Squash Green Chile Enchiladas

Butternut Squash, photo by iamsalad/Flickr

A running theme on this blog: Who said vegetarians can’t have fun with traditional Mexican food? To prove this point, take this direct quote from my father as he chowed down on these enchiladas after a long day of skiing last week: “These are the best enchiladas I’ve ever had.” This is from a man who made steak and lobster on Christmas Eve, followed by bacon Christmas morning. Despite their health-nut-sounding title, these enchiladas will even make meat lovers make a dash for round two.

Inspiration for this recipe comes from Tracy Young, soon to be living in Egypt and learning to cook with rosewater.

Squash, Kale, and Green Chile Enchiladas

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large bag small white corn tortillas (the fresher the better)
  • 1 Butternut Squash, sliced in half and baked at 400 degrees in a pan of water for 45 minutes or until soft, and scooped out into small chunks
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • Olive or walnut oil
  • Cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper
  • Goat cheese
  • One 28 oz can of Las Palmas Green Chile Enchilada Sauce, medium spice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Saute chopped onion in a tablespoon of olive or walnut oil until clear, and then add chopped kale (without stems), turning to low heat. Add the pieces of cooked squash along with however much cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper you see fit. Mix together and cook on medium for 3 minutes.

Make sure the plastic bag of tortillas is tied shut, and put the whole bag in the microwave for 1 minute. This is to get the tortillas nice and flexible for rolling; if you don’t have a microwave, make sure your tortillas are super fresh or heat the stack in the oven.

Spread a thin layer of goat cheese down the middle of a tortilla, and then add a layer of the squash/kale/onion mixture. Roll the mini-burrito into the shape of a taquito, and place in a large glass baking dish. Do this with every tortilla until you’ve run out of squash mixture or space in the pan. I added my extra squash mixture onto the top of the tortilla rolls. When it’s ready, dump the entire can of green chile sauce on top, and bake in the oven for around 35 minutes, or until edges are starting to get crispy and the sauce is bubbling. Best served with some fresh salsa, sour cream, margarita in hand, and beans and rice on the side.

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Wake Up From Winter Risotto

The view from 21st Street

I’m writing from my parent’s house in Boulder, CO. Snow has been falling in big, furry flakes today, a few days too late for a White Christmas, but at this rate, perfect timing for a New Year’s Eve White-Out. You’re probably reading this from a similar situation. The roads are blocked all along the East Coast, flights are canceled out of Denver, high winds equal disaster in Southern California, and it’s been raining buckets in San Francisco. Wherever you are, you’re craving something warm and savory and perhaps a little bit zesty to wake you up out of a seasonal lethargy.

It’s rare to eat a food that’s bright magenta. Save for a raspberry smoothie, I can’t think of many dishes that present such aesthetic brilliance to the diner as beet risotto. This dish was sent to me by my dear friend and expert experimental chef Tracy Young, who found the recipe while perusing Epicurious.com.

A note: When I first made the risotto, I was sort of disappointed by the flavor–sort of sweet, definitely creamy, but all in all, semi-bland. But add the horseradish, and the fun starts. Something about the combination of the mild, earthy risotto and the loud tang of a bit of horseradish makes for amazing flavor. Even if it sounds strange, I urge you to try the combo before foregoing horseradish for a fine but ultimately less satisfying dish.

Beet and Beet Green Risotto with Horseradish

From Gourmet Magazine, 1998 (taken from Epicurious.com)

1 small onion
1 pound red beets with greens (about 3 medium)
4 cups water
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio or long-grain rice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon bottled horseradish

Finely chop onion and trim stems close to tops of beets. Cut greens into 1/4-inch-wide slices and chop stems. Peel beets and cut into fine dice. In a small saucepan bring water to a simmer and keep at a bare simmer.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook onion in butter over moderate heat until softened. Add beets and stems and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup simmering water and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking at a strong simmer and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. After 10 minutes, stir in greens and continue cooking and adding water, about 1/2 cup at a time, in same manner until rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 8 minutes more. (There may be water left over.) Remove pan from heat and stir in Parmesan.

Serve risotto topped with horseradish.

A Day For Soup

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

The idea was rejoin at 8 for soup. It had been, after all, a thick, wet day made for thudding around in pajama bottoms and wool socks, a Sunday, the drizzle thin at first but then turning, after noon, into full, taut drops that smacked as they hit the pavement, creating networks of unrelenting puddles, so many that it had been a day to pull out rain boots too. After clutching ginger tea through the storm and making trips to several grocery stores, I had a pot full of raw vegetables, glistening carrot tops and leeks protruding out the top, so when I walked across the street, the woman who waited in her car when the light changed saw a hooded figure clutching a bounty full of dense green shrubbery exploding out of a witches brew-worthy vat, hurrying across Divisadero to her soup date.

Welcomed with flushed cheeks and candles and the warmth that emanates only from kitchens on such chill days in such high ceilinged Victorians, we washed first and laid everything out in its place, one of us taking photos because the carrots and the beans were just too radiant not to. Then shelling dappled cranberry beans, slicing leaks, dicing purple, orange, cream colored carrots, why wouldn’t one spend all of their resources on purple carrots? With their raspberry outer layers and sunset centers. Zucchini, the events of the weekend spilling out as we split sharp garlic into tiny pieces, a dream I had last night, the soccer game that was played one man down, making equal pieces of green beans through meditated cutting, puncturing the summer’s last tomatoes, readying them for their steaming fate, oh and someone spent a late October day surfing.

Spilling everything out, there were years when, pushing tomato juices into the pot along with everything else, when my relationship with food was far more complicated, and mine, sauté everything until it’s golden first, then add vegetables, then tell me what that was like, one tying a bundle of thyme, rosemary, parsley together with only a stalk of thyme is not an easy task, nor is running a race against yourself, but soup, so simple, everything melting together a little, the vegetables losing their edge, becoming less flashy and more mushy, becoming tempting and comforting and everything that goes well with wine and tea.

The last detail being torn pieces of basil, almond slivers, a little parmesan, the pistou, is that the same as pesto? It sure tastes that way. The week’s about to start, what a charming heap of flavor on top of the rich broth, a dash, the perk on your tongue before a deep nurture, no holding back, the conversation flowing up and out like steam, I am worried, that too shall pass, that will run together with other flavors, a mouthful of deep, soft, summer into fall soup.

Photo by Libby MacFarlane

Minestrone with Shell Beans and Almond Pistou

From The New York Times, published on September 28th, 2010

For the soup

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig rosemary

3 bushy sprigs thyme

4 parsley sprigs

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium zucchini or yellow squash (or half of each for color), diced

1 carrot, diced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 pound fresh shell beans like cranberry or cannelloni, shelled (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 plum tomatoes (about 3/4 pound), diced

1/2 cup thinly sliced green beans

FOR THE PISTOU

4 cups fresh basil, packed

1/3 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup chopped plum tomato

2/3 cup grated Parmesan

2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.

1. In a large pot over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Tie rosemary, thyme and parsley in a bundle with kitchen string if desired (this makes it easier to fish out later). Add the herbs, leeks, garlic, zucchini or yellow squash, carrot, salt and pepper to the pot and sauté until the vegetables are golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Add broth, shell beans, tomatoes, green beans and 4 cups water to the pot. Simmer partly covered until the beans are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Discard herbs. Thin with a little water if the soup is too thick.

3. Prepare the pistou: Pulse the basil, almonds, tomato, Parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor until basil is chopped and all the ingredients are combined. Drizzle in olive oil while the motor runs and continue processing until a paste forms. Serve the soup with dollops of the pistou, letting people add more as needed.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Corn Pancakes with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Maple Balsamic Syrup

Think about a kernel of fresh corn. Imagine its coolness, its glassy surface and small firmness. The sweetest corn is just pale of butter yellow, so plump it wants to explode. You manage to wrangle it out of its dormancy within its stalk, shucking the papery peels into a brown bag on the front porch. All of the tiny tendrils keep cloying to the cob, refusing to relent this beautifully symmetrical art form to you. You finally get it as clean as it’s going to get, and you run your fingers down it because it’s as nice and easy as the warm evening all around. And think of the subtle pop this small entity makes when your teeth hits it; a tiny spurt of sugary juice, the crunch, the final realization that the tension of spring has finally burst and summer wants to melt all over you.

I couldn’t get corn out of my mind, succumbing to the smell of it at the farmer’s market or at roadside stands. My friend Ashly made a corn and walnut soup last week, and the taste of it lingered on my tongue for days. Tonight, I had to have corn. And Alice Waters had the perfect recipe for this cloudy evening. Taken from her cookbook Vegetables, the corn cakes offer inspiration for both sweet and savory dishes.

I opted for savory and made a meal of it. The fluffy egg whites made the pancakes soft and light, a perfect complement to the denser fresh kernels inside. Using fresh corn is the only option; don’t even think about canned.

After making the pancakes (see below), surround them in a bed of wilted spinach, top with crumbled goat cheese, and use a sparing amount of Maple Balsamic Syrup. Other options include topping the pancakes with jam, dousing them with honey and butter, or eating them plain.

Hot off the griddle

Corn Cakes (from Vegetables, by Alice Waters)

1 1/2 cups corn flour

1 1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1 T honey

1 cup milk (soymilk works great too)

4 T unsalted butter (I only used 1 Tablespoon and the pancakes were still delicious)

2 ears sweet corn

Remove kernels from uncooked corn. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl. On the stovetop, heat butter, milk, and honey until butter is all the way melted. Separate egg yolks from whites. Whisk the yolks into the stovetop mixture, and then pour the whole mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the fresh corn.

Whip egg whites until they form soft peaks, and then fold into the corn batter. Ladle onto a lightly oiled medium-hot griddle, making 2 inch pancakes. Makes around 18.

Maple Balsamic Syrup

  • 2 T Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 t Maple Syrup
  • 1 T sweet hot mustard
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • a pinch of cayenne

Autumn’s Apple Crisp

Apples

In fall you must make Apple Crisp.

I did not always know this. As much as I rely on apples now, I was not someone who grew up eating them very often. I remember apple slices and applesauce­–segmented or resurrected varieties of the fruit­–but not the whole entities. I also remember considering apples somewhat boring. Standard, sweet, and forever the same. And then I moved to Vermont and realized that maybe, though I liked apples well enough and my childhood meals were comparatively well-balanced and healthy, I had never really eaten a good apple.

I learned the importance of the Apple Crisp doctrine during college in Vermont, where apples predominate the food triangle during autumn; they appear in barrels and baskets, stands on the roadside, bubbling in warm pies, and pretty much overtaking every possible cranny of the state. Every fall I would gather with friends and show up at Happy Valley Orchards, an orchard run by my friend Tommy Heitkamp’s family, to load Cortlands, McIntoshes, Honey Crisps, and Galas into brown paper bags.  We would peruse aisles of short apple trees and pluck the apple of our fancy off of low branches. Sometimes a bite out of an apple would reveal its inferiority and it would be tossed to the ground. You could eat as many apples as you wanted while picking. We climbed trees to get the most tempting fruit and sometimes a picnic would even take place at the roots of a tree, with brie and bread an probably chocolate.

AhApples

The apple of Ms. Bullion's eye

The affair was usually a misty one, and on one occasion I remember dashing inside the small wooden commercial space to escape burgeoning drizzle. No trip could conclude without the purchase of apple cider donuts and a pitcher or two of cider.

And always, when we arrived back to campus with pounds of apples, their skins taut and still dewy, there was a Crisp to concoct. I have no memory of recipes being used; Crisps and Crumbles are nice because they thrive off simplicity, fresh ingredients, improvisation, and vanilla ice cream. A cold day and some fall colors don’t hurt much either. We would eat the Crisps by the spoonful, not bothering to separate the steaming dessert into bowls.

Now I am living in Northern California, a more temperate environment. Today was still and warm, hot even, and the evening could be enjoyed without a sweatshirt. And yet July was like late March in most other places. The skipping over seasons and then retracing steps and having bouts of summer during January, wintery days in July, autumnal days in August, and spring where fall is supposed to be definitely messes with my senses.

But signs of Autumn still make their way into the scene. The man who was selling strawberries and watermelons out of the back of his truck on Harrison Street is now selling pumpkins. Halloween decorations drape themselves over the elegant Victorian facades in my neighborhood (a very fitting architecture for Halloween, I will say). And apples have reappeared at the Sunday farmer’s market. Right now the Galas are still sweet but the Fujis are small and super crisp, the way I love them the most.

Back to where I started: Apple Crisp. I made a rather successful one yesterday, though the apples I used were picked by someone else. We stayed the weekend at the Goat Farm in Tomales (see “Grazing at the Goat Farm Gala”).  Just like in San Francisco, the temperature reminded me much more of early Summer than mid-fall.

In many ways, the farm was actually undergoing spring. A new layer of grass crept through the dead remnants of a dry summer and cast a chartreuse veil over the hills. Baby goats (baby goats!) ran here and there, cuddling up in corners of the pen or munching ecstatically on hay. In the morning, the sun slowly warmed away a velvety layer of fog so it looked as though the cloud dissipating from the barnyard was illuminated from within. Grass stood tall under an echelon of due, almost appearing electric in the slanted sunlight.

Autumn had also sunk its teeth into the farm, as strange gourds decorated counter tops and pumpkins rested precariously on railings. My visit this weekend had no plans, except that we were going to a barn dance (and we did), we would probably make an excellent meals (check), and that I wanted an Apple Crisp. As I sat down to make the dish, I couldn’t help yearning for a cold nose and flushed cheeks from Northeastern air. Hot apple cider doesn’t necessarily taste the same without at least a frost, and I worried the Crisp would be similarly unfitting for the warm evening in store.

Apple Lane

Yet one bite of the Crisp yielded complete satisfaction. The brown sugar, oats, and butter turned into a textured, tasteful topping. Different apple varieties melded together and offset each other’s distantly tart flavors. A dollop of vanilla ice cream melting rapidly over the whole affair prompted a predictable second helping. For a couple of spoonfuls, I was back under the fragile, fiery leaves of Vermont’s autumn.

Simple Apple Crisp

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8×12 pan. Chop 4-6 apples, preferably different varieties. Gravenstiens and Granny Smiths supposedly make great Crisps, but I used neither. Toss apple slices with 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice.

For topping, combine:

  • 6 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Layer apples into the pan and cover with the topping. If you want, you can also add some additional pats of butter onto the top of the Crisp. Bake for an hour, serve with vanilla bean ice cream.