July 25, 2013

Refrigerator Triage: Salsa Pie

You know when you have that bit of salsa left over, but no tortilla chips or even tortillas? Sure, you might just throw it on a cheese sandwich, make an omelette, or even just pop it into the freezer, but you should also know this: it makes a wonderful ingredient for savory pie.

So, this is one of those lazy posts where I'm really giving you more of a serving suggestion than a recipe.

You will need pastry for a double crust pie - such as this tried and true pie crust recipe:

Double Pastry Crust
for a 8 or 9" pan

1 1/2 cups all purpose (unbleached) flour
1/2 cup butter
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon vodka
4 tablespoons cold water

Place the flour in the bowl of a small food processor fitted with a metal cutting blade. Add the pinch of salt and the butter (cold is best) in chunks, and pulse until well mixed, and the butter is in pieces no larger than a piece of confetti. Add the vodka and the water, all at once, and pulse again, continuing to pulse until the dough comes together and pulls away from the edge of the bowl. If the dough won't come together, try adding a tiny extra spritz of water. Dump the dough onto your lightly floured work surface, and, as quickly as possible, shape it into a couple of flat discs. Chill the dough for 10 minutes, then roll out as needed.

For the pie filling, this is my usual method:

Fry up some finely diced onion and protein of your choice - here I've used lean ground beef, but you could use any ground meat or analogue you want. Add a little stock to enrich the taste if you like, otherwise just use a bit of water (about a quarter cup). Season the meat to taste with cumin, garlic, oregano, and ground chiles. If your salsa is not very salty, and if your beans are unsalted, you might want to add a little bit of salt now, too.

Add about 400 mL cooked beans - here I've used black beans, but you could use kidney, canellini, pinto, even re-fried beans, if that's what you have. If you mash about a third of the (whole) beans, that helps hold the filling together at the end, when you're slicing the pie. You could also sprinkle a little flour over the meat mixture as it fries, to thicken it (or use a slurry - I won't judge). In goes anything else you think would be good. We always have chiles, so in go a few chopped chiles, we usually have frozen corn, so in goes some of that, and at last, the salsa goes in to tie everything together. A cup of salsa is a good amount, but if you don't have that much, don't worry.

Once everything is well combined, and you've tasted it and adjusted the seasonings to your preference, set it aside and roll out your pie crust. Put the filling in (it doesn't need to cool down) and make sure it's evenly distributed (a low dome in the centre is nice), cover and seal the edges in the manner you like best, slit the top in a few places, and then bake at 450 F for 25 minutes, turning it down to 350 F for another 10 minutes or so, until the crust is completely golden top (and bottom, if you're using a glass pie plate, it's easy to check).

Let the pie stand for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. While the pie rests, you can make a nice salad to go with, like the purple cabbage buttermilk slaw in the picture.

Still got extra salsa left? Serve it on the side!

PS: Want a vegetarian version? Use your favourite vegetarian pie crust, and use brown lentils in place of the ground beef (the same method as you would use for lentil tacos, for example), or a combination of brown lentils and barley or bulgar wheat. You may want to mash a few more of the beans, to ensure the filling holds together in the end (rather than spilling all over the plate, leaving a sad, deflated crust).

July 11, 2013

Shrimp & Grits

Grits take a while to cook, it's true (even "quick" grits...and let's not even consider instant grits, which are par-cooked and more finely ground to speed along the cooking, but which suffer texturally), but shrimp take almost no time at all, so it balances out, more or less. Can't get grits? Make your favourite cheesy polenta recipe instead (like the one previously showcased for making polenta fries and Meatballs & Polenta). It won't have the same texture, but it will be a lovely bed for the shrimp to sprawl upon.

The shrimp portion of this dish comes together pretty darn quick, so make sure that your grits (or polenta, if you're going that route) is pretty much ready to serve before you fire up the frying pan.

For two servings:

250 grams peeled shrimp (31-40 count, or 20 shrimp)
2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into matchsticks (or thin lardons)
2 green onions, finely sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1-2 jalapenos or serranos, or green chiles, finely diced

Fry up the bits of bacon over medium-high heat until they start to crisp. Spoon off some of the fat, if necessary, so you just have a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Add the shrimp, and give them 30 seconds without disturbing. Flip each shrimp over, and add the peppers and onions. Let them cook for 15-20 seconds undisturbed, then stir and sauté until the shrimp are pinkly opaque instead of grey and translucent, and the vegetables are softened and crisp around the edges. If you like, you can add a good pinch of your favourite cajun-style spice mixture, or just a quick hit of cayenne (or Tabasco sauce). You shouldn't need additional salt, because the bacon is salty enough to season the whole dish.

Serve up the polenta into shallow bowls, and tumble the shrimp and vegetables over top. Top with freshly ground black pepper, and serve.

July 01, 2013

Turkey Enchilada Casserole

Happy Canada Day, everyone! Now, "enchilada" may not be the most Canadian thing you've ever heard of, but we do seem to enjoy a good casserole, and we love adopting other cuisines into our own. This is a very tasty recipe that takes a bit of time to put together, but is very satisfying.

This is Palle's recipe. It is at its best when eaten fresh, but can be packed for lunch the next day. It can also be frozen, but the texture suffers a bit on re-heating (the tortillas are softer). In that case, add a healthy dose of salsa, or a Mexican-style hot sauce, such as Cholula to pep it back up again.

Turkey Enchilada Casserole

Serves 6 - 8

1 teaspoon or so of lard or oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
675 grams ground turkey meat
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
5 cups red enchilada sauce (see below)
425 grams corn tortillas (12 to 16, depending on size)
1 cup soft goat cheese (or feta), crumbled
1 cup cheddar, shredded

Heat the lard or oil. Add onions and fry over high heat. Add turkey, garlic, oregano, and cumin until turkey is crumbly and no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Stir in one cup of the enchilada sauce. Add salt to taste.

Cut tortillas in half, if they are large (even if they are small, you may wish to cut some of them in half to ensure good coverage of the casserole dish). Spray or brush a shallow 3-quart casserole dish with a little oil. Dip the tortillas into the enchilada sauce just before they are added to the casserole, but don't dip them faster than you are layering them into the dish, or they may get soggy and fragile. Using tongs greatly speeds up the dipping/layering process.

Arrange one fourth of the tortilla halves evenly over the bottom of the casserole, overlapping to ensure coverage. Sprinkle a fourth of the cheese evenly over the tortillas, then top with a third of the turkey mixture and a cup of the enchilada sauce, spreading until level.

Repeat to make two more layers of tortillas, cheese, turkey mixture, and sauce. Top with another layer of tortillas, sauce and cheese.

Bake at 425° until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot in the center, 18 to 20 minutes (30 minutes if you are starting with a made-ahead, chilled sauce). Serve with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Note: the number of tortillas you need will depend on the size of your casserole, and the size of the tortillas. Likewise, you may need more or less cheese.

Red Enchilada Sauce

Makes 5 cups

4-6 large dried chilies (such as ancho, pasilla, guajillo)
1 small onion chopped into 4 chunks
4 garlic cloves
6 Roma tomatoes
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
brown sugar

You can use any dried Mexican chilies, but ancho is my preferred chili for this. As always, a blend of two or three chilies is best. Toast the chilies in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant and turning colour (most chilies will turn red), but before they smoke too much. Keep turning the chilies so they do not burn. Put the toasted chilies in a bowl of water, and let them soak for about 15 minutes. When soft, tear off the stems and pull out the seeds.

Toast the onion and garlic in a dry pan over medium heat until there is a good amount of black on the outside, turning occasionally. Remove, then toast the tomatoes in the pan over medium heat until they blacken, turning occasionally. Always blacken the tomatoes last as they tend to burst and so add moisten to the pan.

Bring six cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and add all of the chilies, onion, and garlic. Reduce the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes, uncovered. The chilies will float to the top, so push them under from time to time.

Transfer the tomatoes, the oregano, cumin, and the saucepan with all its contents (including the water, but add the water after you've started pureeing) into a food processor. Blend until the mixture is very smooth. Be careful because the mixture is very hot.

Return the contents of the food processor back to the pan by forcing the mixture through a strainer with the back of a spoon to remove the bits of chili and tomato skin that remain. Don’t skip this step as it greatly improves the texture of the finished sauce.

Heat the strained enchilada sauce and simmer for 15 minutes to blend the flavors and reduce it a little. Taste, and add salt and sugar as needed. Sugar will balance out the acridity of the chilies, but add a little at a time, as it shouldn’t take too much.