Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spice of Life! An Un-Fried Chile Relleno to Brighten Up January...

Normally when you think Chile Relleno you think of the deep fried, cheese filled, omnipresent vegetarian option in most Mexican restaurants. This is not that Chile! This is a healthy, tangy, delicious version that can play the staring role at any dinner party.....

Serves 4

5 Poblano Peppers (substitute Green bells if you don't want the heat...)
1 Lg Onion, chopped fine
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbs Olive Oil
8 Oz Dry Pinto Beans: soaked overnight, then boiled in 3 cups of water until tender with a tsp of salt and one bay leaf (can substitute 2 cans of Pinto Beans, rinsed)

2 Ripe Avocados
2 Cups Fat Free Yogurt
4 Oz Feta Cheese
1 Lime, juice only
2 Tbs chopped Cilantro

1. First thing is first; Roast the Poblano's on an open burner flame, the grill or under the broiler. turn frequently until Charred black on all sides. Place Charred Peppers into a bowl with a tight fitting lid (or plastic wrap) and let them sit in their steam for 10 minutes. After ten minutes it should be easy to strip away the charred skin, careful not to tear the side of the pepper. Cut around the stem end of the chile and carefully remove the stem and seeds, but reserve the cleaned stem for decoration. You will inevitable tear one or two of the chiles. Not to worry, you have roasted a spare which you can cut up and use to patch up any holes in the 4 serving peppers.

2. Now the filling: No cheese here, instead we'll use protein and fiber rich refried beans. Take your beans and mash them roughly. In a non-stick skillet, sautee the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent and fragrant. Add the mashed beans and fry in the oil until all is combined into a sticky texture, thick enough to be formed. If needed, add some water to loosen the mixture or fry longer to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Let cool enough to handle.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 and prepare an oiled 1/2 sheet pan or casserole dish. Stuff each of the 4 peppers to brimming with the bean mixture. Patch up any wholes with the spare pepper, and top each pepper with its stem cap. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes to let the flavors meld and the pepper and mixture to adhere to each other.

4. And the show stopper: Avocado cream. To make the sauce, combine the avocados, yogurt, 3/4 of the feta and 3/4 of the cilantro and the juice of one lime in a food processor or blender. Blend until creamy and green.

To present, spoon a generous circle of the avocado cream onto the center of each plate. Top with the Chile, hot from the oven and then drizzle more of the cream on top. Finally, sprinkle with the reserved cilantro and feta cheese. This dish seems rich, but the olive oil, touch of feta and avocados supply the only fat, and the non-fat yogurt and pinto beans give tons of lean protein. Plus, you get your veggies, protein and carbs all in one dish! The spicy pepper, the creamy richness of the garlicky beans and the tangy creaminess of the sauce make this an unforgettable dinner!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beet's me!

Continuing with the tuber theme, Beets are next up to bat. These succulent ruby gems are naturally sweet so it may not be obvious that they are packed with nutrition! Beets are a great source of Calcium, Folic acid, fiber and manganese. They are packed with B vitamins and vitamin C. They are great for the health of your blood, almost like they were color coded, as they are particularly rich in Iron. For the almost vegetarian diet, beets play a critical role since they contain many of the vitamins and minerals most commonly found in red meat.

This is a recipe I came up with due to a failed attempt at a totally different dish! Some of the best discoveries are total accidents. Try this elegant presentation as a special dinner. The recipe makes enough for 4 for an appetizer or lunch, or for 3 for dinner.

1.5 lbs beets, trimmed, peeled and cubed (reserve the greens)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbs honey or agave
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 oz Mild goat cheese

Puree the beets a food processor until they are completely pureed. Add the eggs and honey and puree again until smooth. In a large bowl, sift the baking powder, salt, pepper and flour together.

(***Because Beets have a vast variance in water content, start with just half the flour first and check the consistency. Sometimes half is enough and sometimes you need the whole quantity. The important thing is that you have a consistency of a slightly thicker than normal and slightly chunky pancake batter.)

Mix in the beet mixture and wisk until smooth. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook the pancakes in batches using a little vegetable oil for each batch. The pancakes need about 2 minutes on each side. You can tell they are ready to flip when little bubbles form on top after a couple of minutes on the first side. This should yield approximately 16 pancakes of about 3-inch diameter. Place pancakes on a paper towel to absorb any excess oil.

After you finish cooking the pancakes, cut the goat cheese into 4 medallions of about 1/4 inch thickness. place them on the hot non-stick skillet for 10 seconds on each side. This should just soften the cheese.

I like to saute the beet greens with a little garlic and olive oil and use that as a base. If the beets came with out leafy tops or not enough, you can use spinach instead. To serve, gather the greens or spinach in the middle of the plate, stack the pancakes and top with the goat cheese medallions. Oven roasted potatoes work beautifully as a side for this elegant dish that's as easy as, well, making pancakes!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Fall is the season of the root vegetable, and no root vegetable has been underestimated like the Parsnip. These sweet and savory gems resemble white carrots but have an earthy flavor all their own. They are great roasted, mashed with potatoes or sautéed, but they really shine in soups. When used in almost any soup they permeate it with a lush sweetness that adds depth as well as a rich flavor. This soup recipe is one that will impress, with a unique and rich flavor all its own. Great with a simple green salad and a hunk of crusty bread for lunch or a light dinner.

1.5 lbs parsnips, peeled, trimmed and cubed.
1 large onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dry)
2 tbs creamy dijon mustard
1 tsp whole grain dijon mustard
1/3 cup mascarpone (or 1/2 cup half and half)
1 tbs Olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
2 cups water
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat the until the onion is translucent, but not browned. Add the thyme, Parsnips, stock and water. Season with another pinch of salt. Cover the pot and raise the heat to high to bring to a boil, then crack the lid to release steam and lower to medium low and let simmer until the parsnips are tender, or about 30-40 minutes. Once Tender, blend the soup with an immersion blender or in the food processor in batches. You could also use a potato masher but that would result in a chunkier texture. I like it creamy smooth. Finally, stir in the mascarpone or half and half and the mustard and wisk into the soup of the heat. Serve with a sprinkle of parsley for a beautiful presentation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Picking overboard?

Here is a great and easy recipe for Tarte Tatin, the French version of an apple pie. Tarte Tatin differs from its American cousin in 2 key ways, namely, the apples are caramelized completely and it is baked upside down. For simplicity, I use a puff pastry sheet for the base (or top), but you can use virtually any butter based pie crust dough recipe you like. I will include a butter pastry dough recipe in a later post which would work well here too. The important thing here is the apples. You need a sweet but sturdy apple that will stand up to the caramelization and still retain its shape somewhat. I like to use whatever is in season at the moment anytime I cook and this is no exception. Generally speaking though, you would not want to use a red delicious as they tend to fall apart. Also, nothing too tarte, like a granny smith, since you want it to get gooey sweet, not sour. I tend to go with Empire or pink lady apples, something crisp and sweet. Do not underestimate the amount of apples you will need for this pie, they tend to cook way down, so do not skimp!

The rest is as easy as, well, pie.

8-10 apples
1/2 -3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tbsp unsalted butter
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Mix the lemon juice into a large bowl of water. You will use this to soak the apples as you work with them, so they do not brown. Now, peel, core and cut the apples into 8ths, in long slices, and put in the water and lemon juice bath.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the slices well and add to a large skillet on medium heat. Add about 1/2 a cup of the sugar and 2 tbsp of the butter to the pan and mix to coat. The apples will release some water which will mix with the sugar and create a caramel base for the pie. Keep cooking until the apples are fully cooked through and browning into a gorgeous caramel color. Add the vanilla towards the end and toss to coat all the apple in the caramel. Some of the pieces will break down, which is fine. You want a mix of whole pieces and mush, as the mush will fill in the gaps between the slices when you arrange them in your pie dish.

Liberally butter a 9 inch pie dish. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to the dish and swirl it around until the entire buttered surface is evenly coated in sugar. You can toss the leftover sugar into the pan with the apples.

When the apples are ready, you can artfully arrange the slices that remained whole in whatever pattern you like along the bottom of the pie dish. When the Tarte is finished and inverted, this will be the top. The remaining apples and apple mush can just all be spread on top of the decorative pieces in an even layer.

Roll out your pastry dough until it is slightly larger than the size of your pie dish and place it carefully on top of the apples. trim away any excess with a sharp knife.

The entire recipe to this point can be done as far as 24 hours in advance, and stored in the fridge until dinner time. Bake the pie (starting at room temperature) at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes, until the pie crust is nicely browned. Take the pie out of the oven and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes.

Now comes the scary part. Take your serving dish and turn it upside down to lay on top of the pie. Using oven mitts (remember, the pie dish is super hot, as is the molten caramel inside!) grasp the pie dish and the serving dish together and in one fell swoop, invert! Have no fear. As long as you are holding both dishes securely, you have nothing to worry about. Worst case scenario, a few of the apple pieces stick to the pie dish, and you can pick them off (sing thongs, its hot!) and replace them where they are supposed to go. Even if they all stick (they wont) you can just pile them on top. It will taste just as delicious. Best case and much more likely though, it will come out perfectly!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Perfect Pesto

Pesto is one of those perfect foods - its super easy to make, its gorgeous and its absolutely delicious! It can be used on pretty much everything from pasta and sandwiches to veggies and eggs and many more. The Ligurian region of Italy, and Genoa in particular, claim pesto as their creation, but it has been used in one form or another through out Italy and the Mediterranean for centuries. Traditionally, of course, its a pasta sauce and is most commonly served on pasta with green beans and potatoes tossed in. The best version I have ever had was at a Ristorante Mira in Sestri Levante, Liguria, Italy. They served their version of the concoction on broad lasagna style noodles that were super thin and light as air. It was amazing.

The name Pesto comes from the Italian for Paste, but in todays culinary vernacular it refers to a thick sauce made from a fresh herb blended with a nut of some sort. There are as many variations out there as there are cooks to think them up. This is my version of the classic basil and pine nut pesto. Its super quick and easy to make!

1 Large bunch of fresh basil, leaves only
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lightly packed freshly grated parmesian cheese
1 large garlic clove
3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil

Mix all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Does not get easier than that. The most important thing here is the quality of the ingredients like the oil, basil and parm. Do not skimp here - its a raw sauce.

This sauce freezes really well too, just add a thin layer of the Olive oil on top to prevent freezer burn.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hot and cold Pepper salad

Its always smart to taste your vegetables before you use them, no two ever taste alike. I came up with this recipe as a last minute fix, a way to use bell peppers that just are not that sweet. Sometimes bell peppers are irresistibly sweet like candy, and sometimes they are, well, not. The best way to bring out the natural sugars and accentuate their sweetness is to cook them. Taste each pepper in this recipe and pick the sweetest for the raw half and the least sweet for the cooked. If you do not have or do not like three colors, by all means just use one or two, its only for presentation.

1 medium onion

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 orange bell pepper

1 tsp Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

¼ cup chopped parsley


2 tbsp cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Pinch of salt and pepper

Slice the peppers and onion into 2 inch strips. Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium –low heat and add the oil. To the pan add the onions and half the peppers and pinch of salt. Sweat slowly until softened but not browned, approximately 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the cooked vegetables with the remaining peppers and parsley. Toss with the vinaigrette and sprinkle the pine nuts on top for maximum visual impact just before serving.

Tomatillo salsa:

Tomatillos are a large green South American berry that resembles a green tomato and comes in a husk with a sticky lining. They have a tangy and tart flavor that is amazing with rich foods because it cuts right through and brings balance.

6 tomatillos

1 jalapeño

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp olive oil

¼ tsp salt

½ cup cilantro

Juice of one lime

Husk and wash the tomatillos to remove the sticky film and quarter them. Half and seed the jalapeño pepper (or leave the seeds if you want more heat). Toss the Jalepeno, tomatillos and garlic cloves with the olive oil and salt and roast on a baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until nicely roasted through.

Add cilantro and lime juice to the roasted ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

This sauce is excellent over eggs, arepas, fajitas or quesadillas. It also pairs beautifully with the Arepas in the next recipe!