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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Take Inspiration From Favorite Restaurants

I love Mexican food. And I don't mean Tex-Mex...and I certainly don't mean your friendly Taco Loco-stuff your face with something resembling a burrito and call it food. I mean the kind of stuff a Mexican grandma might make on a Sunday. True Mole. Tamales hand wrapped in corn husks and steamed on the premises. Shredded meat, slow cooked in sauce, and not a processed cheese in sight Mexican food.

There is a place in the small city of Canandaigua, NY that embodies this spirit. Great food, good drink (true margaritas-premium tequila and real lime juice), and a really fun atmosphere. It's the kind of place that every time I go there, I wish I had all their recipes. So I try to recreate them at home. I have come no where near any of their recipes, but I take inspiration. Tonight, I'm making enchiladas. And the inspiration I am taking from Rio Tomatlan is to make the sauce from scratch. That's right. That stuff in the can is not enchilada sauce. I'm making the real deal.

Red Enchilada Sauce:

1 large white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large dried chile, whatever you like
1 128 oz. can crushed tomatoes (tried fire-roasted, if you can find it)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (you can use apple cider or white also)
1 Tbsp. Chipotle sauce (Tabasco makes a great one with no weird ingredients)
1 tsp. chile powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. coriander seed
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
salt & pepper

Begin by sweating the onion and garlic over low heat in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil. When they look translucent, put in the tomato paste and vinegar and reduce for about 2 minutes (try to avoid breathing in the steam, as the vinegar makes it quite potent!) Add the dried chile as well as the spices and saute for about 2 more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce heat to low. Let cook for about 15 minutes on low heat. When you are finished, you can puree the sauce, or strain it through a sieve, which is what I do since I don't have one of those fancy hand-held stick blenders.

To assemble enchiladas, dip each tortilla (look for some with no hydrogenated oils or corn syrup) into the sauce and place in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Fill with your choice of filling (I am doing shredded chicken with about 1 c. of the sauce mixed in and 1 Tbsp. sour cream) and roll up. Top with more enchilada sauce, some cheese (I use monterey jack because it melts nicely) and pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes. You will have yourself some delicious, and healthy enchiladas.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Making Better Food Choices

One thing I love about cooking is how it teaches me to make better food choices. Think about it. How likely are you to eat your aunt's chicken casserole (a relatively unassuming dish) after you know that it contains sour cream, a stick of butter, cream cheese and cream of mushroom soup? I at least would think twice about it after knowing.

Let's just say that the phrase "what you don't know can't hurt you" doesn't exactly apply when it comes to the food you choose to put in your body. This is especially true when eating out. I've made pasta carbonara before. Just the sauce contains bacon (or pancetta-Italian bacon), egg yolks, cream and lots of butter. Not exactly figure friendly. So I'm gonna pick the red sauce over the white sauce when I'm trying to stay on track.

Also, think about baked goods. I love to bake and try new recipes. I'm even taking a cake decorating class as a resolution in the new year! However, this means that I also know what goes into them. Butter, sour cream, shortening, copious amount of refined starch- ever heard of a mayonnaise cake? But I love sweets! What's a gal to do?? Well, I also happen to know that there are good choice to make when it comes to baked goods. For instance, try making an apple crumble instead of a double crusted apple pie (a crumble has no bottom crust-saving you a ton of calories-and even provides fiber if made with oats in the topping). Or, instead of double chocolate cookies (loaded with fat, sugar and starch) try these ethereal meringue cookies. Egg whites can do some amazing things and these babies contain little more than egg whites and sugar.

The basic recipe for meringue can be used to do many things. Think lemon-meringue pie. But, when piped into a circle (using a ziploc bag and star tip) you can make these little nests like the ones pictured at right (ignore the title text, please) which can be filled with fresh fruit (in winter try pears). Healthy, low fat, and looks completely decadent. You won't miss that coconut cake for a second!

This recipe was adapted from Barefoot Contessa's (Ina Garten) Meringues Chantilly:


  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a round template (cookie cutter, drinking glass, etc.) trace circles onto the parchment paper with a pencil. Turn the paper face-down on the baking sheets so the pencil writing is down, but you can still see the marks. The pencil lines will be your guide for piping the meringues.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a large pinch of salt on medium speed until bubbly. Add 3/4 c. of the sugar and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. This means that when you take the whisk out, and hold it upside down, the peaks still stand up straight (with a slight fold over at the tip). Whisk in the vanilla. Carefully fold the remaining 1/4 c. of sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, fitted into a ziploc bag, pipe on the pre-made circles, filling them in (if you don't have a star tip, just use the hole in the ziploc. It will work just as well, but wont' have the pretty ridges). Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells (double up the walls so they have some height.

Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight. Most recipes call for letting them rest overnight to dry them out. If you don't have time, you can up the oven temp (don't go past 300) and cook them for less time, you just have to watch them carefully. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.