Chicken Tetrazzini in a Hurry

Easy Recipe for Chicken Tetrazzini
with Poblano Chile

I love to cook, I love to work in my kitchen, but some days I just want to come home and find dinner on the table and this was one of those days. A cooked chicken breast and left-over whole wheat spaghetti presented the possibility of chicken tetrazzini and I could use the lovely Mexican casserole dish L.& J. gave me. This would be a quick dish to put together, except for making the cream sauce. I didn’t have cream or mushrooms or chicken stock, so it wouldn’t be the sauce I would really like to make. And I was too hungry to take the time to make a sauce anyway.

However, there was a can of Campbell’s Cream of Poblano Soup that could stand in for the sauce. Why not? Once I made that decision, the tetrazinni came together quickly. Diced chicken (or left-over turkey from Christmas dinner if you have it), spaghetti, chopped red bell pepper and minced parsley for color, some garlic, a little bit of dry thyme, grated Parmesan as a topping. And frozen peas. Maybe it wouldn’t exactly be a tetrazzini, but it would be close enough.

A vegetarian version could be made by substituting baked tofu for the chicken. This is tofu that is already seasoned and cooked, and rather dense, making its texture closer to meat than that of uncooked tofu. It is a good stand-in for meat or poultry. You can find it in natural food stores.

The grocery stores in Mexico stock canned soups preferred by the Mexican palate. Cream of Poblano Soup is always in the stores, but I have never seen it on a restaurant menu or served in a home. Nor have I known of anyone making it from scratch. The canned version contains corn kernals, which added color and flavor. If you don’t have Cream of Poblano soup, you could use Cream of Mushroom soup with optional sautéed fresh or frozen green chile. Or take the time and make a real cream sauce and add sliced mushrooms.

You can follow a recipe for Tetrazzini if you wish. Joy of Cooking is a good place to start, but this is a dish that doesn’t need measurements. Your eye will know how much you want of what.

Sauté the chopped bell pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil until tender. Add the minced parsely and minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the canned soup, a pinch of thyme and enough milk for a sauce-like consistency. Let it simmer a few minutes.

Add the cubed chicken and cooked spaghetti. By volume, I used about equal amounts. Once that is hot, stir in some frozen peas. When everything is gently bubbling, spoon it into a casserole dish, top it with Parmesan cheese, and run it under the broiler until the cheese starts to brown a bit. Add a salad and dinner is served. If I hadn’t been so hungry and in such a hurry, a splash of sherry added to the sauce and a sprinkle of sliced almonds mixed in with the pasta and chicken would have been a nice touch.

Christmas 2009 Cooking and Baking Revisited with Recipes for Lemon Curd, Beet-Picked Deviled Eggs, Golden Onion Pie with Whole Wheat Crust and Chocolate Biscotti

Recipes for Lemon Curd, Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs,
Golden Onion Pie, Whole Wheat Bread and Chocolate Biscotti

Christmas Eve Day was a marathon of cooking and baking. For almost ten hours I flew through the kitchen, whisk and spatula in hand. It’s a miracle I took any photos at all, as the camera was the last thing on my mind. I had already done my recipe research and knew what I would be making. Ingredients were on hand, including anticipation. I love holiday baking and cooking, and it was a pleasure to add these dishes to our friends’ table on Christmas Day.

All things come to an end, even Gourmet Magazine, which took its final bow with the November 2009 issue. Having cut my teeth on Bon Appétit, and then graduating to Gourmet, I almost can’t recall cooking without an issue at hand for inspiration. Here are two dishes from the final Gourmet that graced our friends’ Christmas dinner table in San Pancho, Mexico. Adios, Gourmet.

The recipe for Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs is from Epicurious. A simple brine is used to pickle peeled, hard-boiled eggs for at least 2 hours. Sliced beets cooked in the brine provide the intense color.

I was so tired by the end of the day and more than ready to sit down with a sip of Glenfiddich to watch  It’s a Wonderful Life, that I forgot about the pickling eggs. At 5:30 Christmas morning, I leaped out of bed to remove them from the brilliant brine. No harm was done, and I’m sure the extra time gave them a more magenta hue. Could I have chosen a better visual image to start my day?

The photo shows the eggs more pink, less intense in color, than they were in reality. I will have to remember this colorful recipe for Easter brunch.

Also from Gourmet, Golden Onion Pie, a yeast dough encasing buttery, creamy onions.

While making the dough, I accidently used twice as much melted butter than called for. Butter sticks in Mexico are not 4 oz. or even the metric equivalent. There is always some math involved to make a conversion, and I didn’t do it right this time. As soon as I saw the oily dough in the Kitchen Aid bowl, I realized my mistake. I quickly added the same ingredients all over again, except for the butter, doubling the recipe. This gave me extra dough to cut out stars with a cookie cutter to use as decoration on the pie. Some happy accidents cause me to thank my lucky stars. I also added one roasted, peeled poblano chile and one cup of sliced mushrooms sautéed in olive oil to the filling.

100% Whole Wheat Bread in the Bread Machinemy recipe

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
4 cups whole wheat flour (more or less, you will need to monitor the first kneading to see if it needs more flour or more water)
2 tablespoons gluten flour
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast or rapid rise yeast

Add all ingredients in order given to bread machine pan. Select cycle and start the machine. You may need to adjust for more flour if the dough is too sticky, or more water if it is too dry. Add in small increments until you have a dough that kneads together in a smooth ball.

  • If you detect a bitter flavor in the whole wheat flour, throw it out and buy fresh flour. Bitterness means the flour is rancid. It is best to buy it where there is a high turn-over, or better yet,  grind your own.
  • Use the whole wheat setting if your bread machine has it.
  • I have learned that whole wheat bread never rises as much the second time as it does for the first rise, so I omit the second rise all together. This results in a higher loaf, though a less tender crumb. Since it is 100% whole wheat, there is a limit to how tender the crumb will be anyway, so I don’t mind the sacrifice. To eliminate the second rise: after the first kneading remove the paddle and return the dough to the pan. Before you return the dough to the pan, you can spray the shaft where the paddle fits with Pam or apply vegetable oil. The oiled shaft will easily release the finished loaf, instead of taking out a chunk of bread when it is removed from the pan.With the paddle removed, there will be no “punch down”, resulting in one long rise.

Any recipe from David Lebovitz’ web page is a winner, and his Chocolate Biscotti is no exception. I learned from his blog that the word biscotti means twice baked. If you don’t return the sliced biscotti to the oven for the final crisping, it is not true biscotti. Maybe “Unocotti”?

All my chocolate comes from the States, returning in my carefully weighed luggage and, hopefully, not exceeding the allowed weight and thus incurring the hefty overweight fee. This results in judicious use of chocolate. David calls for chocolate chips and optional dipping in melted chocolate. I’m sure his biscotti finished so would be wonderful, but it is also very, very good made without these two elements. The generous 3/4 cup of cocoa called for gives a very chocolaty flavor, “and no one will complain”.

I discovered years ago, when baking Christmas biscotti as gifts for friends, that it crisps more quickly during the second baking if the slices are placed on a cake rack which is on a sheet pan. This does away with turning the slices over halfway through the second baking for greater crispness.

The twice-baked slices of biscotti are almost too hard to bite into, but they are sturdy enough to hold their shape when dipped into a morning cup of freshly roasted Mexican coffee. They are too good. Thank you, David.

And also from David, and also made as Christmas gifts, his Lemon Curd.

For the first time ever, I saw fresh lemons this December in our local produce and grocery stores.  Lemons are not part of traditional Mexican cooking. Rather, the ubiquitous limes take their place in all things sweet and savory. Finding beautiful, fresh lemons only one block away from my house and for only twenty pesos a kilo — not even two dollars for over two pounds — was a real Christmas gift. The first thing I made was a lemon vinaigrette. The second thing I made was David’s Lemon Curd.

David says to cook the curd until a spoonful dropped back into the pan briefly holds its shape on the surface. This was a good tip to know and it worked. While reading other curd recipes, I checked out The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Her recipe calls for lemon zest to be stirred in after the curd comes off the stove and is strained. David’s recipe didn’t call for zest, but since to my taste there can’t be too much lemon flavor, I followed Rose’s suggestion. It was really lemony and just right. Lemon curd on whole wheat toast with tea, or used as a filling for a layer cake, adds a sunny piquancy.

A microplane is best for zesting. It produces a fine shred without any of the bitter white.

Stir the curd over a low flame constantly to prevent curdling. Do not allow to bubble, and remove from the heat if it starts to steam, as this can cause curdling. While you may think it tiresome to have to stir constantly, it  is well worth the effort.

And then strain to remove any tiny bits of cooked egg white and chalazae (structures of egg white that anchor yolks in the center of the egg). Once strained, add the zest and spoon into jars.

Happy Holidays

Holiday pumpkin cheesecake

Recipe and Photos for Ginger Pumpkin Cheesecake
with Thanks to Rose Levy Beranbaum

At some point I make a decision, subconscious or otherwise, that I’m not blogging, I’m not cooking, I’m just eating. And that’s what happened with the pumpkin cheesecake. I served it, we ate it, and then it was too late to take a photo of a slice, because my plate was empty.

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s pumpkin cheesecake has no spice, except for the ginger in the gingersnap crust. But there are no gingersnaps in Mexico. The basic ingredients — cream cheese, cream, eggs, sugar, and pumpkin — needed an accent. A teaspoon of Mexican vanilla and a heaping tablespoon of grated fresh ginger added the missing extra dimension. Now that I know what pumpkin cheesecake tastes like with vanilla and ginger, I wouldn’t make it any other way. Unless I wanted to try a cinnamon pumpkin cheesecake. Or a cardamom pumpkin cheesecake. But plain, without even vanilla? Never.

While I admire the beautifully decorated cheesecakes made by Rose and the Heavenly Cake Bakers, a decorated cheesecake was not what I was seeing with my mind’s eye or tasting with my mind’s palate. I know how puffs of whipped cream and lattices of carmelized sugar can be eye-appealing, but I didn’t want to add more sugar or fat. I wanted a pure cheesecake experience. I’m glad I didn’t add anything else, not even pecans, which would have detracted from the amazing smoothness and creaminess. The final result was a clean taste of pumpkin with a touch of cream and ginger.

Here is Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe if you would like to read the original. Add spices or not, but I recommend vanilla and fresh ginger. Otherwise, follow Rose’s recipe exactly, but not the method of baking. I recommend using cake strips instead of a water bath for ease of baking. This results in a very creamy cheesecake without the mess and bother of a large pan of near-boiling water in which to set the foil-wrapped springform pan.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Read through the recipe (scroll down to the recipe, titled “Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake”). Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. F. (180 deg. C).  Assemble and measure/weigh ingredients.

I had only 1/2 cup of frozen pumpkin puree left from a can brought from the U.S. A baked sweet potato in the fridge served to complete the one cup of pumpkin called for in the recipe. So really, to be honest, I made a Pumpkin Sweet Potato Cheesecake. If you are in Mexico, and it is winter, you will see the large calabazas in the stores. These can be cooked and pureed and used in any recipe calling for pumpkin puree.

Following the crumb crust recipe from Joy of Cooking, I used a store-bought package of vanilla cookies, substituting 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts for an equal amount of cookie crumbs. A large French jelly jar glass helped press the crumbs into a 9″ springform pan.

Rose cooks the pumpkin puree with sugar. I added one heaping tablespoon of grated fresh ginger, my new favorite flavor.

Pumpkin (with or without sweet potato), cream cheese, eggs, cream and one teaspoon of Mexican vanilla are blended in the food processor until very smooth.

Pour the mixture into a springform pan, already swathed in metallic fabric cake pan strips. The strips normally prevent a cake from doming in the center, but in this case they are used in lieu of a waterbath.

Thank goodness the cake pan strips work just as well to produce a creamy, tender cheesecake. I will never bake a cheesecake in a waterbath again.

This may be the first cheesecake I have baked that didn’t crack upon cooling. Not opening the oven even once, and then a gradual cooling in the turned-off oven (resist the temptation to open the oven, no matter how much you want to see that it hasn’t cracked) help the cheesecake cool slowly, preventing cracks.

Russ, my husband with the amazing sense of taste and culinary sense said, upon taking a bite, “This cheesecake is amazing. One of the best cheesecakes I’ve had in a long time.” I could eat this cheesecake every day, but more recipes await to be made and eaten.


Tropical Fruit Salsa

Easy Recipe with Photos for Colorful Pineapple Salsa

A beautiful pineapple had been setting on my kitchen counter for a few days, getting riper and riper, until it had its own following of fruit flies. It had been a while since I made a fruit salsa, why not pineapple salsa? Fruit salsas are so refreshing, especially during the muggy summertime. That’s when mangoes are ripe and mango salsa is one of my favorites, but pineapple salsa isn’t far behind, and is my first choice this time of year when local mangoes are not in season.

I have seen salsa recipes for kiwi, peaches, banana, apple, berries. There seems to be no limit to what can be used. I am partial to tropical fruits, but experiment and use whatever ripe fruits you can find.

If you already know how to make a tomato-based salsa, you know how to make a fruit salsa. The only difference is to omit the garlic. Garlic and fruit do not make good companions in a salsa.

I never use a recipe when making salsa. I guess I eye-ball it, adjusting ingredients as I go — a little more lime juice, some more onion. This time I measured so that you would have a recipe to follow. Of course you can, and should, adjust this to suit your own taste. The amount of minced chile you use is probably the biggest variable.There will always be someone who says it isn’t hot enough and another person will think it too hot. I aim for a moderate heat level. For those who want more heat, you can always offer a bottle of hot sauce.

To clean a fresh pineapple, set it on its side and cut off the top and bottom ends. Then stand it up and, holding the top end in your left hand (if you are right-handed), start at the top with a sharp serrated knife and cut the skin off, running the knife from top to bottom of the pineapple. Keep going all the way around until it is completely skinned. Now set it on its side and remove the eyes. If you skinned it thickly, you may have already removed most of them. If you skinned it thinly, there probably are eyes to remove. Cutting at an angle, aiming towards the eyes, cut along both sides of a row of eyes so that you have removed a thin wedge. Continue until all eyes are removed. You are now ready to slice, or slice and cut into cubes or spears.

Tropical Fruit Salsa

2 cups minced fresh pineapple, papaya or mango
1/3 cup packed cilantro leaves and soft stems, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped (you can use white or yellow onion, but red onion gives a nice color contrast)
1-2 tablespoons fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1 or 2 squeezes of lime juice

Combine all ingredients and let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to give flavors time to meld.

Fruit salsa would make a colorful topping for grilled chicken breast or coconut fish fillets. It’s also different and interesting when served with tacos. And I’ve seen guests spoon it on their plates to eat as a fruit salad with a twist.

More Christmas Baking — Holiday Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Drizzle

Easy Recipe for my all-time favorite Pumpkin Chocolate Cake

Having friends over for dinner last night was another occasion to bake a cake. At this time of year great cakes, sumptuous cakes, cakes with chocolate and nuts and fruit, are most appropriate, and this cake ranks right up there for its luxe value. The recipe has one ingredient that might turn many bakers off — they might not even try it once. But years ago, when I saw the recipe on the back of a box of cereal, I did try it and it has remained a family favorite ever since. If you like pumpkin and cake, I hope you try it, too.

Since I embarked on a mission of baking only cakes that bring rave reviews, this cake has earned a place on the Rave Cake List. And no one can guess that it has All-Bran cereal in it. Maybe the little buds of whole wheat fiber have an ability to hold moisture because this cake stays moist for days. The abundance of bits of flavor in each bite — walnuts, chocolate pieces and rum-plumped raisins — make for a nice accompaniment to a cup of morning coffee or afternoon tea.

The first time I baked this cake, I followed the recipe exactly. Ever since, I have made my own changes, arriving finally at a cake that resembles the original, but, to my taste, exceeds it. One of my changes was to add raisins and plump them in a bit of liquid, a trick I learned from Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s reasoned that dry raisins would pull moisture out of the batter and make for drier muffins. Why not plump raisins for a cake, as well? Here is  the Kellogg’s recipe.

If you are in Mexico, and see the large calabazas in the store, try cooking one to use as a substitute for pumpkin. Just cut up the squash, cook it until tender, either in the oven or micro-wave, puree it, and use right away or freeze for future use.

Here is my version of Pumpkin Cake, as it has evolved through the years.

Holiday Pumpkin Cake

1 cup all purpose white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 14-oz. can of pumpkin (or 14 oz. of cooked, pureed calabaza)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
1 cup All-Bran cereal, Original or Bran Buds

1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 tablespoon rum (or fruit juice)

Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. F. (180 deg. C.). Butter and flour a 10-12 cup bundt pan or tube pan. Read the recipe once or twice. Measure and prepare all ingredients.

In a small sauce pan, heat raisins and rum (or fruit juice) just until steam appears. Stir to coat raisins with rum, cover with a lid and turn off heat to allow raisins to plump while other ingredients are assembled.

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat eggs and sugar, oil, grated ginger and bran cereal. Mix for one minute. Add flour mixture and briefly mix on low speed just until dry ingredients are combined with pumpkin mixture. Stir in by hand chocolate, nuts and raisins.

Spoon into bundt pan and smooth top. Bake for 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick tests dry. The cake should not yet pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes. The cake will pull away from the side of the pan as it cools.  Invert and cool completely on a rack.

Chocolate Drizzle

In a micro-wave safe bowl, melt 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or chocolate chips) with 1/2 tablespoon of walnut oil or butter. Micro-wave in 20 second increments, stirring every 20 seconds, until chocolate is melted and blends smoothly with walnut oil or butter. Drizzle decoratively over cake. Allow chocolate to cool until it is firmly set on the cake. The cake can be refrigerated for 30 minutes to hasten the cooling.

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