Calabacitas y Elote con Rajas y Crema

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This beautiful recipe name translates to “creamy zucchini, corn, and roasted poblanos, and I happened upon it on The Splendid Table website. If you’re not familiar with The Splendid Table, it was originally a food program on National Public Radio, hosted by the splendid Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Her voice is like sweet nectar, if nectar could talk. You can listen to her here, on You Tube, discussing her years hosting The Splendid Table.

Ms. Kasper retired after 20 years, but The Splendid Table has expanded and now offers podcasts, recipes, interviews, and more. If you want to hear The Splendid Table, check out American Public Media to find the schedule.

The new host is a young man named Francis Lam, who “leads listeners on a journey of the senses and hosts discussions with a variety of writers and personalities who share their passion for the culinary delights.” He’s the one interviewing Ms. Kasper in the you tube video.


This perfect late summer recipe, is a Rick Bayless recipe, from his cookbook More Mexican Everyday, published in 2015, which is one of the few I don’t own. It’s a mixture of zucchini, corn, and roasted chile peppers in cream, used as a taco filling!

This is the photo from the website. The taco filling looks way more crema’d than mine, and I actually followed the recipe. So if you want the filling creamier, add more crema.

Ms. Kasper interviewed Rick Bayless and this is the recipe he describes on air. I’ve adjusted the recipe to read as a recipe, not a story!

Creamy Zucchini, Corn, and Roasted Poblanos Taco Filling
Calabacitas y Elote con Rajas y Crema
printable recipe below

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 zucchini, about 1 pound total, cut into cubes a little smaller than 1/2″
1 cup fresh corn kernels
2 cups poblano rajas (recipe below)
2 tablespoons Mexican crema
1 sprig epazote or 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup crumbled Mexican queso

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When really hot, add the zucchini, stirring and turning the pieces frequently, until they are richly browned all over.

Add the corn and let them brown, for about 2 minutes. I actually browned the corn separately the night before after I cooked corn on the cobs.


Scrape in the 2 cups of rajas, along with the epazote or cilantro (cilantro in my case).

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and add the crema. Taste for salt.

Scrape it into a serving bowl and sprinkled with crumbled queso.

I chose Cotija for my cheese but after-the-fact felt it was too salty.

The great thing about this recipe is that once you’ve made it the first time, you will be able to make it in your sleep. It’s so easy, and the ratios aren’t critical.

A little bit more corn? More crema? It all works.

I did add about 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, however, and liked the addition.

Roasted Poblano Cream
Crema Poblana

4 medium fresh poblano chile peppers, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large white onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup Mexican crema
1/2 teaspoon salt

Roast the poblano chiles directly over high heat, turning frequently. The skin of the chiles should blister and blacken.

Place them in a covered bowl or, what I use, which is a paper bag rolled up so that the peppers can steam cook and the peels loosen. After about 15 minutes, take them out and remove the charred skins and the seeds. Briefly rinse the peppers, then slice them into 1/4″ strips.


Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a very large skillet. When hot, add the white onion and cook until the onion is richly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and oregano.

After a minute, stir in the chile strips and crema.

Continue stirring until the cream has thickened enough to coat the chiles. Season with salt.

Combine the zucchini with the poblano crema, then use as a filling for medium-sized flour tortillas.

Mr. Bayless suggests that the poblano cream sauce is also good with grilled meat, steak, pork chops, broiled fish, chiken or fish tacos. Obviously it goes with everything!

 

 

 

 

 

Butternut Squash Soup with Gorgonzola Crema

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Many years ago I was gifted a little book authored by American cheese maven Paula Lambert, who owns the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas.

The book is called “Cheese, Glorious Cheese.” I couldn’t think of a better title for a cheese book myself!

I remember I was almost scared to open the book. I don’t need any help eating and enjoying cheese.

But then, I did. And the recipes are really fun.

Being that I’m dreaming of fall and, my butternut squashes have successfully matured in my garden, I thought what better recipe to make from this book but a butternut squash soup with a dollop of Gorgonzola crema.

It just takes soup to a new level, right? Oh, and there’s also some peppered bacon bits on top as well. Perfect for an almost-fall, wishing-for-fall lunch.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Crema
Extremely Adapted from, “Cheese, Glorious Cheese”

1 large butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Chicken broth, about 4 cups
8 ounces peppered bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
8 ounces marscapone
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup crema, or Mexican sour cream
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Begin the soup by peeling the butternut squash, and removing the seeds. Cut up the squash into fairly uniform-sized pieces and place them in a large pot.

Pour the broth over the top – just enough to cover – and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and let the squash cook for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove the lid and let the squash cool.

In a skillet, place the bacon and butter. Cook the bacon until to your taste. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, but keep the skillet with the butter and bacon fat.

Over medium heat, cook the onion and shallots for about 5-6 minutes, or until soft.

When the squash has cooled, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and place in a large blender jar. I only begin adding the broth when blending begins, so that I can control the consistency.

Add the onion-shallots, the marscapone, and salt. Blend, adding a little broth as necessary, to make the soup to your desired thickness. I prefer my cream-based soups quite thick.

Stir together the crema and gorgonzola, and have the bacon dice on hand.

Ladle the hot soup into soup bowls.

Place a dollop of the gorgonzola cream in the center, and then sprinkle on the bacon.

The flavor combination is incredible. I could actually do without the bacon.

Personally, I forced myself to follow through on the gorgonzola; I much prefer feta. But it’s wonderful.

It’s good to stir the gorgonzola cream into the soup, but not too much. You want to taste those different flavors.

If you didn’t notice, I like thick, rich, creamy soups. If you didn’t want to make a rich soup, you can use evaporated milk instead of marscapone. But don’t omit the butter! Butter belongs in soups!

Or, you could simply use chicken broth. But that’s no fun. Happy Fall!

Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

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The flavor of chipotle chile peppers is one of my favorite flavors – up there with garlic, cilantro, curry, pesto, and fish sauce.

Chipotle chile peppers are jalapeños which are dried and smoked. I don’t understand why they can’t be called smoked jalapeños, but no one asked my opinion. So chipotles they are.

You can purchase them whole and already ground. They also come in a can all plumped up in adobo sauce.


However you use chipotles, they add a unique, spicy smokiness to whatever food you’re preparing, whether you’re adding them to an enchilada sauce, seasoning flank steak, or spicing up a mayo.

Today I needed to make an appetizer with shrimp. I immediately thought of chipotle for seasoning – a fairly strong flavor that works with shrimp. Just for fun I also made a crema verde for a cool balance to the spicy shrimp.

Here’s what I did.
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Chipotle Shrimp with Crema Verde

Crema Verde
12 ounces crema or sour cream
2 ounces chopped green chiles
1 bunch cilantro, rinsed and dried
Salt, optional

To make the crema verde, place the Crema and green chiles in a small food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.


Gradually add cilantro leaves, processing as you add them, until the whole bunch of cilantro has been incorporated into the Crema.

Cover and refrigerate overnight if you’re not going to use right away. However, serve at room temperature.
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Chipotle Shrimp
3/4 pound medium-size shrimp, cleaned
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile pepper
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil, as necessary

Make sure the cleaned shrimp are dry using paper towels. Place them in a large bowl and toss them gently in oil.


Add the chipotle, salt, and pepper. You can always season more after the shrimp are cooked.

Heat a little oil in a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the shrimp in one layer, turning them over with tongs after only 1-2 minutes. The time will depend on the size of the shrimp. Typically they are done as soon as they turn from translucent to opaque and pink.

Cook the remaining batches and place the warm shrimp on a platter.
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Sprinkle more chipotle powder, or even ground sweet paprika if desired and serve with the crema verde.
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Besides being a fabulous and easy appetizer, the shrimp served over a layer of the crema verde, topped with a sprig of cilantro, would also be a wonderful first course to a southwestern-inspired meal.

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Queso Chile Verde

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According to my Spanish dictionary, queso means cheese in English. I checked just to make sure. Because for a while now I’ve noticed that a queso can imply a warm cheese dip that’s often served with salsa and chips at Mexican restaurants. It’s usually somewhat gelatinous, tasteless, and just plain awful. Why wouldn’t it be? They’re not going to put a lot of money into something that they’re giving away.

There is an American version of queso that’s popular, made with Velveeta. Now if you’ve followed my blog for any time now, you know that I abhor this cheese “food.” In fact, it’s what my mother and I used to use on our hooks when we went fishing. It wasn’t until I got married that I learned that people actually ate the stuff!

Velveeta “queso” is made from a giant block of Velveeta, plus some canned tomatoes that contains green chilies. And I think that’s it. The only positive with Velveeta is that it melts well, so the dip if smooth. I don’t care how smooth it is. I won’t touch it.

But Mexican quesos, if they’re not giving away the stuff, can be way more interesting. Those cheese dips can be really flavorful when they’re made with good cheese. If I come across a good queso at a Mexican restaurant, I always have my husband, who’s fluent in Spanish, ask the waiter what kind of cheese they use, out of curiosity. They invariably tell me queso blanco, which translates to white cheese. Now, I think they’re either pulling my chain, or they just don’t know. But there’s no Mexican cheese called queso blanco. But I’ll continue asking until I get a good answer!

So you might be wondering why I wrote a post on Southwestern-inspired food last week, and mentioned that I was going to be surprising everyone with exactly that – something inspired by Southwestern cuisine! Well this is it! I’m making a queso, but not an awful American one, nor a gloppy Mexican variation.

I give you queso, chili verde style. You might be familiar with hearty Pork Chile Verde, a version of which is on this blog. It’s what I used for inspiration!

This queso is Southwestern style, because I’m using a combination of jalapenos, poblanos, tomatillos, and cilantro, all of which are chile verde components. And for the queso part, I’m using Oaxaca cheese, which melts just as well as Velveeta. Plus I’m throwing in some chorizo.

So here’s my Southwestern version of a queso, chili verde style!

Queso Chile Verde

1 pound tomatillos
1 large onion
4 jalapenos
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 Poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, de-seeded, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup crema, or sour cream
14 ounces Oaxaca cheese, coarsely chopped
Mexican chorizo, cooked and drained, optional
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional
Tortilla chips

Place the tomatillos in a skillet large enough to hold them in one layer. Mine were fairly large so a regular-sized skillet worked well. Turn on the heat to high, and roast the tomatillos a little, moving them around constantly. This will actually help remove the papery peels.

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Let them cool, then remove the peels. If you’d like, you can rinse the tomatillos in warm water to remove some of the natural stickiness. I didn’t.

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Turn on the roast setting on your oven for 425 degrees F, or turn on the broiler.

Get out a jelly-roll pan. Finely chop the onion and place the pieces on the pan. De-stem the tomatillos and place those along with the onion on the pan.

You need to remove the stems and seeds from the jalapenos. I always wear a glove on my left hand to avoid getting jalapeno juice in my eyes.

There are many ways to deal with jalapenos. I’ve even tried two different jalapeno de-seeders and neither worked. So here’s how I do it:

Slice off the stem and hold the jalapeno perpendicular to the cutting board. Slice along the outside of the jalapeno from top to bottom, again and again, until all you have left is the seedy core. This is very similar to avoiding the seeds in a green pepper, if you do it this way. You’re left with lovely strips of jalapeno flesh, which you can simply chop for your purposes.

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For this recipe, finely chop the jalapenos and add them to the onion and tomatillo.
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Drizzle on the olive oil and add a little salt and pepper. Only a little salt; the crema and the Oaxaca cheese are both salty to me.

Roast the vegetables in the oven, taking care to not over brown them. They should look like this:
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If you used a roasting setting, keep the oven on. If you used the broiler, turn it off.

Meanwhile, add the tablespoon of oil to a skillet on the stove. This skillet is also going to be my serving vessel, but it doesn’t have to be.

Saute garlic in the oil for just a few seconds over low heat, then stir in the chopped Poblano peppers.
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Then add the roasted onion, tomatillo and jalapeno to the skillet and stir everything together.

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Add the crema and stir it in well.

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Reduce the mixture for about 5 minutes.

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Then stir in the oregano and cumin.

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Add about half of the chopped cheese to this mixture and stir it in.
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Then top the mixture with the remaining cheese.
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If you’re using the broiler setting on your oven, turn the broiler back on. When it’s ready, place the skillet under the broiler. It should just take a few minutes for the cheese to melt and brown.
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Alternatively, if you want the dip in a nicer serving dish, place everything in it first. Just make sure the dish can withstand heat from the broiler.

For the chorizo, I cooked up the crumbled sausage first, and let it drain on paper towels before starting on the queso.
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To serve, I put the chorizo in the middle of the queso; it also could have been stirred in to the dip as well.

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And at the last minute I sprinkled chopped cilantro over everything.

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Make sure to serve this queso hot, or the cheese will get a little rubbery if it cools. In fact, using a Sterno set-up with this queso would work really well, so it stays hot over time.

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I’m a cheese lover, but I don’t like rubbery, cold cheese!

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I served the chili verde queso with Pacifico, one of my favorite Mexican beers. It went really well. My husband stuck with Guinness.

verdict: I am very proud of this queso, which utilizes many of my favorite Southwestern flavors and ingredients. Although there are Mexican chile verdes, I was influenced by the very popular pork chile verde from New Mexico, utilizing their famous Hatch chile peppers. It was delicious!!!