Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nopales? No problem.

Nopales tacos - definitely seasonally appropriate, no?! Maybe not, but these tacos are so good, they should definitely be eaten year round.   I really did think about doing something more holiday-esque, or seasonal, but when I saw the cactus paddles at the market, I really couldn't resist buying them.  I've never cooked them, and I've only eaten them a handful of times.  So, why not? I figured I'd give it a shot and see what these nopales had in store for me!

Having never cooked them before, I scoured my cookbooks for recipes and ideas - the usual route I take for inspiration. I couldv'e made a sauté or vegetable side, but I had all the fixings for that was the road I was headed down! Cactus paddles can be cooked in a variety of ways - sautéed, grilled, roasted, and even sous vide.  I don't have any sous vide contraptions in my house, but there is still a way to semi-sous vide ingredients, and that's exactly what I did!  If you ever find yourself in the presence of cactus paddles, pick some up and make these tacos - you won't be disappointed.

Nopales Tacos with Escabeche
2 cactus paddles, thorns removed
2 T olive oil
3 T sliced, pickled jalapeños
1/2 cup pickled jalapeño juice, reserved from above
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
2 T toasted coriander seeds, crushed
1 t dried tarragon
1 t dried thyme
1 t kosher salt
2 T lemon juice

In a large freezer bag, combine all of the ingredients.  Remove as much air as possible, and seal shut. Bring a pot of water to a simmer - around 165F - and place the bag inside.  If there is too much air and it's floating, put a weight or something heavy on top to submerge it.  Allow to cook for 30 minutes.  Remove from water, and let marinate for at least an hour. After marinating, remove the paddles from the liquid and slice into strips. Reserve.  The smell emanating from the cooked cactus paddles is AMAZING!

1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
1 fresno chili, julienned
1 jalapeño, julienned
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 T nigella seeds

While the cactus is cooking, prepare the escabeche.  Sweat the onions in bait of olive oil until translucent.  Keep warm, but don't allow to brown.  In a small sauce pot, boil the vinegar and sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Place the chills and onion in the vinegar, and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Remove form heat and let marinade for 20 minutes.  Strain the pickling liquid from the vegetables and discard.  Toss the escabeche in nigella seeds and reserve.  I don't know what it is about nigella seeds, but they are downright amazing.  There is no flavor like them, and not to mention they add an amazing crunch and visual appeal to any dish.  Technically "black caraway" seeds, these are something you should have in your spice cabinet if you can find it.

To Plate!
Fresh cilantro
Thinly sliced fresno chilis
Tortillas, warmed (I used sprouted grain tortillas - if you have time, make your own!)
Queso Fresco
Tomatillo Salsa (again something you can make)

Before platings, prepare the filling.   Toss the cactus slices with the escabeche - taste for seasoning.  It should have a bit of a kick to it. Heat up the filling, whether it's in a skillet or in the oven.   Plate three small tortillas on a plate, and spoon a bit of the filling onto each - ensuring to get a good amount of both the cactus and escabeche components.  Top with any accoutrements you'd like! All of the above makes for quite a delicious taco.  If you're looking to kick it up another notch, definitely add a few dashes of Cholula or Valentina hot sauce!

These tacos were super better than I ever expected.  Cactus I've had in the past probably just wasn't prepared as best as it could've been! They have a great texture to them - albeit they look a tad slimy - but have a nice toothiness to them, almost like a green bean! All of the flavors from the 'sous vide' marinade really infused the paddles and came through - it was a nice combination of sweet, spicy, and sour from the pickling liquid.  The salsa, cheese, and avocado help round out the entire dish - they help add a nice creaminess and freshness to the overall flavor profile, and finishing with fresh cilantro just brightens it all up.  This was super easy to make, and a surefire hit with anyone that tries it - it will make everyone think twice about cactus!!

Monday, December 9, 2013

What up Wonka

It's finally the holiday season! Which, to me, means lots of food, lots of drink, and spreading holiday cheer.  Cornucopias of things.  Overflowing chalices.  Literally all of the good parts of A Christmas Carol.

Basically this:

And this: 

For the entire season.  I pretty much end up dressing like male characters from Charles Dickens novels for winter everyday anyway, so it all really comes together.  But I season for me also means BAKING.  Desserts. Sweets. Cookies. Stuff.  Which is basically the worst because baking involves measurements, and despite how OCD and Type-A I am, precise measurements in cooking just ain't my thang.  Pinch of this, a little bit of that, cook it 'til it's done.  That kind of stuff.    So, holiday season essentially = CHALLENGE.  Game on, pastry geeks! 

My most recent challenge was to make some candy bars.  Tempering chocolate? Probably the most stressful thing I've done, besides the time I made this cake for my mom:

Yeah, having to wait almost 3 hours to see if my GIANT HALF-SPHERE CAKE will actually come out of the bowl properly cooked and unscathed sounds like my idea of a great time. NEGATIVE.  But back to the candy bars.  Why not? I've never made candy bars, so I may as well check it out...and it gave me a proper excuse to spend entirely too much time inside NY Cake & Bake Supply Store.  I picked up some dark chocolate disks, some molds, and was OFF!   Now, what to put in the candy bar? Definitely the components of a s'more. How could you go wrong, seriously? 

*insert that time i felt superbly awkward purchasing only marshmallow fluff and graham crackers at food emporium*

Yes.  This is also true.  Checking out with solely marshmallow fluff (with dust on the lid, mind you) and a pack of graham crackers is sufficiently awkward.  Judging eyes from all directions. Do people put together that I'm probably making s'mores? Do people think that I eat fluffernutter sandwiches?  Am I just a fat kid with a serious sweet tooth? I'll never know.  But the results of this concoction were well worth the mental anxiety I experienced over the course of a day.  On to the candy bars!  

This is what you'll need to make some candy bars!
1 lb of dark chocolate
Marshmallow Fluff
3 Graham crackers, crushed up
Chocolate molds - whatever design you want! Make sure it's deep enough to make a candy bar with fillings.

So first, you need to start with what eventually will be the top of the candy bar.  Time to temper some chocolate!! Ok, if you aren't concerned about the chocolate having a nice sheen to it, you can just melt the chocolate and be on your merry way.  If you want it to have a shiny exterior with no milk blooms, you gotta hop to some tempering.  Apparently you can do so in a microwave, but sadly I do not have said contraption and can't vouch for that method.  So the only other option is the double-boiler jam.  Also, I don't have a proper double-boiler - so the set-up consists of a sauce pot of simmering water, and a large bowl that can fit semi-snuggly on top.   

Chop up 1/2 pound of the chocolate into shards.  You can pulse the chocolate in a food processor, but you have to be extra careful as the chocolate will melt quickly from all the commotion.  Put about 9/10s of the chopped chocolate into the double-boiler bowl and stir.  The chocolate will start melting immediately.  Stir and cook the chocolate, and bring up to 110F (thermometer time!).  As soon as it hits 110, remove from heat, pour in the remaining chocolate chunks, and vigorously stir with a spatula.  For a while.  Get crazy with it.  You want the chocolate to reduce down to about 90F, and the quickest way to do that is to seriously agitate the chocolate.  And, if you don't agitate it enough, the chocolate will not temper properly.  

Sidenote: I will be making a series of cartoons about the chocolate that lost his temper. *rim shot*

Once you have lost all feeling in your stirring arm, pour the chocolate into the molds.  Ensure the molds are fully covered in chocolate, then pour the the excess chocolate back into the bowl.  Use a pastry scraper to help you out.  Place the molds in the fridge and allow to cool completely.  

Chocolate everywhere.


Once the chocolate is fully chilled, you can assemble and get ready for round TWO of chocolate tempering.  There are two routes you can take here (¡¡¡choose your own adventure cooking!!!) - either use the marshmallow fluff straight up, or toast it a bit to get that legit s'more flavor profile.  Kitchen torch time! Spread a good amount of fluff out on a sheet tray.  Light the torch.   Toast the marshmallow until it's golden brown.  Your kitchen now smells amazing - you're welcome.   Also, admire the beauty that is torched marshmallow fluff:

Stir it around and spread a thin layer evenly over the chocolate.  Be very careful here!! The fluff is obviously very sticky, so it can easily tug away at the chocolate, breaking it.   Be gentle.  When all the candy bars are sufficiently 'mallowed,  sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs.  Already looking good! 

Final step - temper the remaining chocolate, same way as above.  Pour of candy bars, gently scrape off excess chocolate - be careful here also - and place into the fridge to cool again.

And now the moment of truth.  When the chocolate is fully chilled, it's time to pop those bad boys out of the molds.  Current level of stress: a billion.  Did I temper the chocolate properly? Is it going to be shiny? Are these things even going to come out of the molds? IS IT EVEN GOING TO STICK TOGETHER?!  I don't know how pastry chefs do it.  Literally, I am having a mental chocolate meltdown (pun intended). 

But guess what? Those bars came out perfect. Popped out on cue.  Nice and shiny.  Actually looking amazing.  Want to eat all of them.  Obviously, before you wrap these up all nice to give to your pals, you need to give it a try.  

OH MY.  So good. SO good.  How can it not be? But seriously.  I don't have to explain to you why because...s'mores.  Now, have fun with arts and crafts!  Wrap these up in some aluminum foil like a present, and if you are absurd enough as me, make a label and wrap it around.

I figured if I was going to make a label, I may as well be honest about the contents.

Take that Willy Wonka!