It’s a kind of recipes at dawn this, Chile Verde vs. asparagus tart, one blogger pitched against another. Masterchef without the cameras, or the publicity, or the random commentary, or the…….well almost any of it. Just a bit of fun.
You might remember back in early May I was ‘adopted’ by Karen over at ‘Karen Cooks’. We did a blogo-interview of each other to introduce our very different worlds and in the meantime I’ve been asking Karen lots of questions about food and blogging and incorporating things I’m learning into my blog. Anyway, we thought it might be fun to have a cook-off: each pick a recipe from the others blog that would be a bit challenging and new and then cook and blog it. We agreed that we mustn’t pick something too easy but also we aren’t to email back and forth to ask for guidance if we get stuck, we’ve got to make our own judgements on how to substitute things. No winner, no loser just some fun.
But as soon as you start to think about it there’s lots of hurdles and tests.
Can you get all the ingredients? On the face of it I might have an advantage here: I’m in London, population 7.55M, over 300 languages spoken and with 40% of the population from a non British background there’s a huge variety of influences and lots of shops selling all sorts of things from around the world (hopefully Chile Verde ingredients!). Karen meantime is in Havre, Montana, population just under 10,000 so maybe the food supplies will be more limited, or maybe not. I can see she’s tried lutefisk at the local church dinner so they aren’t short on interesting dishes/ingredients.
Havre, Montana (copyright Karen)
Do you even have an idea what the dish should taste like? Um no, in my case I don’t. I’ve picked it because Karen describes it as her second favourite Mexican dish ever and also she says that it’s so good you’ll taste it and think you’ve gone to heaven (well in fact the Imperial Valley in Southern California). Actually, come to think of it, I don’t even know anything about the Imperial Valley so how do I know I want to be transported there…..
And can you actually follow some one else’s instructions? Especially if you have to start to free form if you can’t find all the ingredients….
We’ll see, let the cook off commence!
Right to cook my recipe I need:
Here’s Karen’s ingredients (copyright Karen)
10 tomatillos – I’ve heard of these so surely they can’t be that hard to find….can they? I’ve no idea what they taste like and the web’s not much help. Mainly the consensus is sour tomatoes but then someone goes and says then can be quite mild and sweet. Helpful.
5lbs of boneless pork shoulder – ha easy! Britain is a veritable pork farm especially in nearby Suffolk and Norfolk. But hey 5lb (2.25kg) of pork! How many are we cooking for? Oh, right, Karen doesn’t say – maybe she had people coming over that day, or maybe it’s a great ‘make loads freeze it’ thing, but still, 5lb is a LOT of pork. Maybe we’ll scale back a bit on this. I mean imagine if we find that, for us, the Imperial Valley is more like hell and we don’t fancy a return trip, there’s now way I would want to end up with 10 portions languishing in the freezer.
2 tbsp of olive oil – at least I’m assuming that what Karen means by ‘2 T’ – anyway olive oil, yup, we’ve got plenty of that to hand.
1 tbsp chicken bouillon – again Karen says ‘1 T’ and she doesn’t say whether its powdered liquid or whatever. Well I’ve got cubes so they’ll do.
5 cloves garlic peeled –that’s nice and simple.
1 onion, coarsely chopped – another easy bit.
2 large jalapenos, stemmed and seeded – yeah easy, I’m sure I’ve seen them in the supermarket.
7oz can whole green chiles – hmmm can this one be hard, maybe, what exactly are green chiles? This will call for a bit of checking I think.
2 corn tortillas – ooo another easy bit the supermarket definitely has Mr ‘Old El Paso’ corn tortillas (Karen does kindly confirm my one question that its soft tortilla I need not nacho thingies).
So next it’s onto the internet to find out where to get my mitts on tomatillos and green chiles. A bit of rummaging tells me that green chiles are Anaheim chiles and you can get them fresh and canned, well you can, but there’s no fresh ones right now in the UK as its too early in the season. And cans don’t seem to be that easy to come by either. Ok so lets look for tomatillos. Again you can get them fresh but its way too early, they won’t be ready until at least late June and we’ve set a deadline of 16 June to post. There’s tins as well and I find that Cool Chile Co stock these and they have a stall at Borough Market – great its been ages since I’ve done a trip to Borough so that’ll be some fun AND I can go via there on my way to meet a friend for lunch AND Cool Chile do corn tortillas so I can pick up some of those.
Close to be being sorted I sit back and relax and do other stuff. How foolish of me!
On my next trip to the supermarket I check for fresh jalapenos and also look, in the somewhat small Mexican section, for green chiles. None of the latter and no fresh jalapenos either – had I imagined them in the past? There’s sliced pickled ones mind, so I might have to substitute with them.
But its okay. I’m going to Cool Chile at Borough market on 11 June and I’ll be able to make up lost ground. Yes. Well. That would be the case if the lovely RMT didn’t decide to call a 48 hour tube strike meaning its madness to go into central London unless you have to – is a can of tomatillos a ‘have to’ trip? Probably not, and as I’m in London on Friday (and the strike will be over) I might be able to pop by Borough then. No wrong again. I have to be somewhere before Borough opens (why does it only open at midday!) and there’s not going to be time to get there afterwards.
It’s getting rather close to the deadline.
Of course Borough is open on a Saturday but I’ve heard its mad busy and packed with people ambling and not buying, and I won’t even be able to do a smash and grab style shop as I don’t actually know where the stall is within the market. Although there’s a map its not that easy to read without a portable electron microscope……
My husband is now set on the idea of Chile Verde, however, and shuffles our Saturday plan around then packs me off to Borough to try to get tomatillos.
Tower Bridge, London, copyright Geoffrey Metais, from Fotolia
The tube journey is amazingly fast for once and from Monument it’s just a walk over London Bridge. Well just a walk through the thronging crowds of Euro tourists admiring Tower Bridge who’ve presumably come to take advantage of the exchange rate (and not just the views). I’m glad they are helping the battered British economy (and boy does it need some help right now) and they all seem to be having a lovely time in the sun admiring the views up and down the Thames, but I’d kind of prefer it they were splashing their Euros just slightly off my direct route to tomatillo buying. You can’t have it all ways so I do my helpful deed of the day when a couple of Irish lads ask if they are near Oxford Street and, having broken the bad news that they are way off target, I point them back in the right direction (like back on to the tube with very specific instructions).
Eventually I get to the market and plunge in through the nearest entrance, which, somewhat amazingly, brings me in pretty close to Cool Chile, and woo hoo they have tinned tomatillos. Ah, on closer inspection they prove to be giant catering tins containing 2.9kg (6lb 6oz) of whole tomatillos! Um, that’s a few more than I need. The lady says nope there are no smaller tins, they used to get them but can’t seem to anymore, they freeze well though. Right. I’ve never tasted them. I might not like them. I’ll have enough to feed a Mexican family for, well who knows how long. After some discussion we agree that I will cheat using the tomatillo salsa, it’s a normal size jar, its got a few other things in it, but it makes more sense and I won’t end up with stretched arms carrying it home.
I also find that they don’t do tinned green chiles but I am able to get the tortillas and some whole pickled jalapenos. Mission kind of accomplished I decide it’ll be nice to wander round the rest of the market and may be have a coffee from the wonderful Monmouth Coffee Store. About 2 seconds later I realise it can only have been the high of finding something that is vaguely tomatillo-y that made me think this. This market is PACKED with people ambling so slowly they are almost in reverse and there’s a queue at Monmouth coffee that is frankly, even if this ranks as one of London’s best coffees (and it does), more than any sane person could take. I make my exit and tube it home to a coffee there.
Next stop is the supermarket and pork shoulder; drat all the pieces are rolled and ready stuffed, Sunday roast style, with apple and sage – how annoying! I spy some cut as kind of chops with no extra adornments and get those, another search (thats 3 laps of the relevant sections) but no green chiles to be found at all so I go for green bell peppers and I’ll load the jalapenos a bit to balance things out. I spy a bottle of Mexican red wine (!) and decide that will be fun (or hangover material) and grab some of that.
Back home it’s time to get a move on and start cooking.
I’ve got 750g of meat (so 1/3 of Karen’s recipe). It’s hard to tell from her measures how much 10 tomatillos is so I just decide to use all the jar of salsa, 3 green peppers, 1.5 jalapenos, 3 cloves of garlic, half a small onion and 1 chicken bouillon square which I whizz together in the food processor to make the sauce. I cube the pork and cook it in oil to seal it (I do it in two batches, its easier) then in goes the sauce, stir it all round, bring it to the boil, turn down and simmer for four hours. Right now its just coming up to the 2 hour mark….so I’ll be back in while to tell you about progress.
With 30 minutes to go I’ve popped in the rest of the onion and the chopped up tortilla. I’m musing on what accompaniments to serve. The smell is pretty good so I’m hopeful it’s going to be a hit of a dish.
We served it with rice, guacamole, tomato salsa and refried beans – who knows whether that’s what you have it with but that’s what we chose.
AND THE VERDICT?
It was fairly hot, but I’m a bit of a chile wimp. I thought it was going to build up to something that had me mopping by brow with a tea towel but it didn’t, staying tingly but with the tartness of the sauce cutting through the heat to make it a really refreshing dish. The Mexican wine was pretty good too, big flavours and fruity.
So overall a 9/10. It was delicious ? and in fact I’m regretting not getting the catering can of tomatillos after all because this is a definite big addition to my cooking.
Wonder how Karen’s doing with the asparagus tart…..
I’ve been blogging now for a couple of months and I’ve been looking at some of the other food blogs out there to see what goes on in the food blogging community. I noticed that some bloggers run ‘events’ as part of what they do and I thought it might be fun to join in now that I’m starting to get used to (or possibly obsessed by) the whole blogging thing.
Early on I’d seen the ‘In the bag’ monthly event that is run jointly by Julia at ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and Scott at ‘Real Epicurean’ and was disappointed to have missed out on the January deadline; then I got so absorbed in playing with my blog, adding (and subtracting) widgets, reading Blogging for Dummies, checking out other blogs – you all know how it is I guess you’ve been there too – that I didn’t spot February’s ‘bag’ until it was so close to the deadline I knew I wouldn’t have time to think something up.
So as not to miss out again I watched closely for March’s bag to be announced and then got to thinking about what I could do with these three ingredients (leeks, cheese and eggs) which feature frequently in my cooking but, I immediately realised, rarely in one dish.
So off I went to do some researching in my various cookbooks.
As leeks seemed to be the key ingredient I started by looking for different ways with them that also used both eggs and cheese (for this first attempt I didn’t want to drop one of the ingredients even though you are allowed to, that seemed way too easy). There were plenty of choices with leeks and cheese and a few with leeks and eggs but little that combined all three beyond the inevitable leek and cheese flan/tart/quiche – delicious but very obvious – I was hoping for something a little different and also a dish that could perhaps become a new favourite in my cooking.
I did spot a leeky Welsh rarebit recipe in Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Year that looked rather tasty but decided it felt a little too much like a hearty winter dish and I wanted something that would work well as a fresh and light spring dish. I was also reminded how versatile leeks are, its so easy to fall to just steaming them and serving as a side dish when with a little imagination they could shine in their own right.
Some of the ideas that I toyed with along the way but discarded were (some of my general sources of inspiration are shown in brackets for those who want to pursue any of these):
With pasta in a kind of vegetarian carbonara style or with homemade pasta (using the eggs) and a leeky cheesy sauce (any Italian cookbook will help).
As a kind of French onion style soup with a nice melted cheese crouton (I think this was from a Jamie Oliver book where he does a three types of onion soup – I think its Jamie at Home but can’t seem to locate it right now – sorry).
In a risotto (any Italian cookbook).
As a gratin….
And so it went on – lots of fun delving in recipe books, finding great ideas, discounting them because they either didn’t use all three ingredients or they didn’t seem to fit with the fact the weather was getting wonderfully spring like. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be submitting again this time…….
in the chapters devoted to March and April (with wild salad leaves, with sorrel, with spinach and prosciutto). Something started to stir – I really like frittata and other similar styles of omelette and I often cook one with a delicious fresh cheese called BuxlowWonmil that I get when I’m in Suffolk.
There wasn’t going to be chance to get any of that particular cheese for this dish but I did want the refreshing tang that it has, so goats cheese seemed a possibility and thinking back to the leeky cheesy rarebit that I’d liked the sound of I remembered that Waitrose stock a Welsh goats cheese (Pant ysGawn) that would fit the bill. I was beginning to feel like I might be in business. A spring frittata made with good British ingredients to be served, hopefully, with a side salad of early spring salad leaves (I was really hoping for some sorrel as I’d spied some in the herb section at Waitrose recently)
So off to the supermarket this morning to get the ingredients (sadly there isn’t a farmers market near where I live other than going into London to Borough market, which I love but rarely have time for, hence a huge reliance on the local Waitrose.). There was no sorrel left but I did find some English watercress and had to settle for some French lambs lettuce as none of the leaves seemed to be English just yet. So here’s the recipe.
For 2 as a light lunch you need:
4 medium eggs (organic for preference)
½ – 1 Pant YsGawn goat’s cheese (I used a whole cheese but see later) – or other fresh tangy soft cheese
1 slim leek
freshly ground black pepper
Salad leaves of your choice
Make sure the grill is on and warm before you start
The Leek: Top and tail the leek and cut into chunks about 1 inch in length then slice these into quarters, rinse the leek thoroughly to remove any grit and drain or spin in a salad spinner. Heat a little butter in an omelette or other shallow pan (of about 6-7” in diameter). Add the leeks and allow them to soften for a maximum of 5 minutes, you are aiming for them to retain some of their crunch.
The eggs: break the eggs into a bowl; add a splash of milk and some salt and pepper. As soon as the leeks have softened a little pour the eggs into the pan and allow to cook slightly. Draw in parts of the sides a few times to create a little fluffiness in the texture. Once you think you have a good base but the eggs are still runny for most of the depth then…..
Add the cheese, which you have crumbled or cut into small chunks. Cook for a little longer and then pop the pan under the grill (be careful with the handle if its not heat proof) to cook the frittata from the top. This will take about 3-4 minutes if the grill is hot.
Remove from the grill and allow to cool slightly, slice and serve with your chosen salad leaves.
I was pretty pleased with the result, the leek flavours showed through well and they were soft enough but still with some bite, the cheese contrasted with them nicely and had a good tang and the salad leaves (dressed with just a little extra virgin rapeseed oil) made for a nice soft balance. I think probably the whole goats cheese was a little too much as the egg flavour was a bit lost so when I make this again I’d probably scale back to ½ of the cheese.
I really enjoyed the whole ‘In the bag’ challenge; it made me think about some ingredients differently, gave me chance to read lots of recipe books and generated lots of ideas for ways to have leeks that I’d either forgotten or not thought of before.
So I’ll be looking forward to whatever is ‘In the bag’ in April.