Thursday, May 24, 2012

Teeny Tiny Tomatillos

I apologize; I realize it’s been a while since my last post. Between work and lots and lots of traveling, (The Husband and I had the pleasure of returning back to my home state to celebrate The Big G’s (my grandma) 90th birthday) I haven’t had a lot of time to get creative in the kitchen. However, this week I decided to revive a favorite from a long time ago.

Until we moved to Chicago, I had never seen or heard of a tomatillo. I grew up in an area of the country that considered Chilli’s Mexican food.  And while I went to college in an area with a fair number of Mexican immigrants, I hadn’t really done much food shopping, so never paid attention to things outside of my wheelhouse.

So one day I was looking for a recipe for something involving a specific type of pasta, orecchiette (literally means small ear) and found an awesome recipe that called for these things called tomatillos. After making the pasta (see my Summer Lovin' post) I decided that I wanted to try more recipes with this tiny green thing.

For those of you who haven’t seen one, a tomatillo looks like a tiny green tomato, but covered in a thin papery husk (it’s also in the Nightshade family!).  If you’ve ever eaten salsa verde (the green stuff, that’s what it’s made from.  You can eat them raw, and they have a nice initial snap or boil them (and then quickly turn soft and are easy to make into salsa).

So in my tomatillo recipe hunt, I found something akin to Mexican lasagna and of course, true to form, I morphed it. This recipe is actually really simple and can be done in short order. The poblano roasting takes the longest by far.  You can use as much of the salsa or cheese as you like, I’m an extra cheese, extra salsa gal myself, so the pan is pretty full by the time it goes into the oven.  It also leads to some really delicious leftovers.

So enjoy!

1 lb of Tomatillos
1 Jalapeno
1 bunch of cilantro
4 sprigs of mint (about ¼ cup loose)
4-6 Large Flour Tortillas
2 chicken breasts cut into 1 inch pieces (can be a rough cut, as long as their bite sized)
4 Poblano Peppers
3 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
4-5 cups of good quality shredded Mexican cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees and place poblanos inside (whole) and roast until the skins are brown and easy to pull off. About 20 – 30 minutes depending on your oven. While the peppers are roasting, boil a medium sized pot of water. 

Remove the stem from the jalapeno, but make sure not to cut into it at all (you want it to be whole). Clean off the husks from the tomatillos and wash them to make sure they are no longer sticky.

Once the water has boiled, add the jalapeno and the tomatillos to the water. Cook until the tomatillos start to turn a darker green (about 3- 5 minutes). Drain water and place jalapenos, tomatillos and garlic into a food processor or blender. Quickly blend until it’s a rough chop (so about 20 seconds).

From there, add the mint leaves and rip a good hand full from the cilantro bunch.  I know it sounds odd, but it takes a ton of time to take each leaf off and measure and in this case, you’re blending it all together, so it doesn’t have to be totally precise. Add a pinch of salt and blend until the mixture is totally smooth.

If you decide that you would like your salsa a little hotter, you can quickly boil a bit more water and had a jalapeno from there.  Because I choose to use fresh jalapenos, the level of hotness will vary depending on each one. And because you don’t want to cut into the jalapeno before you blanch it, you don’t know how hot it is until you blend.

By the time you’ve finished this, your peppers should be on their way to complete. At this point, take them out of the oven and let them cool for a bit while you finish up.

In a sauté pan, heat oil and add the chicken. Sprinkle a little salt on and cook until slightly browned. Since the pieces are small, this should be relatively fast.

If the poblanos are still really hot, run them under cold water and try to remove the skin and the seeds. You may not be able to get all of the skin off, by try as hard as you can. Once the poblanos are skinned and seeded, cut them up into 2 inch strips and leave on the side.

In a 9 x 9  pan (I use a Pyrex brownie pan) ladle salsa on the bottom of the pan, enough to cover it and place a tortilla on top. If the tortilla doesn’t cover the whole bottom, you can cut another tortilla into quarters or eighths and get the sections it doesn’t cover. Ladle salsa on top of that, add a cup of cheese (make sure the cheese is even) and then half of the chicken and half of the poblano strips add a little more cheese to the top, in order to make sure the next layer has something to stick to.  Add another tortilla (again, make sure there is enough tortilla to cover the whole layer below) repeat the layer below with salsa, chicken, cheese and poblano. Cover this layer with tortilla, ladle more salsa and cheese to this final layer. I enjoy putting a lot of salsa and cheese on this layer, because, why not.

I generally do not have any left-over salsa when I’m finished putting my “lasagna” together. But that’s because I enjoy lots of sauce. If you’re a less is more person, then you can put as much cheese or salsa as you’d like on it. Just make sure there is enough to bind the layers together.

Place the pan into the oven at 450 and let it cook until the cheese is melted and is ever so slightly golden on top.

Cut and serve!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Under Water Wine!

The Husband and I have been dining all over town over the last two weeks. We actually have not had a night home since I made the cake below. And while I should have loads and loads of delicious things to tell you, I'm rather exhausted, so I'll save them for a later date.  We did however, have something rather spectacular during our two weeks of "not a single home cooked meal" fun. 

A good friend of ours is a connoisseur of sparkling wine and has been kind enough to share with The Husband and I some of the amazing wine's he has collected over the years.  While The Husband and I enjoy eating and drinking, we are much more comfortable in the world of Beers, Spirits and Red Wines than we are in the realm of The Sparking. So our friend has slowly but surely shown us all of the beauty and deliciousness a glass of bubbly can bring.  

So to start, for those who do not know, all Champagnes are sparking wines, but not all sparking wines are Champagnes. Champagne comes specifically from the Champagne region in France, everything else is simply Sparking. 

Between our friend and Telegraph Wine Bar (an amazing wine bar in Logan Square that has spectacular food) we've been able to learn a fair amount about the delicious bubbly beverage. My favorite, is a deep ruby red sparking wine from Italy called Quaquarini. It has the deliciousness of a red, but the added fuzzy of the sparkle. VERY precise, I know.

However, this post is not about Sparking Wines in general, but a SPECIFIC one, Bisson Abissi Spumante. Our good friend was coming into town and found on the Telegraph Wine Bar Blog a post about  rare arrivals, one a delicious red (worth the trip up for a glass) and the other about a sparking wine that was aged 200 feet underwater for 13 months. Between hearing that and reading  The New York Times Review, I was sold. 

Other than it's super awesome, the reason the wine was fermented underwater was simply space.  So the winter, Piero Lugano, decided to do what the Romans had done a thousand years ago, age it underwater.  And according to Signore Lugano, in his interview with The Times:

“It’s better than even the best underground cellar, especially for sparkling wine. The temperature is perfect, there’s no light, the water prevents even the slightest bit of air from getting in, and the constant counterpressure keeps the bubbles bubbly. Moreover, the underwater currents act like a crib, gently rocking the bottles and keeping the lees moving through the wine.” 

So, while I can not do nearly as good a job explaining this wine as Jeremy Quinn or Alan Tardi, I will tell you this: It was worth it. Just as both articles say, the wine pours super bubbly, but calms down almost immediately. I am not a Spumante fan, I find them to be too sweet. This however was perfect. Slightly fruity initially, but a lovely dry finish. 

And I can tell you, that after drinking our bottle, I went out looking to get another one. There aren't many here in the States, however I fortuitously found that Perman Wine (if you are ever looking for a fantastic wine shop, I highly recommend) had received three bottles back in March, they were the only retail space in Chicago to receive bottles. I called them and had the amazing luck to find that they had one left, kizmit! 

And so, now The Husband and I must decide when to pop our next bottle. 

A charmed life we live, indeed.
Our bottle, 6,112 of 6,200