Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nicaraguan Night

Nacatamales with Rice and Beans
We hadn't chosen a Latin American country for a while, so last Friday we set our sights on Nicaragua.  It is the largest country in Central America and is located between Honduras and Costa Rica. According to Nicaragua.com, the country has 78 national parks and many opportunities for outdoor fun including, fishing, golfing, scuba diving, rainforest canopy tours and hiking up a volcano.  There's even a place called the Mombacho Cloud Forest Reserve where you can explore the rainforest in the clouds.  That sounds amazing!
For our menu, I chose Chicken Nacatamales, Red Beans and Rice and a special treat Tres Leches Cake with recipe courtesy of Pati's Mexican Table.

Chicken Nacatamales
Authentic Nacatamales are steamed inside banana leaves, but I was fresh out of those, so instead I used corn husks like a traditional tamale.  Start this dish in advance so you have time to marinate the chicken

1 cup masa harina
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup butter, melted
corn husks soaked in water (or banana leaves if you can find them)
3/4 cup onion divided
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water or broth
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 chicken breasts cubed
juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 green pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tomato, diced
2 cups potato, diced
1/2 cup cooked rice
olive oil

Put chicken in a glass dish and marinate at least 1 hour with orange and lime juices, 1/4 cup of the onion and 2 cloves of garlic.  Saute remaining onion and peppers in olive oil until they begin to soften.  Add  remaining garlic, paprika and cumin until fragrant about 1-2 minutes.  Add tomato and chicken.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink, then add chicken broth and potatoes.  Cover and let simmer until potatoes are tender.  Stir in cooked rice, parsley and mint.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix masa harina and cornmeal in medium bowl.  Pour in melted butter and incorporate.  Pour in water/broth a little at a time to make a smooth paste consistency.  It should not be runny or crumbly.

Lay a corn husk flat and spread a spoonful of the masa harina mix onto it.  Then put a spoonful of the chicken mix on top.  Carefully fold in the sides and ends until you have a nice little rectangle.  (I still need more practice doing this.  The first few are always the hardest then I get the hang of it, so be patient with yourself if you've never done it.)

After you've rolled up a few nacatamales, set up your steamer, or make one with a large colander set over a pan of boiling water.  Don't let the water be so high that it touches the nacatamales.  Steam for about 20 minutes.  Serve with rice and beans.

Red Beans and Rice

1/2 onion
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups cooked long grain rice
1 can of red kidney beans
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped        
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
olive oil

Saute onion and pepper in olive oil.  Add garlic and saute about 1 minute or until fragrant.  Stir in cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper and saute another minute.  Mix in the rice.  Add the beans and broth.  Simmer until almost all of the broth is absorbed by the rice.  Add the cilantro and serve.  

Tres Leches Cake-- This recipe comes directly from the website, Pati's Mexican Table, she has fabulous Mexican recipes and beautiful photos of every step.   She really knows her Mexican food.  She grew up in Mexico and even has her own program called the Mexican Table.  She was kind enough to let me reuse her recipe here so check out her site and give her some bloggy love.

Tres Leches Cake
Serves 10-12

For the Cake
9 eggs separated
I've never had luck making a meringue, but this time it worked!
1 cup sugar
1 T vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
1 T vanilla extract

For Topping
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 confectioners' sugar

To Prepare:
Preheat oven to 360.  Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan, lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit the pan.

Pour the egg whites into the bowl of your mixer and beat on medium-high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or until they hold soft peaks.  Slowly stir in the sugar and continue beating until they hold hard or more stiff peaks.  Turn off the mixer and with a spatula, move the egg white mixture onto a large mixing bowl.  

My final product, I added a sprinkle of cinnamon and mint leaf 
Rinse the bowl of the mixer and its whisk.  Now pour the egg yolks into the bowl of the mixer and beat on medium-high speed for about 5-6 minutes, or until the egg yolks become creamy, puffy and their color has toned down to an almost cream color rather than a loud yellow.  Stir in the vanilla and continue beating for another minute.  Turn off the mixer.

Pour the egg yolk mixture onto the egg whites and with a spatula, in evolving motions, combine them into a homogeneous single batter.  Do so gently trying not to lose much volume from the mixture.  When fully combined, fold in the flour, scraping the bowl with the spatula so that all the flour is well mixed.   

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and place into the oven for 22 -25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. It can be a bit moist, but not wet.  The top of the cake should be tanned and feel fluffy if you touch it.  Remove it from the oven and let it cool.

Once it cools down, turn it onto a platter.  Remove the parchment paper and cover the top with an upside down platter and invert again.  The platter should be large enough to hold the cake and the vanilla sauce.  Using a fork, or two, poke holes all over the cake so it absorbs the vanilla sauce.  

In a mixing bowl, combine the 3 milks and vanilla extract.  Pour the vanilla sauce over the cake.  

In the bowl of your mixer, whip up the heavy cream with the confectioners' sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture holds up stiff peaks, about 1-2 minutes.  Spread the whipped cream all over the already wet cake.  Then yum, eat it all up.    

Thanks so much to Pati for sharing this delicious recipe!!!

I hope you enjoy this yummy Nicaraguan feast!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Curried Squash Soup

I can't believe it has been so long since I last posted here!  It's not that we haven't been eating, just that I've been too lazy to get a decent photo (I'm not a food photographer!) and write up the recipes!  Well I hope to change that.  I'm hoping to at least post once a week for now.  

This had been one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, but for some reason the last couple years I'd forgotten about it.
I was digging through my recipe file (this sounds organized but in fact it's a big jumble of clippings and printed recipes!), and to my surprise I found it handwritten on yellow legal paper.  

I guess it pays to organize occasionally!

Curried Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, diced
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
32 oz stock, chicken or vegetable
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 T brown sugar
1 can coconut milk, with 1/4 cup reserved
olive oil
About 1 tsp salt or to taste
pepper to taste
cilantro as garnish (optional)

Heat olive oil in 6 quart stockpot over medium. Saute shallot and garlic until fragrant.  Add carrots, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, and cinnamon.  Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly until fragrant.  Add broth and squash.  Bring to a low boil.  Cover and simmer about 25 minutes or until squash and carrots are tender.  Puree until smooth.  Add coconut milk and stir.  Ladle into bowls and drizzle reserved coconut milk on top.  Garnish with cilantro and a dash of cinnamon    

Oh and if anyone has any tips on food photography I'd love to hear them!  Tell me what you've been cooking up recently!