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Mexican Sopes

My friends Juana and Rosa came to my kitchen and cooked sopes for me. One of the things I most love about cooking and recipes is so much of what and how we know to cook something is passed down through generations. Intentionally or not. There have been times when I’ve asked my Mom to show me how she makes something or to give me the list of ingredients. But more times, I just watched. I’ve watched my Mom cook always, still do. We stand and talk, or I help chop or peel and she cooks. I bet there are things you know how to do in the kitchen that you don’t know how you know it. Which spoon you pick up, when to lift a corner and peek to see if it’s done. Why when you make tomato sauce that you automatically gather together the basics of what you’ll need. Chances are you watched someone cook. It’s by far the best way to learn. Recipes and cookbooks are fabulous tools, but the best thing about them is that when you make a recipe exactly as they ask you to, you learn a method and a technique that you’ll take with you to another recipe.

Juana

Rosa

Juana and Rosa came to this country with their family from Mexico City. They were in 16 and 10 when they got here so they had already been helping in the kitchen, watching their mother and grandmother cook. They brought those memories with them and continued making the same dishes with their own families. We’ve been talking about the food they grew up with and they agreed to come and cook something for me. They chose to make sopes. I wasn’t sure what they meant but they came and showed me. It was so much fun watching them, they’ve obviously cooked together before. They brought all the ingredients, and I asked questions, took pictures, and watched. Of course, after checking the web, there are as many different versions as there are kitchens to cook them in, but this is Juana and Rosa’s version. Anytime someone lets you into their life, even for a short time, shows you their traditions, tells you their stories, makes food for you, it’s a great gift. I’m very grateful and happy that I was given this glimpse into their memories and that I got to share the food with them. iGracias, Juana y Rosa, fue maravilloso!

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Fresh Pear Upside Down Cake

What is there to say about winter fruit in Colorado? Not much. There’s not much of anything, and no effusive words of praise. We get the out of season berries shipped in from a variety of southern climes, most without much flavor or texture. Still, they can work if you need them to. Apples. Citrus, with the occasional sighting of Meyer lemons or Cara Cara oranges, both able to stop you in your tracks, well, at least me. Then there are pears. Red, Anjou, and Bartlett. Organic or not. (Can you tell? I want the Farmer’s Market back so badly I could almost cry.) Fruit is good for you right? So I keep buying it. I like pears. I’m so over pears right now…..oooof. There they were, sitting in the bowl, in all their mottled green-y pear-shaped sadness wonderfulness (try to stay positive). I have to do something with them. Again, stand in front of baking cabinet, flour, sugar, vanilla,pecans, brown sugar, boring, boring, boring. Wait. Brown sugar and Butter…pears, vanilla cake, pear upside down cake. Upside down cake, the standard, pineapple, is perfection. I have adapted that recipe to so many different fruits, fruit combinations and nuts I can’t tell you. I can’t believe I forgot about it. I won’t forget again.

This pear upside down cake is not a knock your socks off, push you over kind of thing. It’s a gentle shove, a sit you down in the softness of the big comfy chair kind of thing. Delicate flavor, yielding fruit, with a bit of lushness from the brown sugar. The cake has a sturdy crumb that gets better every day as it soaks in more moisture and settles into itself. It’s not loud, it’s quiet, but deeply satisfying. Pretty enough to serve for company and dressed up with some creme anglaise or maybe ginger ice cream with a slight grate of fresh nutmeg, it might be downright elegant. ¬†Either way, homey comforting upside down cake or elegant dessert, I think you’ll be happy. Go..go on, you know you want to try it.

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Coffee Crunch Bars

Hello, my name is Claire and I’m addicted to Coffee Crunch Bars. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have company. These could easily be renamed Crack Crunch Bars. Rich and crumbly, dark with the taste of toffee and espresso, studded with nuts, a cookie to quiet all the demon devils inside. These are not in the soft and melty category, nor do they fall in the crisp and chewy one, more like biscotti is what I think. They scream to be dunked, milk would do, but coffee…now coffee is the way to go. They’re perfect to pack in a lunch for an afternoon snack or to take on the road with you. I sprinkled some Fleur de Sel (but any coarse salt you have would do) over the top before I baked them and it’s a great addition, now they have everything, coffee and toffee, and chocolate and salt. These are seriously crunchy, seriously good, and you should make them. But I’m warning you, you might be standing before the room telling your tale of addiction before you know it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ūüôā

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Meyer Lemon Marmalade

The last day in January and very appropriately it’s snowing. Additionally, the weather-bots are cheerfully predicting sub-zero temps tonight and all day tomorrow. I am sitting cross-legged on the bed, drinking coffee and eating an english muffin with butter and Meyer Lemon Marmalade. If I close my eyes, I can see the bright blue water and sandy beaches, palm tree fronds gently moving with the soft, warm breeze sliding over my skin. Okay, okay, slight exaggeration but this marmalade tastes like you think sunshine would taste. Having a jar of Meyer Lemon Marmalade is like having one of those sweet tropical escapes in the middle of winter. A Meyer lemon is (according to Wiki) a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or a common orange. It’s a bit rounder, with a much thinner rind and deep yellow hue with a orange-ish cast to it. When you cut one open for the first time, you will smile immediately, the scent is floral orange at first and then gently lemon. It smells happy. It tastes that way too. They are soft, barely sweet, with no hard acidic bite. You must try them if you can get them. Go on, go get yourself some. ¬†They’re in the grocery and green markets now here in Colorado, but not much longer. Watch for them, if you see them, grab them!

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Where to start, where to start? It’s a new year, as you all know. The time where we typically try to reinvent ourselves into the better, kinder, thinner person we think we ought to be. We all know how that usually turns out. I have some wishes for this new year myself. I don’t know about you, but I think 2010 was a tough year. When I look back, I see all these high points, some new friends, some new places, I got to see my family a bit more and Prince Charming still holds my hand. Good huh? I think so. For some reason though, when I think of last year I think it was a struggle and felt relieved that it was over with. So, it is with hope and wishes that I start 2011. I hope that we are all surrounded by the ones we love, our tables are filled with smiling, happy people eating and drinking. I wish that we all look back on this year with a smile. Oh, yeah, and world peace. I want world peace.

What has that to do with White Chicken Chili? Not one thing. I was faced with the first post of the new year and decided to smush them together. ¬†The only resemblance White Chicken Chili has to traditional red chili is the word “chili”. ¬†Red chili is in your face flavor. It can light you up like a firecracker with heat or slowly build and burn you for hours. Red chili has the time to build layers of flavors, and depending on the maker and the region, ingredients that differ as much as there are ways to put them together. Now, White Chicken Chili is a whole ‘nother thing. ¬†A distant cousin of red. A quieter, softer, more pinky finger in the air sort of cousin. Good stuff, tho’, good stuff. Yes, it’s made with cream (well, half n half) but you can get some serious heat in there if you choose, so before you turn your nose up and think it’s the wimpy stuff, give it a try. Just might surprise you. Oh, and it’s National Soup month, so I hear. Who thinks these up? So this is a New Year’s post, a regular recipe post, and a National Soup month post….nice..a triple score for sure!

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And we’re back. ¬†Long overdue, with not an absence note in hand, nor a good excuse to be found. Sorry about that. I’m starting out easy, getting back into the rhythm, getting the mojo back. I’ve missed all of you. This is my go to recipe for veggies in the winter. You can make this without thinking about a recipe. The chopping and mixing is soothing, and I find that by the time I pop the tray into the oven, I’ve relaxed, my mind has relaxed and I’m ready to jump into the fray.

You know my fondness for roasted vegetables. ¬†Okay, fondness might be misleading, obsession is closer to the truth. ¬†Now that the cooler temps have arrived this obsessive compulsion has kicked into overdrive. ¬†The morning checklist often starts with coffee….check, feed the cat……check, turn on the oven……check. ¬†Wait, what am I cooking? Oh, right, nothing yet, haven’t made it to the store to buy the next cache of veggies. ¬†Turn off the oven…..check. ¬†There are very few things left in the veggie aisle of the local market that haven’t made their way into my oven. ¬†Well, artichokes haven’t, and radish. ¬†(I did have braised radish this summer, what a revelation!) But every manner of squash, bean, and root have. ¬†Along with fruit. ¬†All kinds of fruit. ¬†Apples of course, and I’m currently in love with roasted citrus. ¬†But this is about roasted butternut, apples and onions.

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I know, I know, where the hell have I been? Nowhere and everywhere it seems. Except here. Where I want to be and need to be. I totally got overwhelmed and lost my way. I’m sorry. This is the year that all my loved ones have decided to visit Denver. It’s been so great to see everyone, and so long since I’ve seen them in some instances that I just couldn’t slip away for a few hours and cook and take pictures and write. I know I could of written about what I was doing but I have to try that out a few times before I’m comfortable posting here. I’ve had a few oral surgery things to deal with, and honestly, a wonderful vacation with Prince Charming.

Somewhere between all of that, I missed the summer. All that beautiful golden sunlight slid right through my fingers leaving just a soft shiny powder to blow off my fingers and watch it float away on the fall breeze.

The crisp air and changing light have got me motivated. There are things I need to get done before the snow starts to fly and we snuggle in the for winter. Small things, easy things, things to freeze and store away so that those cold evenings don’t feel so far away from the balmy, sweet breezes we’re missing. I’ll be back. Promise. With fresh butter to make, and duck to confit, and pastry fixin’s to freeze. A few things to take care of and in a few days I’ll be here to play. I’ll be looking for you!

The Jersey Shore. Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Asbury Park. Those are the places that I can shut my eyes and see when I think of the shore. Especially Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island. When we were kids we always spent a few days in Seaside Heights, playing in the sand, running in and out of the waves and then just hopping and jittering till we could get to the boardwalk. ¬†As young adults down there on our own, it was the place to get out of the sun, cool off with vodka lemonade and find something to eat. Walk away Sundaes (A block of Neapolitan Ice Cream in a specially sized square-topped cone with chocolate and a cherry), fried shrimp in a cup, salt water taffy, and sausage & pepper sandwich. The boardwalk was magic when you were young, flashing lights, music, games of chance and food stalls, a virtual kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells changing every few yards. ¬†A carnival stretched out along an elevated wooden sidewalk along the beach. Every hundred yards or so there would be another sausage and pepper vendor, usually with lines waiting for their turn to bite into their “must have one” at the shore. It seems like such a simple thing, Italian sausage, peppers, onions on a roll. It actually is simple. Put them all together, browned, juicy sausage, melting onions and peppers, and a sandwich roll that’s soft but with a firm bite and a bit of a crunch to the shell. The whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Every time I make them I can see those big flat top grills, piles of onions and peppers on one side, sausage split down the middle lined up on the other and space in the middle where a they came together and spent a minute forming their special alchemy before getting scooped up with a wide flat spatula into a waiting bun with a napkin already under it to be handed to the next person in line. It’s a special place in heaven, where you can lean against the wooden railing, with the waves crashing behind you and a salt air breeze cooling your shoulders. Watching the crowd walk by, listening to the music from 10 different places, the screams of joy from the people on the rides. You eat your sandwich and look at the sky where the stars seem to smile down at all the fun. The Jersey Shore. Sausage & Pepper sandwich. Life can be so good.

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Beet Napoleon

For a long time I hated beets. I’m sure, no I know, that was because the only ones I had were out of a can. Pickled or Harvard style which is sweet and sour. I’m still not a fan of the Harvard style, but I will eat pickled beets on occasion. It was in a restaurant in Chicago, I don’t remember which one now, where I took a bite of Prince Charming’s beet and goat cheese salad. I had no idea that beets tasted that good! From that moment on, fresh beets have always had a place in my kitchen. ¬†Through trial and error I found out that the way I like them best is roasted (but of course). I make them year round, will eat them in salads, warm or cold, just plain on a plate with salt, or in soup. What I wanted was a preparation that would let them be a bit more “center stage” so I hit the inter-webs. I came across several recipes for beet Napoleons and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to do a little riff of my own so I took my favorite things about the Napoleons I read about and the best parts of my favorite salads and came up with this. Beet Napoleons with fig and goat cheese, drizzled with a lemon mustard vinaigrette. The beets of course are naturally sweet, the fig and goat cheese is creamy and rich, sweet yet with that distinctive goat cheese tang. The lemon mustard vinaigrette give it an acidic boost with enough mustard to balance the sweetness. These would be beautiful as an appetizer, or tiny baby ones would be a lovely amuse bouche. Give them a try!

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Fresh Corn Pudding

Fresh corn pudding has been around for a long time. ¬†There are a thousand different versions, with each cook putting their own spin and regional favorite ingredients into the mix. I’m a big fan of the time-tested, true blue, corn on the cob boiled with butter and salt. Recently I’ve been a big fan of the many grilled versions, my current fav is lime butter and cotija cheese. Even done on a gas grill it’s incredible. Waiting patiently for the season’s crop to ripen, then abandoning yourself to the pure sensory pleasure of eating with your hands, juice running down your arm and a big shiny, butter grin from ear to ear. (ha, get it..ear to ear? Sometimes I crack me up) But….there are other ways to eat corn as we all know. ¬†If I start listing them I’ll sound like Bubba Gump reciting all the ways you can eat shrimp, so I’ll refrain. This corn pudding is a much easier, rather more elegant, way of having your summer corn. While I wasn’t able to grill mine for this recipe (my stupid gas tank thing is empty, grrr) I would wholeheartedly suggest you do so. Fresh corn in a creamy, silky custard, that is just as delightful cold as it is warm. It would be a perfect addition to any meal where you don’t want to deal with corn on the cob (I know, almost unthinkable) or just want a different alternative. I think this would be a spectacular foil to bar-b-que or to a beautiful steak with chimichurri sauce. I know lots of folks do a corn pudding at Thanksgiving, and please, don’t stop that, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that it shines just as well with the bright summer sun.

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