Author Archives: Elizabeth Keyser

Making Chiles Rellenos

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Poblano peppers are broiled over a pan of water.

Making chiles rellenos involves many steps.  That’s probably why it’s so rare to get good ones in a restaurant.  I’ve been disappointed by many short cuts — unpeeled peppers , heavy batter, unmelted cheese, sauces made without love.  I can, however, recommend the chiles rellenos at Los Poblanos in Norwalk, which I wrote about here:  http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/7/28/delicious-dives-los-poblanos-mexican-in-norwalk.html

The chiles rellenos I make at home are more California-style than Mexican.  That means I use Monterey Jack cheese (yes, it’s bland, but it melts and I like the cutting into the peppers and having the cheese ooze out.) I wrote about my tips for making chiles rellenos here: http://belowthefoldblog.com/2014/07/8-tips-for-making-chiles-rellenos/

Because the process has so many parts, making the sauce, preparing the peppers, stuffing them, making the batter, frying the peppers, covering them in sauce and baking them — whew! — I don’t make them very often, but when I do, each mouthful is accompanied by “yums” from everyone at the table.

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Peeled and seeded roasted poblano peppers are filled with strips of cheese.

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The peppers are coated in an egg white batter and fried.

chile rellenos ready to bake

The stuffed, fried peppers are covered in homemade green sauce, and baked.

Making Chinese Dumplings

Chinese dumplings

Jie and Jun made homemade dumplings the other day.

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I’m always amazed at how Jie is able to mince meat using a knife. She freezes the meat and chops it when it is still slightly frozen and firm.

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The flavorful filling.  But even more impressive is that they made the dumpling dough from scratch.

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After kneading it and letting it rest, she rolled the dough into logs.

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Then Jun tore off bits of dough and flattened them with her palm. IMG_0961

Her rolling technique was impressive — one hand on the rolling pin, as she turned the piece of dough to get thin, even rounds. IMG_0966As Jun made the wrappers, Jie began filling them. They were an efficient team.  IMG_0973

Dumplings await cooking.

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Jie boiled the dumplings, and we feasted on them for lunch. They laughed at those who dunked their dumplings in too much soy sauce.  And indeed the flavors and textures didn’t need to be drenched with soy.IMG_0976

Lunch awaits!

Chinese dumplings

Where to Get Great Enchiladas in Fairfield County

El Pardiso

Pork enchiladas in red chile sauce at El Paraiso on Madison Avenue in Bridgeport

A Mexican baker gave us a tip on his favorite restaurant. It’s El Paraiso, 1024 Madison Ave, Bridgeport, 203-382-9679. (No website or FB).

We tried the enchiladas. I had the chicken in green sauce and they were excellent. The tomatillo sauce was fresh, green and spicy, and there was lots of it. It was one of the best I’ve had. The pieces of chicken were tender, with extra flavor from the grill. The avocados and radishes were fresh. The beans were flavorful. And the fresh melon drink was sweet and cool.
All in all an excellent meal for an extremely reasonable price.

Chef Chris Eddy of Winvian

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Winvian in Litchfield is a special place. Where else can you spend the weekend in a helicopter? The helicopter is one of many themed cottages that go for between $1275 to $1875 a night. (Which means I’ve had a tour of the cottages, but never stayed there.)

Winvian also has an excellent restaurant. Executive Chef Chris Eddy takes a seed-to-table approach, growing a large organic garden on the Winvian estate. I had the pleasure of having an inspired meal at Winvian several years ago.

The other day CT Bites had a post with some gorgeous shots of dishes Chef Chris created for a recent farm dinner..

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2014/7/9/winvian-in-litchfield-hills-farm-dinner-a-little-history.html

Winvian and CTNofa are coming together for a fundraiser, Friday July 18 and Saturday July 19 – an evening cocktail party with Chris Eddy’s special hors d’oeuvres, followed by a day of celebrating food, farms and community, with lots of stuff for kids, farming demonstrations, food to eat and buy, workshops, and speakers.

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2014/06/green-food-fundraiser/

For more information, go to: http://www.winvian.com/

8 Tips for Making Chiles Rellenos

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A battered, cheese-filled poblano pepper awaits a coating of spicy tomatillo sauce

I make the best chiles rellenos. Let me amend that. I make the best California-style chiles rellenos. That means I stuff roasted poblano peppers with a mild melting cheese, like Monterey Jack.  My batter is made of egg whites beaten to a soft peak, and I add one egg yolk.  (I don’t like the batter to be too eggy in flavor.) My sauce is homemade tomatillo.

I’ve made them so many times that I don’t need a recipe.  No matter what recipe you use, here’s a few helpful tips  — especially if you’ve never made them before.

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A pan of chiles rellenos in green tomatillo sauce is pulled from the oven.

1. Roast the peppers directly on the oven rack, over a pan of water.  I wrote about this technique here:  http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/11/pepper-salad-with-capers/

2. No worries if the peppers tear while you are peeling and cleaning them. I’ve learned that you can patch together bits of pepper and you can still  create a beautiful stuffed bundle of pepper and cheese.

3.  Don’t clean the seeds by holding the pepper under running water.  (Yes, cleaning out the seeds is laborious.)

4. Cut the cheese into strips (rather than grate it.)

5. After rolling the peppers around the cheese strips, dust the pepper packets with flour.

6. Use a slotted spoon to dip the pepper into the egg-white batter.

7. Fry them on both sides till they are golden. They will puff up and make you happy.

8. After covering the fried stuffed peppers with sauce, add some water to the pan to make sure there will be enough sauce after they are baked (if you don’t add water, the sauce absorbs into the batter, and you’ll wish for more sauce.)

 

 

 

 

Making Lobster and Lobster Salad at Home

Mark E Strauss's photo.

This lobster came from Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk. It sought revenge on the buyer.

Spur of the moment get togethers become parties when you serve lobster. Lobsters on sale for $5 a pound at Food Bazaar http://belowthefoldblog.com/2014/03/food-bazaar/ in Bridgeport and $5.99 at Stew Leonards in Norwalk means it’s time to throw a lobster party. It only requires lobster, corn on the cob, potatoes, butter, lemons. Beer. And rosé.

Everyone who comes to the lobster party joins in the cooking. Hardened souls sent the lobsters to their hell-and-high-water deaths. And the squeamish recovered from the vapors when presented with a whole, cooked lobster. They gluttonously tore the lobsters’ rich tail meat from the shell and dipped it in melted butter. (But lobster tail is so sweet and rich, it doesn’t need butter. That’s what I think. My husband and everyone else disagrees.)

Last summer, lobster prices dropped to $3.99 a pound at Stew Leonards, as I wrote in this blog post, which linked to a Mother Jones article that attributed the increase in the lobster population (and drop in prices) to warmer waters and the over-fishing of cod. http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/08/lobsters-on-sale/

The day after our gluttony, I set-to the remaining shells, extracting the meat from the harder-to-reach nooks and crannies. A wood skewer is a useful, easily available tool for pushing the meat through the skinny legs. I can’t pretend this wasn’t laborious work. I keenly missed my lobster party cooks and cohorts. Revenge of the lobster. But bit by bit, the lobster bits piled up. Then I made a salad composée. Jacques Pepin was in my mind as I created this dish. Like salad Nicoise, each component of the salad is dressed separately.

lobster salad
I began with boiled, cubed potatoes, dressed in apple-cider vinaigrette. I julienned red cabbage and dressed it in lime and apple cider vinegar, and let it sit to wilt slightly. I made red tomato salsa, with fresh jalapeño, ginger and garlic scapes. I cut up a ripe avocado, squirted lime over it and cracked sea salt over it. The lobster was dressed in olive oil, lime, salt and pepper.
It was a lovely summer lunch. The potatoes provided the base for the flavors of tangy-sweet cabbage, smooth, rich avocado, spicy tomato salsa and the star of the show: the rich, sweet, labor-of -love lobster.

lobster plate

Making Summer Jams and Jellies

Juicy plums

The plums from Red Jacket Orchards in New York State begin their transformation into jam.

My final jar of last summer’s jam is half-empty. It’s time to start thinking about making summer jams and jellies.  The wild wineberries on my property look promising.

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Wineberries begin to ripen

The hairy, red casings (which are sticky and soft) are starting to reveal tiny, lime-green drupes that will ripen into sweet-tart (and rather seedy) berries. Because of all those seeds, making  jelly is the best way to enjoy their distinctive wild flavor.

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I wrote about making wineberry jelly here:

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/07/wineberry-jelly/

Plum jam is another favorite.

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Making jam is a process that unfolds over several days. I wrote about making plum-jam here, in three parts:

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/09/plum-jam/

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/09/plum-jam-part-iii/

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/09/plum-jam-part-ii/

 

Biscuit Recipes

Homemade biscuits

There’s nothing better than home-baked biscuits, warm from the oven. They’re quick and easy to make, and there are endless ways to use them. In my house, most often they’re spit open and filled with chicken, vegetables and gravy. Mini biscuits are great party food, filled with a slice of ham and a smear of hot, sweet mustard.  Add a little sugar to the dough and fill them with berries and whipped cream.

Biscuit dough can be savory or sweet  – flavored with bacon, rosemary, orange zest, or cinnamon.

There are many ways to make biscuits — the fat could be lard, butter, or the dreaded vegetable shortening.  I use butter.  I’ve used recipes that called for milk, some for cream, and some for buttermilk.

Great resources for biscuit recipes are The Joy of Cooking and the Fanny Farmer Cookbook and the inexhaustible folks at Cooks Illustrated. http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/2809-flaky-buttermilk-biscuits

I’ve tried many of these recipes from these sources and the lesson I’ve learned is, they’re all great.  Just use a light hand. Knead the dough gently and briefly.

 

 

Homemade biscuits

Green Food Fundraiser

Ultimate winvian Flyer

Winvian is throwing it’s second Summer Gathering. The Relais & Chateaux- rated property, filled with unique chalets (a treehouse, a helicopter, a lighthouse) in Litchfield, will take place over two days, Friday, July 18 and Saturday, July 19, 2014. Focusing on a “Return to Good Food Traditions,” the event focuses on food, farms and community and is a fundraiser for CTNOFA.

The Friday evening event will feature appetizers and desserts by Winvian’s excellent chef Chris Eddy, who uses produce grown at Winvian and at local farms in the Litchfield Hills. There will be wine, live music and a silent auction. The cost is $135.

The Saturday event will offer activities for kids (petting zoos, sheep sheparding dogs, a demo of a draft horse driving a plow, and crafts),  food trucks (Gmonkey and Skinny Pines pizza), a farmers market, workshops (the founder of Good Food Jobs0 and talks by Slow Food and author Joan Dye Gussow.

For more information on the events and how to buy tickets, go to:
http://www.ctnofa.org/winvian/index.html

Essential Chinese Spices and Where to Buy Them

Chinese spices

Star anise, dried chili, and red peppercorn

Cho Mien Nam Southern Variety Market Oriental Food and Gifts  (129 Wood Ave., Bridgeport (203) 579-9970) is a big, bustling paradise for lovers of Asian food.  It’s in the section of Bridgeport that has been dubbed “Little Asia.” There are two Vietnamese restaurants, and one Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant.  (My current favorite place for pho is Pho Thom, two blocks away on Wood Ave.)

When you walk into Cho mien Nam, whole fish on ice are the first things you’ll see, and a selection of fruit – spiked dragon fruit, durian, kumquats, pears, little bananas, avocados, and fresh lychees. The refridgerated produce section is filled with bags of fresh cilantro, mint, Thai basil, culantro, bean sprouts, eggplants, baby bok choy, all of it looking fresher than anything I see at the local supermarket.

At a table near the butcher’s counter, a table was stacked with containers of fresh spring rolls filled with shrimp, noodles and herbs. Behind them, a woman wielding a cleaver chopped up a whole roasted chicken, and then started in on some brown, scary-looking innards.

Then the delivery truck arrived and the crowded aisles became more cramped as the staff carried in big boxes containing sides of roasted pork and cartons of crisp, mahogany-hued duck.

Mien Nam has every type of noodle you can imagine – rice, bean thread, buckwheat. The frozen food section, which runs down one long wall, has everything from grated purple cassava to grey mullet.

But three rather ordinary spices have transformed my Chinese cooking.  Star anise, red peppercorns and dried chili peppers.  They are among the first spices that Jie sautes in oil when she begins cooking.

And when Jie makes her flavor-bomb ribs, she adds star anise, red peppercorns and dried chili peppers (and scallions, ginger, black peppercorns, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar) to the cooking water.  She usually cooks ribs in a pressure cooker. I don’t have a pressure cooker, so these ribs cooked for hours.

 

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Jie’s amazing Chinese ribs