Saturday, September 22, 2012

Baked chiles rellenos with goat cheese


I had no idea what Chiles Rellenos were before I moved to Albuquerque. My first tangential experience with Mexican food was in college, at the restaurant across the street from campus where tan men with heavy pomade in their hair and bright smiles would greet us ceremoniously and escort us to our tables. In the strip mall across from campus there were three places of note: a grocery store, a Starbucks, and the Mexican restaurant. For the unfortunate ones who lacked transportation, these were our three options for off-campus entertainment. We hit the Mexican restaurant when either (a) we had just cashed in on our measly student-employees salary, or (b) it was 2-for-1-Margarita night. To be honest, I don't really remember what their food tasted like - but the Margaritas sure were potent stuff.

In New Mexico, we don't care for folks calling our food "Mexican." Because it's not. The way we smother our dishes in green or red chile, our insatiable taste for roasted chiles, and the undeniable influence of the Native-American Pueblo cuisine, all surely set us apart from the stencil of "Mexican food" as known in the rest of America. Food is one of the best things about New Mexico, in addition to the mountains and the 362 days of sun every year. So don't be calling our food "Mexican," entiende?

While I love Chiles Rellenos, I don't tolerate cheese very well and I know that many people have this problem. So I've elaborated a variation of the recipe using a mushroom-goat cheese stuffing. And since I continue to be devoted to the rules of the Beauty Detox Solution (no protein with starch!), I've skipped the bread crumbs and the frying for an extra-healthy alternative: baked, and topped with delicious creamy tomato sauce. Remember to use gloves when cleaning the chiles, and make sure to get all the seeds out because these suckers can be very spicy. I used Hatch chiles, and if you can get your hands on some they are ideal for this dish.

Baked chiles rellenos with goat cheese
~ makes 4 servings

8 green chiles
8 oz mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups shredded goat cheddar

Creamy tomato sauce for topping
~ makes 3 cups

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeƱo chiles, chopped (with gloves)
1 26-oz carton of Pomi chopped tomatoes (or use any other brand of BPA-free packaged tomatoes)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup broth
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Roast chiles in a cast-iron pan over a gas or electric stove, turning them with tongs.

Cut a slit in each chile starting at the stem end and going about half-way down the chile. Gently remove as many seeds as you can from each chile and set aside. Make sure to use gloves in this undertaking - it's for your own good! As you can see I didn't, and I suffered immensely for a full 6 hours, during which I kept my hands submerged in ice water. Use gloves, people!

Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add oil, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add mushrooms and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.Transfer cooked onions, garlic and mushrooms to a large bowl, let cool off slightly and then toss with the grated cheese. Stuff chiles with the cheese and mushroom mixture. Lay in a lightly oiled baking pan and bake until chiles are soft and filling is hot, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Add all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Then cook until it turns a deeper red, about 10 minutes. Add broth, or skip it if your potion is too liquid. Season with salt.

Remove the chiles from the oven and serve topped with sauce. Bring extra sauce to the table. Buen provecho!

Recipe adapted from

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mediterranean rice with spinach, olives and fennel

Some days I really don't feel like cooking. Take last night, for instance. Listless and terminally sore from my sprints up the hill, I crawled home from work only to discover the fridge a desolate expanse of nothingness, save for a few scattered jars with leftover salad vegetables and some cooked rice from the other day. Whoever failed to do the shopping (you know who you are) will be punished severely. But no matter! Hunger beckons, uncompromising. So, here's a riddle: what can you make out of rice, spinach, fennel and olives?

While I stirred, flavors of fennel and olives rising from the pot and making me drunk with anticipation, I had dreams of Greek gods and goddesses tasting cheese and wine lounging on silky divans, caring nothing about the affairs of mortals. So I poured myself a glass of wine, Trader Joe's finest, and proceeded to feel positively nonchalant as I finished up what is quite likely the best impromptu meal of the month. This is to give you some inspiration to make your own "whatever's in the fridge" meal.

Mediterranean rice with spinach, olives and fennel

~ makes 3 servings

2 cups cooked brown rice

2 cups chopped spinach
½ cup pitted green olives, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil 
juice of ½ lemon 

salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan. Saute the onion on medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add spinach and saute for about 5 minutes. Add rice and fennel and cook, stirring continuously, a few more minutes. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and olives and mix everything well. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Very important chocolate gluten-free muffins

I. Want. To. Eat. All. The. Muffins. In. The. World.

As many strides as I have made in keeping faithful to a wholesome diet, I have not managed to kick off my stubborn, incessant craving for sweets. There is no limit to how much chocolate I could eat in any given day. Enough is simply not in my vocabulary when it comes to that sort of thing. For a person so otherwise rational and composed as most people know me as, this is entirely out of character, and it irks me endlessly. It's like an annoying thing you catch yourself doing all the time, but somehow you can't stop.

So I have proceeded to discipline myself as if I were a dog in need of training. As a first step, I put signs throughout the house reminding me of how shameful my addiction is. "Chill out with the chocolate" says the one on the front door. "Don't you dare open that!" says one pasted to the very desk where I'm writing this. "WTF! No more sweets!" says the one on the fridge, emphatically. 

The second step is to promise myself a reward if I am good and follow the rules. "If I don't have this piece of chocolate right now, I can have a muffin tomorrow morning!" Delayed gratification works wonders, really, for dogs as much as for humans. Another thing I do is to make myself feel bad after I've done something excessive, like going bananas over the Nutella jar and managing to make myself nauseated, yet somehow, somehow, still craving the damned sweet stuff.

I've got to say, I understand quite well what makes dogs happy. First, it's looking forward to things - and then, getting them. Like when they wait for us to come home from work and at the very jingle of the keys in the lock they go bonkers against the door, jumping and tail-wagging and getting so ridiculously excited. When I finally allow myself a piece of cake or some such, I know exactly how a dog feels. And I have to say, what that piece of cake means to me is more than words can describe. It's no longer food, it's an entire experience of built-up anticipation and heavenly taste, and my delight at having managed to abstain so bravely, to withstand withdrawal and to circumvent the temptation that is everywhere around me.

This is how I've enjoyed these brilliant gluten-free chocolate muffins. Like rare delicacies - not like something to be chomped on and gulped down, but like a delicate, elaborate dessert that a French chef made especially for me. I made every muffin mean a great deal. And I encourage you to do the same when you make these (because you will!). They are not only delicious, they are also very important.

Gluten-free nutty chocolate muffins
~ makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup almond butter
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup carob chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together butter and honey. Whisk in cocoa powder and almond butter until smooth. Whisk in eggs and baking soda.
Pour into greased muffin tray. Bake for 20 minutes until done.

Recipe adapted from the talented Michelle @ Gluten-Free Fix.

Note: The only changes I made to Michelle's recipe were to replace peanut butter with almond butter and chocolate chips with carob chips. I find peanuts problematic because of fungi and allergies, so I prefer to use almonds/almond butter whenever a recipe calls for peanuts/peanut butter. Also, I prefer carob chips because they are caffeine-free and I also love their malty taste.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Home-made crackers

Have you ever asked yourself "Is it worth making my own crackers?" I often have. And this reminded me of Doc from Cannery Row, always wondering what a beer milkshake might taste like, until finally he drives to a roadhouse where no one knows him and orders a beer milkshake, elucidating the mystery once and for all. So I, too, have decided to find out what it's like to make crackers. Is it a lot of work? Can I beat the store-bought varieties? Will I screw them up? are all questions that tormented me, through and through.

So haunted was I that Saturday morning I arose determined to crack my way into cracker-baking, so to say. I had some amaranth flour leftover from my gluten-free experiments that I was eager to utilize quickly, and I found a recipe online for herbal amaranth crackers. So I put on an apron and promptly proceeded to heat up the already tropical-feeling house, while I wiped the sweat off my forehead and furiously mixed dirt-smelling dough to perfection.

The result? Not disappointing. The amaranth crackers are delicious, and the fact that they were all long gone by Sunday evening is clear proof of that. We ate them in so many combinations: with sun-dried tomato hummus, with spinach dip, with beauty-nut pate, in soup, with curry, and by themselves. So versatile, and so addictive! But I'm not going to lie, they were a lot of work. Not only is the dough brittle, but it needs a lot of hand-holding. Each cracker needs to be individually dealt with and mollycoddled. If you're not someone with attention to detail, don't try this. But if you are - well, you'll be rewarded.

On another note, last week I managed a stoical 130-pound deadlift at the gym, after a sweating marathon of sprinting a 3-miler at midday under 100-degree sun. That's right, the skinny girl can! But I've much work to do still.

This weekend, however, was hiking time, and the Three Gun Spring trail was only too happy to receive us with open arms. The beautiful Cibola forest was as charming as ever, this weekend wildfire-free!

Amaranth herbal crackers
~ makes 60-70 crackers

3/4 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch or cornstarch
1/4 cup almondmeal
1/2 tsp salt + 1 tsp salt to sprinkle on top of crackers
1/4 tsp ground peppper
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
3 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
2 Tbsp Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning

Place dry ingredients in a bowl and mix until blended. Add olive oil, water and garlic paste and stir until dough forms a ball. If mixture is still crumbly, add water, one teaspoon at a time, until dough forms a ball.

Sprinkle rice flour over a smooth work surface and over your rolling pin. Roll the dough as thin as you can get it without breaking. Use a knife to cut even squares. Prick top of each cracker twice with a fork. Using a small spatula, transfer crackers to your ungreased baking trays. Sprinkle some salt over the crackers.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place crackers on a wooden board to cool.

Recipe adapted from