Chile Rellenos

 

There’s a ‘hole in the wall’ Mexican restaurant around the corner from me that has all of 5 tables and is consistently packed and for very good reason. While not exactly authentic, it’s definitely tasty. Lucky for me, they also deliver. Mexicana Mama has been a long time favorite for their perfect guacamole which is always where I run to when someone’s popping round for a quick drink. When my friend Maria still lived in New York, we had a standing date for Mexicana Mama’s Taco de Puerco and a movie on my sofa. It took me a long time to even try something else on their menu – I’m not great with change.

 

It’s only recently that I discovered their delicious Chile Rellenos; poblano chile peppers roasted and stuffed with corn and covered in cheese. My new found confidence in the kitchen, thanks to the recent Linguine with Clams success, had me deconstructing my latest delivery and deciding to give it a try in honor of the upcoming Cinco de Mayo. And yet again, I have a new favorite dish! I served it with rice and beans but it could also be a wonderful side dish to Pulled Beef Tacos. It’s a great dish for a dinner party as it can be completely made ahead and finished off in the oven.

 

Chile Rellenos
Serves 4 as a starter and 2 as a main

 

Ingredients:
4 poblano peppers
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 medium red onion (finely diced)
1 jalapeño pepper (finely diced)
4 ears of corn
2 teaspoons of cumin
1 handful of chopped fresh cilantro
1 good squeeze of lime
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup of grated Monterey Jack

 

Chipotle Lime Crema:
3 tablespoons of sour cream
1 teaspoon of adobo sauce
1 good squeeze of lime juice

 

Method:
1. Place the poblanos on a cookie tray and broil for about 20 minutes until completely charred. You’ll need to keep turning them as each side is charred.
2. When done, carefully put the poblanos into a brown paper bag and fold down the top to keep the air in. Leave to cool. You can also put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Be careful not to lift from the stalk as you want to keep them as intact as possible.
3. Preheat the oven to 350. Then, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion and jalapeño on low heat for about 5 minutes.
4. Cut the corn off the cobs and add to the skillet, turn up the heat and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until ingredients are  slightly browned.
5. Add the cumin, cilantro, lime juice and stir to mix. Season well with salt and pepper.
6. Remove the peppers onto a board and gently remove the skins – they should peel off easily.
7. Cut each pepper lengthwise making sure not to cut through the other side and then very carefully remove all the seeds with a spoon.
8. Transfer the peppers to an oven proof dish and fill each generously with the corn mixture.
9. Cover each poblano with 1/4 cup of grated cheese and either bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. The cheese should be bubbling when ready.
10. Serve immediately with chipotle lime crema.

Linguine with Clams

 

Usually the worst day of the week, Monday has now become my favorite with the start of a new tradition. Kate and I have decided to walk the High Line every Monday after work and then tackle a recipe that we’ve both been wanting to master.

 

Our first choice was obvious. A dish that we both love and order whenever we see but have been fearful of trying at home for as much as everyone says it’s easy, there’s still something that has stopped me from trying to recreate the classic linguine with clams. Will they open? Won’t they open? It turns out everyone was right – it really is incredibly easy and fast and yes, they do open as if by magic.

 

We wanted to recreate the best version we’d ever had which was at a restaurant in Florence. They had just a hint of tomato but it was in no way the dominant flavor.  The fun for me was in the research – pulling out all my cookbooks and comparing recipes. Trying to take an element from each, we set about making our dinner and it was a total hit. Within minutes we were at the table toasting to our success and discussing what we would tackle next.

 

Below is a fantastic illustration by Aurora of one of my favorite pasta tricks for long shapes like spaghetti and linguine when you’re pot is not quite big enough!

 

 

Linguine with Clams

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1/2 lb of linguine

1 lb of small clams – I used Manila Clams.

2 tablespoons of butter

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 large cloves of garlic (sliced paper thin)

1/2 cup of dry white wine

A good pinch of red pepper flakes

The juice of one fresh tomato

A big handful of roughly chopped fresh parsley

Zest of 1/2 a lemon

 

Method:

1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil with plenty of salt and cook the linguine a couple of minutes less than the instructions on the packet. You will finish cooking them in the sauce.

2. Rinse the clams in cold water in a colander – make sure you ask the fishmonger if they are already cleaned.

3. In a large pan that has a lid, melt half the butter and all of the olive oil.

4. Add the garlic and cook on a low heat until soft – do not let it brown – about 5 minutes.

5. Add the clams and the wine, turn up the heat and leave covered for a couple of minutes.

6. Uncover and check for any that haven’t opened – discard these. There always seem to be a couple!

7. Drain the linguine making sure to reserve a mug full of pasta water to use if the sauce is too dry.

8. Add to the sauce and mix well with the remaining butter.

9. Then add the remaining ingredients: pepper flakes, tomato, parsley and lemon zest.

10. Toss well and serve immediately.

A Retro Cheesecake and a Return to Suffolk

 

In a little corner of Suffolk, on the edge of the River Deben, there’s a beautiful cottage called The Manor House. It’s a house that I spent a lot of time in growing up and thankfully its owner, Penelope, is as averse to change as I am. I went back recently to visit my father and Penelope for a weekend and was transported right back to my childhood. The faded green sofas were a little more faded, the jetty onto the river a little more rickety but otherwise it was blissfully unchanged. The overflowing children’s library had me overdosing on nostalgia as I rediscovered Ant and Bee and Robert The Rose Horse – two of my all time favorite books. For those of you with young children, I urge you all to buy copies!

 

 

So while Penelope gardened and my father napped, I walked along the river and felt that release of being close to water and out of the big city. I thought back to the weekends we had here and wondered how everyone used to fit – there seemed to always be at least 15 children and adults squeezed around the table. All of us scrambling for the bench by the window as that meant we didn’t have to clear up; a rule that still exists today. I had a flashback to a cheesecake we often ate and Penelope, an amazing cook, kindly dug out the recipe so we could recreate it.

 

 

I was so happy to see that it came from a Cordon Bleu Cookery Course indulging my recent obsession with retro foods. I was a little concerned my love for this recipe was based on sentimentality so I remade it back in New York and served it to Kate who proclaimed it her new favorite desert and asked for the recipe. I think it’s a keeper and like all classics, has stood the test of time.

 

 

Viennese Cheesecake

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

12 oz cream cheese

12 digestive biscuits (if you can’t find them, graham crackers will work fine and you’d use approximately 2 cups crumbled)

2 oz butter

4 oz sugar, divided

3 egg whites (you can use the remaining egg yolks to make Spaghetti alla Carbonara)

1 dessert spoon gelatine (I used one packet)

2-3 drops of vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 a lemon

1 cup heavy cream

 

Method:

1. Butter the inside of a 8″ springform pan and set aside.

2. Crush the biscuits in a large bowl.

3. Melt the butter and combine with crushed biscuits and 1 oz of the sugar. Divide the mixture in half and press the first half down firmly into the bottom of the springform pan.

4. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, mix the cream cheese and remaining sugar until smooth.

5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Use an electric mixer if you have one.

6. In a small bowl, mix the gelatine according to packet instructions. If no instructions, dissolve in a 1/4 cup of boiling water until completely clear.

7. Beat the dissolved gelatine into the cream cheese mixture and add in vanilla extract and lemon zest.

8. In a medium bowl whip the heavy cream lightly. Fold the heavy cream and egg whites into the cream cheese mixture. 

9. Pour the cream cheese mixture into the springform pan, smooth the top and cover with the remaining crushed digestives. Allow to set in the refrigerator for at least an hour and serve chilled with fresh berries.

Potato, Pancetta and Leek Gratin

 

Easter is a big deal in England. The whole country pretty much shuts down on Good Friday and Easter Monday and it’s still strange for me, after 14 years in America, to see that most people work on those days. For the non religious, Easter in England is a bit like Thanksgiving. It’s about family and food without all the stress of buying gifts.

 

I’m very lucky to have an adopted family in America who always include me in their Easter Sunday lunch. The same large, generous family that I spend Thanksgiving with and it’s one of the days I look forward to most in the year. I remember one Easter Lolly bought kits for us all to make Ukrainian Easter eggs (Pysanky). You use wax to create designs a bit like batik. I still have mine displayed in my bedroom as the only thing I’ve ever made that I’m not utterly ashamed of. I really recommend giving them a try and supporting Ukraine in the process – I wish we were selling the kits on Many Kitchens. A thought for next year! For now, you can find the kits here.

 

 

Though I’m not going to be doing the cooking this Easter, I wanted to suggest a recipe that is my go-to for large parties and the perfect side dish to an Easter Ham. Pair those two with a simple salad mixed with an all natural vinaigrette and you have a delicious meal which can be made completely ahead of time so you can join in the Easter egg hunt.

 

 

Easter Menu:

The Perfect Glazed Ham
Potato, Pancetta and Leek Gratin
 (recipe below)
Mixed Leaf and Greens Salad
Praline Filled Eggs

 

Potato, Pancetta and Leek Gratin

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of olive oil

8 oz of cubed pancetta

3 large leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

3 cups of heavy cream

2 tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves

3 large Idaho potatoes, peeled and sliced as thin as possible – ideally with a mandolin

Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Method:

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and sauté the pancetta until golden brown – about 8 minutes.

3. With a slotted spoon, remove and drain on paper towels.

4. Add the leeks and garlic to the frying pan and sweat until soft – about 10 minutes.

5. Add the cream and simmer for 5 minutes until fully heated through.

6. Stir in the pancetta, thyme and add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Butter a large ovenproof dish – I used a 10” casserole dish.

8. Arrange a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish.

9. Season lightly and then spoon over some of the leek cream mixture and spread evenly.

10. Repeat with remaining potatoes and sauce until all are used – remembering to season the potatoes as you go and finishing the last layer with the sauce.

11. Press down firmly on the potatoes so that the sauce fully covers the potatoes – if it doesn’t, you can add more cream or some milk.

12. Bake until the gratin is golden on top – approximately 1 hour.

Serve with Easter Ham and a Mixed Leaf and Herb Salad (perfect when dressed with Jacqueline and Jerome’s Citron vinaigrette)