Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chile Relleno Nirvana

Mexican food has been one of my favorite cuisines for most of my life.  I can still picture in my mind the way my mom would "set up" tacos at our house.  Little bowls lined up on the counter with diced tomato, cheddar, shredded lettuce, olives, and taco meat, of course.  As we aged, our Mexican repertoire grew.  This was helped along by the fact that one of our good friends, who happened to be Mexican, opened a restaurant near our house.  Now, it was easy to get our hands on enchiladas, tamales, panchitos, quesadillas, carne asada and chile relleno. 

Relleno is hands down my favorite Mexican dish.  But, it's not always made the same way.  Some restaurants serve a plate of gobs of melted cheese under which you discover a slice of pepper draped over some hamburger meat.  This is not relleno. You may be saying, "But, Elizabeth, it's a Mexican restaurant. Surely they know what a relleno is."  Here's my retort:  just because you own a restaurant doesn't mean you're a good cook. Some restaurants get closer by actually serving a stuffed poblano, but they don't call it relleno, but the otherwise catchy title of "stuffed poblano."  Crafty little diablos.  I've had some that are pretty darn good: crispy, spicy, cheesy, saucy.  And others who can't even be appreciated because they are so eggy you'd think you got slipped an omelet instead.

A few days ago, Neil returned from Atlanta with a plethora of beautiful stuff from the Farmer's Market.  In addition to a bag of Scotch Bonnets, a fresh cut bunch of bananas, 4 giant mangoes, 2 pineapples, there were 5 gorgeous poblano peppers.  I am a huge fan of poblanos.  Whenever I make corn chowder, I use roasted poblano to give it depth.  But looking at these beauties, I knew we had to make chile relleno!

Right off the flame getting ready to be sealed up in the paper bag to steam
Ready to slip that skin right off

 I have spent the last couple of days searching for the right recipe.  I've made this dish in the past, but never landed on a preparation that I thought was right on.  But today, I struck gold!  I used this recipe but I deviated by browning some ground beef with onion and mixing that into my cheese mixture. Also, I didn't have any Monterrey Jack, so I used mozzarella and cheddar only. Well, I'm sure you know what I'm gonna say next...why would I be writing this anyway?

This is the perfect relleno recipe. In fact, after my first bite I told Neil I thought this was better than any I've had in a restaurant. The exterior was perfectly light yet crunchy, the filling I used was just right, the batter held together and kept my filling from leaking out and the sauce was simply divine.  You know that feeling when you cook something that you, as the cook, feel is so good that you get that elation, total satisfaction, almost to the point of a high?  Well, that's what happened to me tonight.  Everything about the dish was exactly what I wanted: roasty poblano flavor, cheese, and the cinnamon in the sauce added a depth that I can't really find the words to describe. 

Finished product. I ended up eating two!
This is me diggin' the result!

I will sleep well tonight knowing that I've finally unlocked the secret to a perfect relleno.  What's really cool is knowing that now this can be a regular feature here at home and will be fun to make for friends!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Muy bueno!

Neil was in Atlanta for a couple days this week and came across the State Farmers' Market.  He called me, excitedly, at the abundance of peppers, crazy fruits and beautiful veggies.  He said he was seeing some of the biggest poblanos he'd ever seen. Should I bring some home?  Uhh, yeah.

He arrived here with quite an assortment of bounty.  About 2 dozen habaneros (yikes to most people, but not this man o' mine), 2 pineapples, 6 giant mangoes, a fresh cut bunch of little bananas and a bag of crazy looking bread, simply labeled as "Mexican sweet bread."

I've never seen anything like this stuff.  It's colorful,it's mildly sweet, which is great for someone like me...not being a big sweet freak and all.  And, it's practically light as air.  This morning, Viv ate hers just plain but I lightly toasted a slice and gave it a coat of (real) butter.  Oh my...where has this stuff been all my life??

Monday, October 7, 2013

Eggplant disguised as a Meatball

Eggplant has a tough time.  It seems that people either love it or hate it.  I'd put myself in the "love it" camp, but I must admit, I've had my "hate it" eggplant days too. For instance, I can't deal with baba ganoush.  At. All.  I've tried it numerous times over a period of years. I mean, the name just sounds so fun, you'd think anyone would love it. But, for me, no.  And there are other eggplant preparations that I can't deal with.  After a semester in France, I can tell you unequivocally that I loathe ratatouille.  (Loathe: v. hate, detest, abhor, abominate.) It was even hard for me to sit through the animated movie with my daughter because of my ratatouille flashbacks.  (Live a semester with a French family whose regular repertoire is ratatouille, cous cous, pretty much raw hamburger steaks, celery salad and scrambled eggs with french fries, and you might begin to understand...) Yeah, no "French cuisine" in the average household over there, that's for damn sure!

Having said all that, let's move on, shall we? I grew up loving eggplant.  My dad always planted a huge garden since we lived on acreage. My mom found all kinds of cool ways to introduce us to our own backyard bounty so that we never got bored.  But, when it comes to eggplant, the best is simple, thin-sliced eggplant fried nice and crispy.  Now, as we all know, the late 80's began the Anti-fried movement in America.  If you read me often, you know my thoughts on frying properly and frying in the old fashioned, non-healthy-on-any-level way. Using good oil, a heavy cast iron skillet and the right heat yields a good crispy eggplant (or zucchini, squash, pickles, shrimp, etc.)  Yet, I think all of us kids of the 80's were effectively shamed into denying our love of fried food so that none of us cook it often.  That's ok though, because when we do, it's more special.  

So, anyway...seriously, my mind is really wandering but what can I say?

The point of all this is that I tried out a new eggplant dish that I want to pass on to you guys.  I've been reading it over and over again for months.  The curiosity was tickling my imagination but the possibility of the rest of the family not digging it was holding me back. My last Brown Box Veggies box contained two big beautiful eggplants, so I decided the time had finally come to give it a whirl. EGGPLANT BALLS

Just going into the oven

 Wow!  Who is Aunt Mary and what made her think up this recipe?  Well, no matter, she's a damn genius and that's all we need to know.  Y'all, this dish was ridiculously easy to prepare, was "meaty" and filling yet lighter than meat and so packed with flavor.  We took the suggestion of serving with spaghetti and red sauce. I added the "Mullaney salad" and a fresh baguette on the side. 

My husband, like most men, appreciates meat.  But, he had no complaints with this dish.  In fact, before he finished his first helping, he said to me, "Good meal, babe."  And, coming from a not-so-crazy-about-eggplant guy, this is significant!

Vegetarian or not, you'll enjoy this dish.  I love the idea of using the mixture for a "burger" or a "fritter" too.  We had the "meatballs" over spaghetti with a red sauce which I think complemented the eggplant and Parmesan perfectly.  One thought I had as I was eating this dish was "what if I added some grated zucchini to this?"  I think that sounds like a good plan, just to ramp up the vegetable value...stay tuned. 


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