per side. They don't need to really brown, but they become far more pliable and easy to work with. As each one came from the skillet, I filled and rolled it, then set into the casserole dish.

Chicken Enchiladas, fresh from the oven

The Mixture for Enchiladas

I am in no way Mexican, and have only Guatemalan cooking background. There were no such things as "enchiladas" in Guatemala in the '70s that I ever saw or heard of. With that in mind, I used things in the filling for my enchiladas that seemed right to me. I used black beans, because I prefer them. I added cream cheese, in the belief that it would melt well and make the insides nice and gooey with cheese. Chopped green chilies from a can were used because I love them and the flavor they give. A store-bought rotisserie chicken was used in the interest of time savings! Of course, cooking up a little bit of chicken ahead and shredding is also an option.

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

makes 10 large

2 1/2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar Jack 
   cheese, divided
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and 
   rinsed, divided
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
8 ounces cream cheese or neuchatel
10 (8-inch) corn/flour tortillas
oil, as needed for frying tortillas
1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce
1 cup favorite salsa
cilantro leaves for garnish
sour cream and/or avocado to serve

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shredded chicken, half each of the shredded cheese,  cilantro and scallions, and the green chilies. Set 1/4 cup of the black beans aside and add remainder to the bowl. Cut cream cheese in small chunks, or just break off small pieces into the chicken mixture and toss to distribute. 

In a separate bowl, stir together the enchilada sauce, salsa and remaining half of chopped cilantro.

chicken mixture     |    reserved beans & scallions  |  sauce mixture  |  fried tortillas rolled with filling    |     sauce added 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat and add in a teaspoon or so of oil. Fry each tortilla briefly. It will take longer for the first side, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip the tortilla and fry for another minute. They should not be too browned or hard, but very pliable. Once fried, measure out about 2/3 cup or so of the chicken mixture onto the tortilla and roll tightly. Set the roll in a casserole dish, flap down. Continue with all the tortillas, frying, filling, rolling and placing in the casserole or casseroles, as needed. 

Bake the enchiladas without sauce for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then remove from oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. Divide the sauce mixture between casseroles and spread to cover. Top with the remaining shredded cheese. Cover the casserole(s) with foil and seal the edges. Bake at the reduced temperature for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, until bubbling and the cheese is nicely melted. Toss the remaining black beans and scallions over top of the casserole(s), then garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with sour cream and/or avocado. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Updating a Quick and Easy Old Recipe

I was born in 1950, and grew up with Mom's cooking in the '50s, a mix of foods of that era and also of her Slovak heritage. Dad added in his mix of his Mom's cooking from Yugoslavia (from what is now Serbia). I have no idea if this supper dish was something just of that era, or even if it was something anyone else made. I know it was a big "go-to" meal for Mom. Easy to make and quick was the name of the game, and we all know what it is to be rushed for something to put on the table. I am the oldest of the children, and others quickly followed. By the end of the '50s there were already 5 children in the family, and by 1963 there were 7. Mom spent a lot of time in the kitchen, but with that many kids around, it had to have been a challenge to manage meals every single day, but manage, she did!
Creamed Tuna with Peas

I am sure not all my siblings loved Creamed Tuna with Peas as much as I did. I know for sure my next sister, Barb, also loves that meal, and once a few years back while I was visiting, she asked if I liked that dish. On finding that I did, and that we were eating on our own that evening, she asked if it would be okay to make it. Of course I said yes, because I never get to make it when I am home. My husband will not eat fish, and tuna from a can has really bad associations for anyone who is not into fish. Tuna from a can is generally a little more aromatic, but these days I do not really find it so. 

Creamed Tuna with Peas was one of two creamed dishes served on toast; the other was Creamed Dried Beef with Potatoes. Both of these were particular favorites of mine while growing up. I don't make the Dried Beef dish, mainly because it is so salty, and causes swelling (for me). If this were not an issue, I would probably make it often, because that is one that my husband does love! I have heard it unlovingly called "S___ on a Shingle". Whatever it is called, it is good, quick and easy.
Toast Cups courtesy of www.graciousrain.com

The "shingle", in these cases is a slice of toast. When Mom got in the mood to "fancy up" a plain and simple meal, she took this concept to another level. The bread was just store-bought white bread, whether toasted or other, but sometimes she would cut off the crusts, then press the little white squares down into muffin tins, creating little cups. She often gave me the job of brushing these little bread cups with melted butter, and then they were set in a preheated oven to toast. Once toasted, they kept their little cup shape, and these were filled to overflowing with the Creamed Tuna with Peas. I found the steps to make these little cups available on this website, and the finished product is shown in the photo here, courtesy of http://www.graciousrain.com/2009/04/10/easter-egg-toast-cups/

Creamed Tuna with Peas

The other part of the recipe for Creamed Tuna with Peas is the peas themselves. Mom always used a can of peas. One can of peas to one can of tuna. I don't care to use cans of vegetables these days, and far prefer using frozen baby peas, as they are so tender, tasty and GREEN, plus not over-salted. When making this dish now, I will only use frozen peas and the best canned tuna possible. When thinking about this dish last evening, I made creamed hamburger with peas for my husband and creamed tuna with peas for myself. While in the process, I thought I would add in a half onion, finely chopped, as well as a little dill. In thinking back on the sauce (a Bechamel), I wonder if Mom also used the liquid from the canned peas. I know milk went into the dish, but she might have started the liquids with the liquid from the peas, then adding milk as needed for the sauce.  All I can say is, if you like tuna from a can at all, you've got to try this. Even without my updates (caramelized onion, dill and frozen peas), I would still love this dish, a real comfort-food memory. 
Creamed Tuna with Peas

Creamed Tuna with Peas

serves 2 - 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 (4-ounce) can light tuna, drained
1 cup frozen baby peas
1 teaspoon dried dillweed

In a medium skillet, over medium-low heat, add in the oil and then the chopped onion. Saute the onion for about 15 minutes, slowly, until golden and caramelized. Add in the butter to melt, and then the flour, stirring until all the flour is absorbed into the fats and onion in the pan. Begin adding the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, until all the mixture is smooth in the milk. Continue to stir, cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes until thickened and bubbly. Add in the dillweed, tuna and peas and stir until heated through. Serve over toast, or toast cups as mentioned above.
flour added to onion  |  flour absorbed  |  milk added  |  Bechamel thickened  |  tuna added  |  dill, then peas (not shown)

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rice Pudding Guatemalan Style

Cover of Cookbook for my children
I have mentioned in a few posts about making a Guatemalan cookbook / memoir for my children. They were all born in Guatemala during the 1970s, and while the youngest was only 3 years old when we came back to the US to live, Guatemala is a part of their heritage. I figure if I, a midwestern girl, could come to love Guatemala and all its diverse food, fantastic scenery and varied seasons, surely some of this should stay with them, even if they are no longer attached to the country in any real way. 

In making this cookbook, each version I have printed has been just a bit better than the previous. The first I made was exciting, in that I was actually putting all this information into one place. It still had a lot of errors, lousy grammar and very few of my own photos. As I go through with the next child in mind, I change family photos to gear them more to that particular child. Since realizing how very few photos I had ever taken of the foods that I actually had made, I began rectifying this. As of the last child's book printing, I had amassed 80 recipes, and had photos of 40 of them. This job of putting together the book and printing is all done here in my own little home office. I have a binding machine, so I make a nice job of it, if I do say so.

Arroz con Leche
A few days back, I made a tabled list of which foods were already made and had photos taken, and which still needed to be made and have photos taken. Some of the foods are ones I have made in past, but maybe not for over two years, since that is when I started photographing everything I made. Others are foods I have slim chance of ever making properly due to lack of available ingredients. But on my list of needed recipes to photograph was Arroz con Leche, which, translated, just means rice with milk. Not as exciting in English, for sure. Obviously, in all the 45 years since first going to Guatemala, this rice dessert was never interesting enough, to me, to actually make it. I always just made my Mom's Rice Pudding, with tapioca, milk and sugar added to leftover rice. Yesterday, finally, I made Arroz con Leche, and found it is not dissimilar to Mom's Rice Pudding! 

I had assumed (never a good thing) that since there was nothing in this recipe that would thicken the pudding, that it would take a long time cooking and stirring for the milk to thicken. In essence, it took no longer than it takes to make Mom's Rice Pudding with tapioca! The tapioca needs a few minutes cooking to expand and thicken. In the case of Arroz con Leche, which is made with freshly cooked rice, it took about 15 minutes of cooking for it to thicken down. Once cooled, it thickens far more. And so, at last, I have made Arroz con Leche. 

Arroz con Leche, made as Atol beverage

While researching recipes for the cookbook, many were of foods I had tasted, but never had a recipe for. I added a lot of these extras to the book. Atol is another that though I had tried some of the variations (and there are many), had never really written down what I did. An "Atol" is nothing more than a (usually hot) thickened beverage, sort of a pureed soup style. It can be made with almost anything; for example, hominy, sweet corn, rice, plantains, or anything else that will lend itself to pureeing. Just in the making of various plantain dishes, I have on occasion pureed a few pieces into a thick drink. These beverages can be sweetened or not, according to personal taste. Though the beverage is generally pureed, in part, often there are some bits of such things as corn kernels, pumpkin seeds, or other things used as garnish. In some cases, the beverage is left slightly runny, but with more "bits" left in, and a spoon is needed. Arroz con Leche is one of these types of Atol. It can be heated through with the sugar, cinnamon and milk and drunk runny, with rice in it. Yesterday, I photographed Arroz con Leche in both iterations.

Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche

about 6 - 8 servings

1 cup plain medium or long-grained rice
2 cups water
1 stick (4-inches) true cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups milk, or part half & half or cream, as desired
1/2 cup raisins, optional

In a medium-large saucepan, cook the rice with the water, cinnamon and salt: bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Milk just added          |          after 15 minutes
Add in the sugar milk and raisins and bring back to boil, stirring, then lower heat to medium-low and stirring constantly (to avoid scorching the milk or milk overflowing), cook until the mixture is thickened to taste. In my case, it took 15 minutes for the milk to thicken down from the photo on the left, to the photo on right. Serve warm with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Using Leftover Carnitas in a Wonderful Casserole

Well, Cinco de Mayo is now days past. If you, like me, made Carnitas with a nice big 5-pound roast, you probably have a lot of leftovers. We sure do. Yesterday I was really desirous of something other than tacos, delicious as they were. So as usual, I went to Google. There are lots of great ideas out there, and some were tempting, but I settled on a sort of Taco Casserole. I did see a recipe out there that I used as my layering idea, but that was where any copying left off. 
Carnitas Taco Casserole

One of the recipes I have used for years and years is Creamy Corn Casserole. It does have some sweetness involved, in that it uses a Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix as its base. The recipe also includes a little brown sugar. As a side dish, particularly with pork, it is just fabulous and we both love it. I wanted to use this casserole for the base of this dish, so I eliminated the sugar and added a small can of green chiles. 

The next step was an enchilada sauce. While red enchilada sauce is available in any grocery store, I have used a can of red enchilada sauce possibly once in my life. At age 65, I figured I would just try my hand at making one. There are oodles of red enchilada sauce recipes out there from simple to complex. Being me, mine was a little more complex than many, but it certainly had really great flavors. If you prefer, just use a commercial can of sauce. Here is what I did for mine:

Red Enchilada Sauce
Red Enchilada Sauce

makes about 3 cups

1 dried Ancho chile
1 bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon chicken "base"
1 tablespoon green pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaf
1 - 2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon agave syrup, optional
more salt, if needed

Set the Ancho chile into a small pan of boiling water and boil until it is softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Once soft, remove from the water, and reserve the water aside. Remove stems and seeds from the chile and put it into a blender container. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the chile cooking water, straining out any stray seeds. If there is not enough, add more water to make 1 1/2 cups. Add the chicken bouillon cube or the chicken "base" into the hot water to dissolve. Add this liquid to the blender. 

In a very hot, dry skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds, stirring and tossing continuously until they are just lightly browned and have begun to pop. Remove them to the blender. Add in the cumin seeds and toss quickly until fragrant; remove to the blender. Add to the blender container the oregano, chili powder, chipotle powder, smoked paprika, cocoa powder, pepper and cinnamon.

In a medium to large skillet, over medium to medium-low heat, saute the onion in the first teaspoon of olive oil until tender and golden. Add in the garlic and saute about 3 minutes more, until very fragrant. Add this mixture to the blender and leave the skillet aside. Beginning on low, puree the mixture in the blender until it is completely liquid. In the skillet, melt together the second tablespoon of olive oil with the flour, then add in the contents of the blender. Cook the mixture over medium heat, lowering to a simmer once it begins to spatter. Allow the mixture to cook, stirring often for about 15 minutes. Add in agave syrup if desired for a little sweetness. Add more salt if needed. 
Carnitas Taco Casserole

Once I had the idea of how I wanted to layer this casserole, and had the enchilada sauce made, all that was left was to put it all together. The Pork Carnitas were waiting in the fridge. However, I was missing two ingredients: the sour cream needed in the Corn Casserole (and for topping the casserole when serving, of course) and the shredded cheese to top the casserole. I didn't want to have to stop and run to the store, so I called my husband who was just leaving work. He said he would be happy to stop for these two items. I said, ". . .sour cream and one of those Mexican mixes of shredded cheeses". He brought me Mexican Taco Cheese, which was chock full of taco seasonings. This was not what I had in mind. I wanted one of those blends of cheddar, jack and maybe something else. While this makes absolutely no difference in flavors except for personal taste, ultimately all those taco seasonings made the cheese all brown, when melted together. I intended to have a pretty yellow topping of melty cheese. Do with this part of the recipe as you choose. 

Carnitas Taco Casserole
Carnitas Taco Casserole

makes one 9 x 13-inch casserole

1 recipe Creamy Corn Casserole
1 (4-ounce) can mild green chiles (or hot if preferred)
1 recipe Red Enchilada Sauce (above), or 2 cups commercial red enchilada sauce
2 1/2 cups leftover pork carnitas or other pulled pork
6 ounces shredded cheese (cheddar or a blend of cheddar jack)
Sour cream, to serve
Cilantro leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection Bake). Prepare the corn casserole as directed, eliminating the sugar and adding in the can of green chiles. Mix all the ingredients in a 9 x 13-inch casserole and bake for 30 minutes. The casserole may be slightly soft, though it will be well set. Remove from oven and leave the oven on.
Sauce finished  |  Corn Casserole, holes poked in  |  sauce and meats layered on  |   in the oven     |   just out of the oven    

Have the enchilada sauce made (or bought) and ready, the meat measured and the shredded cheese handy. Poke holes into the corn casserole as shown in the photo above. Ladle on half of the enchilada sauce, spreading around. Top evenly with the shredded carnitas. Ladle on the remaining enchilada sauce. The sauce does not have to be completely even. Top with the shredded cheese and bake the casserole until heated through, about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is well melted and the casserole is bubbling around the edges. Serve hot with sour cream if desired. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.