Monday, June 1, 2015

Homemade Chili Powder

Chili Powder From Scratch,  Dried Chiles

This recipe is one more reason I love dried chiles. Yes, you can re-hydrate them and then puree them into chili or enchilada sauce, but you can also make your own chili powder. 

I'm not sure about you, but I go through a ton of chili powder. Before making my own, I used to always buy the biggest container of it that I could find. I most often reach for it when I make tacos, but it ends up in so many of my other recipes as well. I even like to sprinkle it over popcorn.

Homemade Chili Powder Prep
Homemade Chili Powder Prep

So why wouldn't you want to make your own chili powder if you use it so much? Especially when it's easy to make and far superior in taste to what you can find in the grocery store. You'll never want to go back to the flat flavor of the jarred variety after sampling what you can easily make in fifteen minutes. It's smoky, spicy and much brighter than what you are probably used to having.

Kristin's Chili Powder, From Scratch, From Dried Chiles
What I really like about making my own chili powder is the customization factor. After some experimentation, you'll be able to create your own unique blend based on what you like. Below is my basic mix, but I'm excited to experiment --  especially after a little ingredient inspiration -- with more exotic blends in the future.

Homemade Chili Powder
Adapted from Alton Brown

Careful of the fumes when preparing this recipe. Be sure to let the powder settle for at least a minute after blending before you remove the cap. It can be pretty potent, and you don't want to inhale it or you'll feel the burn! 

Yield: about 3/4 of a cup

Prep Time: 15 minutes

3 ancho chiles
3 guajillo chiles
3 dried arbol chiles
1 dried chipotle chile
2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Stem and seed all the chiles. [You can wear gloves while you handle the chiles if you're worried about their oils.] Place them in a heavy bottomed skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Flip the chiles at least once, after about 2-3 minutes; they should be slightly blistered. Remove after another couple of minutes and place directly into spice grinder or blender to cool. 

Turn the heat down to medium-low and then add the cumin seeds. Keep shaking the skillet so that the cumin seeds are constantly moving. After 3-4 minutes you should be able to smell the cumin toasting and the seeds will be a few shades darker than when you started. Just be careful not to let them burn. Remove from heat and transfer the seeds into the spice grinder/blender.

Add the remaining spices and blend until a fine powder has formed. Wait for everything to settle, at least full a minute, before opening. Transfer chili powder to an airtight container. 

Use within 6 months.

-Here is a guide to variations of dried chiles in case you can't find the ones I used and need to find a good substitute.
-Choose dried chiles that are still pliable and glossy. 
-Store dried chiles in an airtight container -- it should help them keep for a very long time.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Pineapple-Mango Salsa

When you don't like tomatoes, ordering at the average Mexican restaurant will invariably be a struggle. Most of the menu items involve the seemingly ubiquitous nightshade in one capacity or another. Even worse, unless I want to shell out extra money (and calories) for guacamole or queso when the chips and salsa are delivered, I have to eat my tortilla chips dry.

That's what I love about eating at home: I can account for my own likes and dislikes when menu planning and cooking. Though I rarely like to eat out for Mexican, it's a favorite of mine to cook. With Cinco de Mayo around the corner, I wanted to make carnitas, my favorite filling for street tacos. Since pico de gallo was out of the question as a garnish, I thought a fresh fruit salsa would pair excellently with the savory shredded pork. I just couldn't decide on the fruit-- mango or pineapple?

So I didn't. I simply used both.

After chopping and stirring together the ingredients, I needed to taste it, to make sure the proportions worked. It was too sweet, so I added onion and took another sample.

And then another.

And another.

I couldn't stop. The combination of sweet, juicy pineapple and luscious mango was balanced with the bite of onion and garlic while the lime brought it all together with its acidic zing. The pleasant heat of the jalapeno lingered on my tongue long after the other flavors faded away. I was hooked.

Though the carnitas were quite tasty, I found their delicate flavor was overpowered by this pineapple-mango salsa. I enjoyed the majority of the salsa as a snack with tortilla chips, but I can't wait to try it with grilled shrimp or chicken.

Pineapple-Mango Salsa
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Cilantro is traditional in many fruit salsas, but since I belong to the part of the population that tastes soap when I eat cilantro, I don't use it. If you are a fan of it, by all means, add it! 2-3 tablespoons should work nicely.

Yield: scant 2 cups

Total Time: 15 minutes

1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
2-4 tablespoons onion, minced finely
3 garlic cloves, minced finely
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced finely
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Pinch of sea salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Taste and make any adjustments according to your tastes. For best flavor, prepare the salsa at least 30 minutes ahead of time to allow the flavors to marry.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days in the fridge.

Notes: Serve with tortilla chips for a great appetizer or as an accompaniment for grilled fish, chicken, pork, or shrimp.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Easy Homemade Chicken Stock Using a Rotisserie Chicken and a Crock Pot

Rotisserie chickens are such a convenience. To justify the expense, I can usually stretch one bird for two meals. After the initial meal, I love picking the bones clean and using the chopped meat for enchiladas, arroz con pollo, chicken fried rice, etc. But it's not over there. Why would I throw out the bones? That's a waste of money and flavor since I can make an incredibly easy and tasty stock by tossing the carcass into my crock pot with some veggies.

I used to freeze the bones if I didn't have time to make stock right away. Babysitting a simmering pot on the stove for several hours was definitely a weekend job. Now that I use my crock pot, this is an overnight, on any night, kind of job. The slow cooker does all the work while I sleep. Pretty nice, right?

Easy Homemade Chicken Stock

Yield: approximately 2 quarts

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Cook Time: 8 hours

1 rotisserie chicken carcass
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, washed and cut in half
2 celery stalks, washed and cut in half, preferably with the leaves still on
2 cloves of garlic
5 peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Place all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover with 8 cups of cool water. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. 

Skim any fat that appeared on the surface. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. [If you added any herbs, you might want to line it with cheesecloth first.] Discard the bones and vegetables. 

Use immediately or allow stock to cool before refrigerating. Use within 2-3 days or freeze for a longer storage option.

Ingredient Notes:
-This ingredient list is just the beginning -- a suggestion really. I sometimes add parsley and thyme if I have them on hand. Try adding other vegetables too, like leeks or shallots or parsnips; just avoid strong flavors like broccoli. 
-You can also make a respectable stock with just the chicken bones, onion, and garlic.
-Salt can also be added. Try 1 teaspoon as a starting place. 
-I thoroughly wash my veggies, but I don't peel them -- even the onions. It saves times and deepens the color of the stock. If this idea grosses you out, by all means, peel away!

Helpful Hints:
-I love freezing stock in ice cube trays and then transferring them to a big freezer bag. If you need a small amount of stock for something, the small portions makes defrosting the right amount a breeze. It also makes a great summer treat for your favorite dog. 
-Try freezing your extra carrots and celery. I wash them, cut them to the desired size, and then individually freeze them on cookie sheets. Once frozen, I transfer them to a freezer bag. Then, whenever I want to make stock, I can grab them from the freezer. It just makes stock making even easier. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Maltese Pulpetti (Corned Beef Croquettes)

With St. Patrick's Day coming up, I couldn't help but want to make these Maltese croquettes, called pulpetti, since they feature corned beef. 

The first time I ever had corned beef pulpetti was as a teenager. We had arrived at Nanna's house late at night, tired from our 4-hour journey. It was gross and rainy outside, making her kitchen seem warmer and cozier than usual. Nanna was busily alternating between forming little patties and then frying them gently in her electric griddle. We all gathered around Nanna as she worked, devouring the little potato and meat cakes as soon as they came out of the fryer. Nannu was on the couch, snoring by then, as the TV droned on in the background, but the rest of us continued to eat right where we stood, relieved to not be cooped up in the car and happy to be together again with good food warming our bellies.

I don't think I had ever had a croquette of any kind before this, but I instantly fell in love. What's not to love when you fry mashed potatoes though? Besides corned beef, pulpetti is often made with tuna, ground beef, or ground pork. Sometimes diced hard boiled eggs are included as well. I've seen some recipes call for breadcrumbs or a combination of milk and bread instead of the potatoes. Pulpetti is one of those dishes that you can easily adapt based on what you have available in your pantry and your own personal preferences; however, I'm sure every Maltese family has their own favorite way to make them, most likely the way their Nanna did.

Below is how my Nanna made her corned beef pulpetti. Enjoy!

Maltese Pulpetti (Corned Beef Croquettes)
Adapted from Nanna

Pulpetti can be made with many other kinds of meat if you're not a fan of corned beef. Some traditional alternatives: tuna, ground pork, ground beef, and hard boiled eggs.

Yield: 24 medium (1 1/2 inches) sized patties

Total Time: 1 hour

3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 cups)
1 medium onion, grated or finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2-3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 12-ounce can of corned beef
1/2 cup Semolina flour or seasoned bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place them in a large work bowl. Mash the potatoes; add onions, garlic, cheese, eggs, pepper, and parsley; stir to combine. Work in the corned beef until well incorporated. Shape into balls and flatten slightly into round patties. Roll in semolina flour.

Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of vegetable oil, enough to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot, work in small batches, making sure not to crowd the pan. Allow the patties to fry for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until they are golden brown. Handle the patties carefully, as they are delicate. Allow patties to drain on paper towels before transferring to a serving platter.

Serve hot with marinara sauce for dipping.

Leftovers can be crisped in a hot oven. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

I've always thought of these soft, cake-like cookies as little drops of sunshine. I am desperately craving sunshine right now, so I'll take it in any form I can get. Currently, it's sleeting outside, and we're supposed to get more snow later today. It seems like this dismal winter will never end, and I'm beginning to feel like I'm in a version of Groundhog Day, reliving the same cold day over and over again. 

Speaking of little weather-predicting rodents, why'd Phil have to see his shadow this year anyway? I'm not sure I can take four more weeks of this... Don't worry though, I won't take any toasters into the bathroom or anything else Bill Murray's character attempted!

If ever a cookie could beat away the winter blues, these little guys could. Their sunshiny-ness obviously comes from the inclusion of fresh lemons, but it's the glaze that really brightens them up. It is tart and fresh and bursting with sweet, lemony goodness. 

I've made these lemon ricotta cookies for parties and potlucks many times, and they're always a hit. I usually get recipe requests whenever I make them, so it only seems appropriate I finally share the recipe here. Plus they include two of my favorite ingredients: ricotta and lemon. Here are some other favorites we've shared in the past that feature ricotta or lemon:

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

These cookies are very cake-like with a soft and delicate crumb. No crunchy or chewy cookies here! 

Yield: 36 2-inch cookies

Total Time: 3 hours; Prep Time: 30 minutes; Bake Time: 15 minutes (per cookie sheet)

For the cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese, perhaps homemade
3 tablespoons lemon juice, about 1 large lemon
1 lemon, zested

For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice, about 1 large lemon
1 lemon, zested

For the cookies:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, with racks set in the upper third and lower third of the oven. 

Add flour, baking powder, and salt to a medium bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, being sure that the first is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat to combine. Gently fold in the dry ingredients, taking care not to over-mix.

Line three baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. If you have one, use a spring loaded disher to evenly portion out the dough (about two tablespoons worth per cookies). Leave at least an inch between the cookies as they will puff slightly in the oven. Bake two of the trays for eight minutes and then switch and rotate the pans. Bake for another seven minutes, until the edges are slightly golden. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on their sheets for 20 minutes. Repeat with the remaining sheet of cookies. 

For the glaze:
Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Gently spoon a small amount of glaze onto each cookie and spread with the back of a spoon. Glaze will take about 2 hours to completely harden. 

Store in an airtight container.