Cooking Without a Recipe

I’ve mentioned the Bon Appétit online “Cooking Without a Recipe” feature a few times. I have borrowed that title as part of new category on this blog: “Play With Your Food – Cooking Without a Recipe.”  I’m enjoying experimenting with everyday staples in new ways and writing about the experience.

You probably have realized that I love chiles rellenos (stuffed long green chiles). They are a lot of work and can make quite a mess if you fry them. My mother made crispy crusted chile rellenos rather than the traditional soggy egg battered version. I’ve replaced her crushed cracker crumbs with panko to make a crusted  baked relleno and a stuffed green chile in a pan-browned corn tortillas that I call chiles rellenos al flojero – lazy guy chiles rellenos.

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Panko crusted baked chiles rellenos.

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Chiles rellenos al flojero – lazy guy chiles rellenos.

Now, I’ve done a riff on that and combined my rellenos  flojeros with the fixings for huevos rancheros another breakfast favorite, ranch style eggs and chile. You warm corn tortillas, cover them with a green chile sauce of chile, tomatoes, onion and garlic and top them with soft fried eggs.  There’s something magical about silky soft egg yolk and chile sauces. If you use green chile sauce on one, and red sauce in the other, it is called huevos divorciado – divorced eggs.

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Huevos divorciados – one chile and egg topped tortilla with green sauce, the other with red chile sauce.

Playing with my food, I made chiles rellenos al flojero, then drenched them with green chile sauce and topped them with a soft fried egg as I would for huevos rancheros. I’ll have to call this riff huevos rancheros rellenos because the tortillas are filled with stuffed chiles and folded. What ever I call it, it was a terrific breakfast made without a recipe a by playing with my food.

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Huevos rancheros rellenos – best of both worlds – stuffed green chiles and green chile sauce drenched tortillas toped with eggs. Would this breakfast two days in a row be a bad thing?

Does a Club Newsletter Item Count as Being Published?

Cactus, Chorizo and Eggs

I’ve been a member of the 70+ year old El Paso Cactus and Rock Club for at least ten years. Some time ago, we hosted the club meeting to show off the work we had done on our back yard, including cactus landscaping and a brick patio. I remembered I had a Prickly Pear Cookbook on the shelf and decided it would be fun to do a cactus oriented luncheon. Every dish included prickly pear cactus in it in some form or another.

When the club started an annual public program for Cactus Appreciation Month, I was invited to do cactus cooking demonstrations. My cooking style is cactus  dishes that are more modern than traditional. I have some cookbooks from authors in Arizona who make very exciting dishes featuring prickly pear pads and fruits and flower buds from cholla cactus and many more foods from native plants. I’ve learned from them and have created a few recipes of my own. I say this way of cooking is “estilo Gringo” – Gringo style.

I am happy to say I’ve developed a reputation and have done demonstrations and classes in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I have become the Gringo Gourmet  My daughter built the Gringo Gourmet blog site for me for Christmas in 2013. I enjoy writing the blog and shooting the food photos. I even get some reader hits on the site! Of course it doesn’t hurt that I post food pix on FaceBook with a link to the blog.

This long winded introduction leads to my being asked to provide a recipe and photo(s) for the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club quarterly news letter. I try to come up with something original for each issue and have fun inventing recipes and doing amateur food-styling for the newsletter. I also come up with new ideas for my demo dishes that way.

The next issue will feature what I consider the most difficult meal to prepare – breakfast. I tend to think of breakfasts fit for a farm hand – biscuits and gravy, pancakes and waffles, sausages, toast, eggs over easy cooked in pan drippings. And of course there must be butter and a variety of jams, preserves and jellies on the table. I cannot conceive of a green smoothie for my breakfast! Once or twice a year I fix what we called “big breakfast” in the good old days. The rest of the time, we try to enjoy more healthy fare and pretty much succeed. It still can be a challenge to make a country boy really want a healthy breakfast.

For the next Cactus Club Newsletter, I wanted to do a Gringo Gourmet more healthy twist on a Mexican egg and chorizo burrito breakfast.  I’ve added prickly pear cactus the mix and serve it in a flour tortilla.

First Gringo twist – I chopped about half a pound of prickly pear paddles into a half-inch dice. I cooked the cactus in about two teaspoons of canola oil. The cactus released its mucousy okra-like sticky secretion. I added a tablespoon of water at a time to the pan which created steam that helped evaporate away the sticky stuff.

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Diced prickly pear cactus pads simmering in the pan.

Second Gringo twist – bulk chorizo sausage made fresh with ground pork at local markets. It is surprisingly lean and just as spicy and tasty as the mushed mystery meat plastic tubes labeled chorizo. I don’t mean to be crude, but I’m told that tube chorizo is made of ground lips and a**holes. I don’t want to visit a processing plant to find out if that is true. I’ll stick with ground real meat as the sausage base.

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Ground pork with chorizo seasonings = bulk chorizo.

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Browned and crumbled and ready to be added to the cactus and eggs.

 

I bought my market made chorizo and browned it with some chopped onion and garlic. There was minimal fat in the pan when it cooked. It was a texture similar to hamburger after been broken up and stirred in the pan.

When the cactus was an Army green color I added four beaten eggs and swirled them until they began to firm up, then I started to stir them and made sure the cactus was well mixed in. Before they were too well set, I placed an estimated half cup of the cooked chorizo and stirred it into the eggs as they finished setting up.

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Cactus, chorizo and egg scrambled and ready for breakfast.

I tried three different platings of the eggs and chorizo for the newsletter. Each plating included the cactus, egg and sausage mixture, some refried beans and a handful of grape tomatoes for color and their special sweet-tart taste.

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First was a breakfast burrito made with a whole wheat tortilla. Please note that what I call a breakfast burrito would be called a breakfast taco east of the Pecos County line. Go figure that out. The second plating was three tacos. I softened the corn tortillas on a cast iron griddle until they were soft tender and had a little color. The final presentation was a griddle crisped flat corn tortilla topped with the egg and chorizo, some grated Mexican cotija cheese and a dollop of red chile salsa for a little extra kick.

The three platings tasted pretty much the same. Their difference was the tortilla and prep of the corn tortillas.

I do enjoy the bulk chorizo because I feel more like I know what is in it. That is important to me. I’ve been researching chorizo recipes and next time I’ll buy ground pork and make my own. I’ll report on that when it happens.

After word

I had left over cooked chorizo in the fridge and decided to add it to stacked red enchiladas the way some cooks add hamburger to theirs. Of course, I had to have an egg on top since it was for breakfast. I liked the enchiladas with a runny egg yolk best of all.

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Enchiladas with chorizo and a runny egg. I may have to run out and buy some  bulk chorizo before fixing dinner tonight!

Sometimes You Have to Satisfy a Craving

I am unashamedly addicted to chile. I crave green chile, red chile, hot chile, mild chile, just about any kind of chile and need a regular fix. The need is stronger than coffee craving some days.  Today is one of those days. I woke up wanting chiles rellenos, but didn’t want to deal with the mess of stuffing, breading and frying or baking them. I’ve posted pictures of what I call chiles rellenos flojeros (lazy guy chile rellenos) which are simply cheese, and a green chile in a warm corn tortilla.  That works, but didn’t sound quite right for a day that promises to be busy and long.

I decided to do a notched up version of rellenos flojeros by spritzing corn tortillas with olive oil and warming them in a skillet to give them a little texture and color.  I buy roasted green chile almost every week, peel it and keep in the refrigerator for when those cravings hit. I cut a slit at the top of two chiles per serving and stuffed them with colby jack cheese. I left the stems on the chiles because I wanted them to be recognized as chiles in my photographs.  They next went into the microwave for about a minute and a half to warm the chiles and melt the cheese.

I folded the chiles in to my warm tortillas and placed two on a plate, added some warmed green chile sauce and topped them with an egg and a scattering of asadero cheese. You might say they were “smothered” tacos, but since they were based on stuffed chiles, they are rellenos flojeros suaves to me (slick or swell lazy guy’s chiles rellenos).  Whatever you might call them, they hit the spot and quelled that chile craving.

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Chiles rellenos flojeros suaves. Deliciosos!

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A closer view of a bite of stuffed chile in a tortilla.

 

Leftovers out in the West Texas town of El Paso

Day Two of what to do with left over turkey:

We abstained from turkey on Friday so it doesn’t look so intimidating on Saturday. Feeling the pangs of chile withdrawal and remembering what was on hand, I decided to make posole de cocono – a soup of turkey, hominy and chile. (Hominy is posole in Spanish.) Red chile pork sole is a favorite breakfast on a cold morning at Sofi’s restaurant. Green chile chicken posole is another favorite version. During the holidays I like to my  Christmas posole – a clear seasoned broth with chicken bowls of both red and green chile on the side so people can add the one they want or a little of both.

Last summer I discovered a restaurant in Las Vegas, NM’s historical downtown district that served Nixtamal as a side dish. I liked it and was happy to discover a couple of local groceries carry it.  Nixtamal is slaked corn. That means dried corn soaked in a solution of water and lime. I read several articles on making Nixtamal and was more than glad to find it already slaked and frozen. I rinsed thoroughly to be sure the lime was gone before cooking it. Nixtamal can be boiled and soaked for 2 to 24 hours, depending on what you want to use it for: for hominy, boil 15 minutes and soak for 15 minutes; for tamale dough, boil 15 minutes and let soak for one and a half hours; for tortillas, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let soak overnight.

I was intent on making posole also used as the name for the soup containing chile, hominy and meat. I read that for hominy, you rub the hull off the kernel. The hull looks for like a dark spec on the tip of the kernel. A thin Tough skin clings to that speck and comes off with it.  The suggested removal method was using your fingers to rub it off or to pick it off. “Ha!” I said, “What difference could that make?”  It made a big difference; it took about two hours for the Nixtamal to soften to a comfortable chew state.  My package of Nixtamal was two pounds. I reserved a pound for another experiment. I will take the time to rub the hulls off then. I used a favorite short cut for my red chile sauce. El Pinto Restaurant in Albuquerque makes a wonderful line of chile sauces and salsas.  The red chile sauce and green chile sauce are staples in my pantry so I can make red or green enchiladas in a hurry if I don’t want to spend a morning making them from scratch. I mix the red sauce with an equal amount of water an sometimes add a little oregano and garlic to it. I don’t dilute the green sauce. It is huevos rancheros right out of the jar.

Back to my turkey posole…

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Turkey leftovers El Paso style – a posole with turkey, Nixtamal and red chile. Sometimes diced onion and dried oregano are sprinkled on top at other times shredded cabbage and chopped radishes are the garnishes of choice. I’ll have to call this a Nixtamal rather than a posole.

This is a toss it in the pot as you go recipe.  Measures listed are a suggestions, not an exact formula

Turkey Nixtamal

INGREDIENTS

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 Tbsp olive or canola oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

four cups water

1 lb frozen Nixtamal, thawed

1 lb leftover turkey, chopped into 1/2 or so cubes

8 oz (1/2 jar) El Pinto red chile sauce

diced onion for garnish

dry oregano for garnish

lime wedges to serve (optional)

salt to taste

METHOD

In a large (2 to 3 qt) saucepan, sauté onion for five minutes until translucent, then sauté garlic about three minutes until tender

add Nixtamal and simmer until nearly tender, making sure Nixtamal stays covered in water (at least an hour to an hour and a half)

When Nixtamal is deemed tender, add cubed turkey and bring to temp.

Add chile, taste and thin a little bit if needed. El Pinot medium chile is a good bet for heat. I eat hot chile, but find the hot sauce a little strong.

Let mixture in pot simmer to blend in the chile flavor.  I spoon out a Nixtamal kernel to taste when judging readiness.

Serve in bowls and let diners garnish with onion and oregano or with shredded cabbage and diced radishes if desired.  A squeeze of fresh lime juice is also good.

Lessons learned:

Nixtamal has a better flavor than canned hominy.  Hull the Nixtamal if you want to use it. Allow plenty of cooking time. Maybe next time cook the Nixtamal a day ahead.  And, try more ways to used Nixtamal in the future.

Recycling is Good at Breakfast

A while back, I raved about the Sabertooth restaurant.  My favorite thing on the menu is Nopal (Prickly Pear Cactus) Rellenos (stuffed long green chiles). They have a wonderful cactus and cheese  and crema (Mexican style sour cream) filing in a traditional egg and flour fried batter. They served two rellenos with a side of rice.

The other day, I posted my own version of prickly pear enchiladas with a chipotle cream sauce and Asadero cheese.  The enchiladas were filled with diced cactus, and chopped tomato, onion garlic and green chile. I must say they were very good.  I made six enchiladas in a small baking dish. I had some of the vegetable stuffing, chipotle cream and cheese left, so I decided to mimic the Sabertooth rellenos with my leftover enchilada components. I call that creative culinary recycling.

You’ve seen how I like to make my rellenos baked with a crispy coating of browned panko crumbs.  I gave the cactus rellenos given the same treatment.  I stuffed roasted and peeled long green chiles with a strip of asadero cheese and a couple of spoonsful of the enchilada filling.  I dredged the filled chiles in flour, dipped them in an egg wash and rolled them in browned panko crumbs.  I brown my panko crumbs ahead because otherwise they remain pale and are not attractive. I either brown them on a sheet pan in the oven or on the stove top in a sauté pan over low heat. I baked them at 375° for about25 minutes to warm the filling and melt the cheese.

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Panko breaded nopal rellenos ready for the oven. I slit the side to make it easier to add the filling. That made the breading a little tricky.

Chile rellenos and eggs are a favorite breakfast in this house.  I usually make extra to save for breakfast the next day.  This time, I made the rellenos especially for breakfast to recycle the leftover enchilada fixings. I cooked some eggs and reheated some beans from the enchilada supper to round out the recycled meal.

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Chiles rellenos with panko crust and a filling of cactus, savory vegetables and cheese. A few drops of chipotle cream add a mild kick. With the addition of eggs and beans, breakfast is served.

 

Prickly Pear Cactus Enchiladas – Definitely Not Your Mama’s Nopalitos!

Inspiration comes in many forms. I saw a recipe for portobello and poblano chile enchilada that sounded interesting. I decided not to make the dish, rather, I thought I’d reinvent it using my favorite prickly pear cactus as a filling. I also swiped a favorite chipotle cream sauce idea from a local restaurant, but used half and half instead. I made just six stuffed and rolled enchiladas as a side dish with  pint beans.  The entré was a very thin ribeye steak pan grilled the way it is done by yet another Mexican restaurant.  It looks big, but is about 1/4 thick and weighs in at a light four ounce serving. An imported Indio beer was the beverage of choice!

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Mexican inspired dinner. A thin steak, pinto beans, a cold beer and, from the Gringo Academy Test Kitchen, Gringo Gourmet Prickly Pear Cactus Enchiladas with Chipotle Cream.

The enchilada stuffing took a little prep, but with a small electric food chopper, it went pretty quickly. The stuffing and sauce came together while the cactus cooked. If you have ever cooked cactus (nopales in Spanish or nopalitos when diced) you know that it yeals a sticky liquid similar to okra’s liquid. Traditionally, it is boiled and rinsed three times to remove the sticky. I sauté it in a couple of tablespoons of olive or canola oil. The hot oil causes the liquid to be released and it evaporates. I speed the process up by adding a tablespoon of water to the pan.  The water makes steam which hastens the evaporation process.  The cactus flesh darkens as it cooks and soon you have a pan of dark green cooked cactus with virtually 99% of the sticky gone.

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Enchilada filling is chopped while the cactus cooks. You want some texture in the vegetables, so don’t over chop it.

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Diced cactus begins to darken and lose its sticky texture.

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Vegetable filling is added to the pan of cactus, stirred in and cooked until softened.

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Cactus Enchiladas ready for the oven.

I was very happy with how the enchilada experiment turned out. I’ll make them for company soon.  The recipe below is for four servings of three rolled enchilada each.  You could stack the tortillas with filling in layers, but rolled seemed the thing to do for his meal. The original inspiration recipe called for pickled onion garnish. I decided to use Fresno pepper slices as a garnish instead because I forgot to pick up a red onion.  Pickle white or yellow onion would have been too pale for the dish, and I happened too have a few Fresnos on hand. Fresno are a mild pepper and their bright red color perks up a plate.  I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much as we did.

PRICKLY PEAR ENCHILADAS

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

5 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes), divided

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

16 oz cleaned nopales (prickly pear cactus) chopped into ½ inch dice

2 Tbsp olive or canola oil

1-1/2 C chopped grape tomatoes

4 or five roasted, peeled and chopped long green chile peppers

½ medium white or yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 pint half and half, divided

1 canned chipotle chile and two or three tsp of adobo sauce from the can.

Juice of one Persian lime

Kosher salt to taste

8-10 oz. manchego or asadero cheese, grated

12 corn tortillas

2 Tbsp cup cilantro, coarsely chopped, divided

Fresno chiles, sliced (optional garnish if you forgot a red onion as I did)

METHOD

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine vinegar, sugar, and 4 Tbsp. lime juice in a small bowl. Stir in the onion, microwave 30 sec. You want the onion to absorb the flavor, not get too soft.

In a large pan, sauté diced cactus in oil until the sticky secretion is evaporated and cactus is a dark olive color. The process can be hastened by adding one Tbsp water at a time to help steam off the sticky secretion.

While cactus cooks, chop tomato, chiles, onion and garlic in a food chopper or food processor and mix together in a bowl. When cactus is cooked, stir in vegetable mixture and cook until vegetables are softened. Season lightly with kosher salt. Set aside.

Purée chipotle chile and 1/2 cup half and half in a blender until smooth. Stir into remaining half and half and add lime juice. Heat in a wide pot, but do not boil. Season lightly with Kosher salt if desired.

Wrap tortillas in a clean dish cloth. Microwave for 45 seconds. Keep stack wrapped.

Cover the bottom of a casserole with a few spoonsful of chipotle and half and half sauce. Dip tortillas in sauce, one at a time. Lay dipped tortilla in the casserole and fill with a generous tablespoon of cactus filling and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Roll tortilla and place seam down in casserole. Repeat until tortillas are all filled or casserole is full. Top with a little extra sauce and generous sprinkle of cheese.

Bake enchiladas until cheese is melted and edges of tortillas are toasted, 25–30 minutes. Top with reserved pickled onion and sprinkle of chopped cilantro. Add a few pickled onion for a bright contrast of color and flavor. I wouldn’t use the Fresno chile slices and the onion together.

Unbelieveable: Tomatillos and Seafood Make Great Green Posole!

Thumbing through my foodie e-mails, a recipe for Green Posole with Cod and Cilantro caught my eye.  Something that sounds that unusual has to be tried, so off to the store for tomatillos, serrano chiles, clam juice, cod and a few other odds and ends for the recipe.  I was ahead of the game with somethings already in the larder.

There’s a little chopping in the prep, but isn’t there always? After the chopping you get to use the blender and then it’s a skate all the way with just one good stewpot on the stove.

The recipe calls for two serrano chiles.  One is  chopped and pureed in the soup; the other is sliced thin and used as garnish. A generous sprinkling of sliced raw serrano proved to be too much of a good thing.  Should you choose to make this stew, go easy on the raw chile garnish.  At first bite, I was afraid the whole dish was too hot to eat.  After fishing out the garnish chiles, the stew was just right on the sneezing, tearing and coughing scale of hot things we love to eat: zippy without pain!

My supermarket had a special on cod this week and there was one half-pound portion left when I got there, so I improvised and added raw shrimp which I added to the stew when the cod was nearly finished. It was a good decision.

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Green Posole with Cod, Shrimp and Cilantro – pre-garnish so you can see the cod and shrimp. On the side, warm corn tortillas with a light schmear of buttah and lime wedges.

Green Posole with Cod, Shrimp and Cilantro

Ingredients

2 TBSP olive oil

2 medium shallots, chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced, divided

about 1-1/4 lbs tomatillos (about 8 medium), husks removed and the fruit rinsed. I quartered them before putting them in the blender.

Kosher salt and course ground black pepper

1 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems, plus more for serving

1 lb cod fillet

1 15 oz. can hominy, rinsed

1 8 oz. bottle clam juice

1 cup water

3 small radishes, thinly sliced for garnish

lime wedges, for serving

Method

Active time: 40 minutes

Heat oil in a stew pot over medium heat. Cook shallots,garlic and half of the chiles, stirring occasionally until soft and fragrant but not browned, 6-8 minutes

Meanwhile, purée tomatillos in blender until smooth.

Add half of tomatillo puree to pot and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 cup cilantro to remaining purée in blender and blend until smooth; set aside.

Add cod, hominy, clam juice and 1 cup water to pot. Bring to a simmer and gently cook over medium-low heat until cod begins to be opaque.  Add shrimp and let cod and shrimp finish cooking together and cod begins to flake. Remove from heat. Stir in raw tomatillo-cilantro purée, breaking cod into chunks. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide stew among bowls (makes four servings), and garnish with radishes, :cilantro and (at your own risk) remaining chiles.  Star slow with the chiles and add more as you can handle them.  I eat a lot of chile and the raw serrano slices were very hot. I did have seconds of the stew and added a few chile slices, but not as many as I had the first time!

NOTE: To Emily, my vegetarian – I think you could substitute vegetable broth for the clam juice and lightly pan browned cubes of firm tofu and enjoy this dish very much. The tofu would pick up the herbie flavors of the broth nicely.

Prickly Pear Upsidedown Cake

Saturday was a nice cloudy day with some soft rain. It was a good day to fire up the oven and try a recipe I picked up from the “Savor the Southwest” blog written by friends in Tucson. The blog is shared by a group of devotees of native plant foods and recipes.  I regularly enjoy the blog and was excited to find a Prickly Pear Upsidedown Cake recipe a few weeks ago. Prickly pear fruit (called tunas) are in season. I find them in a couple of the stores here from August through October.  I like to buy rather than harvest because they are grown for the market and already have 99.999% of the glochids (tiny barbs) removed.  I do manage to sometimes find that .001% barb that got missed in processing.

I washed a dozen tunas and juiced 6 of them to get 3/4 cup of juice for the recipe.  I have a small juicer that handles about one tuna at a time, but it is still much   easier and faster than using the blender and a strainer as I did the first time I juiced tunas.

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Whole tunas, tunas in the bowl with ends trimmed go in the machine. The juice separates in the catch jar. It is thick and mucilaginous but it  separates into a beautiful magenta liquid and a cloudy layer that can be spooned off and strained.

After juicing, I peeled the remaining tunas, sliced them in half and removed the seed.  I saved the pulp and seed to enjoy as a chef’s reward for my labor. They were sweet and delicious. The seed are harmless if swallowed, but are very hard if you should happen to bite down on one.

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Tuna, peeled and halved. One half has been seeded, the other has yet to be done.

After mixing the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients separately, I prepared a springform pan by melting butter and sprinkling brown sugar over it.   Then, I added the sliced tunas to the pan, combined the wet and dry ingredients into a batter and pour it in the pan.  Of course there is bound to be a little leakage from the pan, so I used a baking sheet under it before it went into the oven.

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Prickly pear tunas in the springform pan ready for the batter and baking.

The cooking brown sugar and butter smelled so good I could hardly wait for the cake to get done and cool so I could turn it out of the pan.

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The kitchen santos did it again! The cake turned out nicely revealing the prickly pear tuna top and nicely browned cake.

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Served up and ready for tasting!

We enjoyed the cactus cake very much.  The whole wheat flour and the sweet tunas and brown sugar were complementary flavors making it especially good. Working the tunas is a bit labor intensive, but worth it in the end.

PRICKLY PEAR UPSIDEDOWN CAKE, courtesy of the  Savor the Southwest Blog Partners

Ingredients

1/4 C butter

1/3 C brown sugar

3/4 C whole wheat flour

3/4 C unbleached all purpose flour

3/4 C sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 C prickly pear juice

1/2 C butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla

1 dozen prickly pear fruit (tunas)

Method

Singe clochids (tiny barbs) over fire from 6 prickly pear fruit.  Peel, seed and slice fruit. I prefer to buy tunas that have already been cleaned of glochids.

Juice 6 tunas to yield 3/4 C.  They may be juiced in a juicer or liquified in a blender and strained. Good news! The juice does not stain clothing or kitchen towels.

Preheat oven to 325°. Put 1/4 C butter, in a 9 inch springform pan and heat in the oven just until the butter is melted. I recommend putting the pan on a baking sheet in case the springform pan leaks a little butter. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter and arrange sliced fruit in pan.

Mix dry ingredients. Mix juice, melted butter and vanilla. Combine and mix well into a smooth batter. Pour over prickly pear fruit in the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes or so until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  It may take a little longer to cook because the pan is on a baking sheet.

Let the cake cool thoroughly in the pan, invert onto a serving plate and savor the treat!

 

 

Real Cooks Make Quiche and Drink Prickly Pear Cactus Beer

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Shiner Prickly Pear Beer nestled in the Baby Rita prickly pear showing its purple/pink winter color.

Challenges! I’m doing a cactus cooking demo for a garden club later in the week. I enjoy doing programs for this particular club and want to do something special. I’ve developed a recipe for cactus and green chile con queso bites that I cook as mini-muffins for tastings (see Feb. 27 post).  They are very popular.  I wanted to use the recipe, but put it in a crust and serve it as a quiche. The challenge is, I’m not a baker and have never mastered the perfect pie crust. I decided to practice with a purchased (horrors!) crust.  Then the adventure began.

I over cooked the crust when I pre-baked it. It cracked and was a bit dry. I used a regular crust and had too much filling. I’ll use a deep dish crust for the actual demo. I am very happy to report that the filling worked well. It set up nicely in the pie crust.   I had worried that it might be too wet and wouldn’t set well. It’s like the Cole Porter song, Experiment, and you’ll see. Its how we learn at the Gringo Gourmet Academy.

The good news is my official taster and critic pronounced it delicious and ate three servings!

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Quiche trial right out of the oven.

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With little artful crust trimming, the crust experiment plates up well with a colorful salad.

Part two of last night’s experience was tasting Spoetzl Brewery’s new summer seasonal release – Shiner Prickly Pear Beer. In my Gringo Gourmet persona, I’m all about prickly pear cactus and ways to use it.  Of course I had to track down a prickly pear beer and give it a try.

So you know up front, my favorite beer is Shiner Bock. I’m not a beer connoisseur, but I do enjoy a full bodied dark beer. Shiner Bock is my go to brew. Spoetzl’s Shiner Bohemian Black Lager is very high up on the list, too. Good, solid, very dark perfection.

The prickly pear beer is a handsome reddish amber that is good to look at while enjoying the brew.  The most familiar of the prickly pear cactus fruit is a rich magenta color. It has about 15% fructose and is a sweet treat by itself. It makes the beer a bit on the sweet side.

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The beer is a beautiful red-amber color, thanks to the prickly pear fruit juice used in the brew.

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A prickly pear tuna and juice. What a color!

Both the prickly pear pads and the fruit affect insulin levels in the blood stream. I’ll leave it to my scientist friends to figure out if that impact balances out the carbohydrates in the beer base of this brew.

Prickly pear beer is a great sipping beer for a sunny afternoon.  It was 77º yesterday afternoon when I conducted my tasting. I personally found it a little too sweet to serve with a meal. I’ll likely quaff a few more over the summer as a refresher during the hot days ahead. Do give it a try. You might also like their Ruby Redbird seasonal brew made with Texas Ruby Red Grapefruit. It, too, is taste treat you wouldn’t expect.

 

 

School Dazed

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Things do get hectic now and  then, but somehow finally settle down – looks out, I’m back!

Months ago, I did a cactus cooking demonstration at the El Paso Museum of Archeology. A couple  in the audience are involved with an exciting gardening project at Bowie High School. Bowie is located a stone’s throw from the US/Mexico border. It’s students are largely economically disadvantaged, but they work hard and the school has had many success stories among its alumni. The Bowie Bears spirit legendary and it lasts a lifetime in its alumni. The couple who attended my demo talked it up, and I was invited to do a demo for a nutrition class earlier this week.

It turned out that I did the demo three times for multiple classes.  I do an introduction to cactus and its nutritional benefits and frequently share a little ethnobotanical story about the three sisters – beans squash and corn and what happens when they meet the guys from down the block – cactus, onion, garlic, tomato and chile.  Then I demonstrate how I cook prickly pear and dissipate the mucilaginous secretion from the cactus.  It is similar to the sticky slime of boiled okra. I offer the audience a chance to taste both raw cactus and my cooked version.  Then, I offer them a taste of something I have made in advance.

The Bowie students got to try a new original recipe – Cactus and Chile con Queso bites. I do it in mini-muffin cups which are just right for a bite size taste. I made 10 dozen for the Bowie project and had just a few left over at the end of the day.

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10 dozen Cactus and Chili con Queso Bites prepared for a demo at Bowie High School.

Fortunately, I have two mini-muffin pans that hold two dozen muffins each and speed up cooking for both these tasty treats and the mini cheesecakes I make for some demos.

I enjoyed the experience with the Bowie students.  They were interested, attentive and very polite. Two teachers helped with serving and my powerpoint show. It was so much fun for me that I accepted an encore performance for the four morning nutrition classes in March.

Here’s my recipe.

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Cool the bites on a rack so they don’t “sweat” in the muffin pan.

 

 

Cactus and Chile con Queso Bites

Ingredients

1/2 C sautéed nopales, finely chopped*

1 Tbsp olive oil

½ C finely chopped tomato

¼ C finely chopped green onion

1 clove minced garlic or ¼ tsp. garlic powder

4 eggs, beaten

4 oz. Asadero cheese, grated

1 tsp. chili powder

½ tsp ground cumin

1/2 C chopped green chile

1 seeded and very thinly sliced jalapeno for garnish (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350.

Chop cleaned nopales into ½ inch dice, sauté in oil until sticky secretion has evaporated and nopales are olive green in color. Let cool and chop finely. (Adding one Tbsp of water at a time to the pan creates steam that cooks and helps evaporate the sticky off quicker.

Lightly oil a skillet and sauté tomato, green onion and garlic. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, beat the four eggs and add the cheese, green chile and nopales. Stir in tomato mixture and spices and stir well to incorporate into an even batter.

Line mini-muffin tins with paper liners. Spoon 1 scant Tbsp batter into each cup.

Bake for 10-13 minutes or until centers are set. Let cool in pans for a few minutes and carefully remove from pans.

Option: Bake bites topped with a jalapeno slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

* I do a coarse chop of the vegetables with my chef’s knife, then toss them into my electric mini-chopper and pulse them to chop into small its. The bites are small and you want a very fine chop on your vegetables.  The machine is a great time saver and pulsing lets you control the texture.

Yields 24 bite sized servings.