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Ranchero Sauce and Mexican Rice

3 Nov

If you haven’t already discovered it for yourself, I can offer nothing but the highest of praises for the Tamra Davis Cooking Show.  Tamra Davis is a film and television director based in both New York and California.  She is a mother of two, an avid home cook, and she just so happens to be married to Mike D, of the Beastie Boys.  Davis is a great originator of recipes, and a couple of years ago she self-published a cookbook called Make Me Something Good to Eat.  The cookbook is a great source of not only recipes, but also meal plans and cooking strategies for making delicious, creative, healthy meals that will satisfy both children and adults.

And Tamra Davis is serious about getting people to eat real, healthy food.  She’s led cooking classes at local food banks, and a few years ago she started the FIVE for Kids program, designed to teach kids—and their parents—about the importance of eating a natural, balanced diet that follows the simple guidelines of the food pyramid.  The FIVE for Kids program not only outlines the basic nutritional composition of common foods, but it allows kids to learn about where their food comes from, how different foods benefit their bodies and minds, and how making good food choices can have a positive effect on a person’s general well-being.  By the end of the program, the kids have been taught how to make 25 different healthy, affordable meals and snacks for themselves and their families.  You want to see someone walk their talk?  Tamra Davis is your woman.

The Tamra Davis Cooking Show is, in itself, a delight.  Each episode is only a few minutes long, but they never lack for substance.  Several shows feature not only cooking, but also meal planning, grocery shopping, and play breaks.  It’s a true representation of real life and how the process of nurturing and feeding a family is rarely as straightforward as just going into the kitchen and calmly placing things in the oven.  And this is more of a side note, but the different music choices featured as a soundtrack to each episode?  Top notch.

One episode of the Tamra Davis Cooking Show involves a trip to Mexico.  The shots of the incredible Mexico coastline are beautiful, and the recipes in this particular show are extra mouthwatering.  Davis’ family rents a vacation house that happens to come with a chef, and nearly everyday the chef ends up making a slightly different version of ranchero sauce, an incredibly versatile sauce that can be used for enchiladas, chilaquiles, and anything else you can think up.  Using Davis’ posted recipe, I’ve made this sauce several times now, and I can attest to the fact that it is not only super delicious, but it is also supremely simple to make.  The fact that the sauce is so willing to be changed up makes it a dream to work with.  You can change the type of chilies you use, you can brown the garlic in the pan with the onions, you can puree the sauce smooth or you can leave it slightly chunky—whatever you do to this sauce, it’s tough to make it taste bad. Sometimes we just sit back and dip tortilla chips into the sauce, never bothering to add it to anything because we are too busy depositing it into our tummies.

My favorite use for the sauce right now is as a flavoring for Mexican rice.  We eat a fair bit of beans and rice around here (a simple and healthy meal that goes a long way towards satisfying the nutritional needs of a small child), and I am always looking for ways to dress up the dish and make it a bit more welcome to the fatigued palettes of the adults in this house.

Cooking plain white rice in a mixture of ranchero sauce and vegetable broth produces a fluffy, flavorful rice dish that is a welcome addition to our table.  And since this ranchero sauce is made entirely of vegetables, cooking it into your rice adds a good dose of vegetables to each serving you dish up.  If you can get yourself to stop eating a batch of ranchero sauce like it’s a main dish on its own (no, really—it’s that good), I recommend you pour some into a pan of rice and get to simmering.

My son’s dinner plate.

Ranchero Sauce

From the Tamra Davis Cooking Show

Cooking show episode can be seen here.

You can adjust the spiciness of this recipe to your liking.  When I make this sauce to put in a dish for my child, I use only half of a jalapeno pepper with all of the seeds and ribs removed.  When I make it with adults in mind, I use 1 or 2 whole chilies, and I leave in the seeds and ribs.  You can really make the sauce wicked hot this way, so err on the side of caution when judging your level of spiciness.

5 medium tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 or 2 chilies of your choice (I often use fresh jalapenos in this recipe, but any type of dried chile pepper will also work.  I’ll bet habaneros would be great in this.)

½ onion, sliced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon powdered vegetable stock (I generally leave this out because I do not have powdered vegetable stock, but if I have a bit of vegetable stock laying around, sometimes I’ll throw in a splash or two)

Boil tomatoes in 4 cups of water with garlic and chilies.  Cook for 20 minutes at a low boil.  The skins of the tomato should start to peel off.  While the tomatoes are cooking, sauté the onion in the vegetable oil until soft.  When the tomatoes, garlic, and chilies are done cooking, drain them, reserving a bit of the cooking water to add to the sauce.  Peel the skins from the tomatoes, and put the tomatoes into a blender or food processor, along with the garlic and chilies.  Add the sautéed onion, Mexican oregano, salt, and stock (if using).  Blend on high until the sauce is smooth.  Add a bit of the reserved cooking water if the sauce appears too thick.

Pour the sauce back into the pot you used to cook the tomatoes.  Cook the sauce over low heat for an additional 15-20 minutes.  Use as a sauce for any number of Mexican dishes, or use as a flavoring for Mexican rice (recipe below).

Makes about 1 ½ cups of sauce.

Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup long grain rice

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup chopped onion

1 cup ranchero sauce

1 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth

Heat oil over medium heat.  Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is puffed and golden.  Sprinkle with cumin and salt, then add the chopped onions.  Continue to sauté the rice and onions until the onions are tender, 3-5 minutes.  Carefully stir in ranchero sauce and broth (the liquid will sputter quite a bit as it hits the hot oil in the pan).  Bring to a boil, then cover the rice and lower the heat to a simmer.  Cook the rice at a low simmer for 20-25 minutes, until rice is tender.  Fluff the rice with a fork to fully integrate ingredients without smashing rice.

Makes about 3 cups of rice.

Creamy Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa

24 Oct

Though an avid appreciator of salsa in its chunky, vegetable-laden form, I’ve never really been able to get behind salsas and dips of the creamy variety.  I don’t know if it’s a texture issue or what, but dipping a crispy fried chip into a bowl of creamy sauce has always felt sort of odd.  The two dispositions of the chip and dip are so different, and yet so uniformly rich, it just feels like gilding the lily to combine one with the other.  At least, that’s what I used to think, until I innocently whipped up a batch of this super creamy, super flavorful salsa and, oh, man, I now think there can never be enough of this salsa available in the world at any given time.  Mark my words, if I know this salsa is available anywhere, at any time, I am going on a one-woman mission to find it and eat it.  All of it.

This salsa is other-worldly.  The absolutely spot-on spiciness of the jalapenos is expertly balanced by the cool creaminess of the avocado and sour cream, and the tartness of the tomatillos and citrus works effortlessly to round everything out.  With bunches of fresh herbs and just the right amount of kicky garlic, I don’t think there is a more perfect creamy salsa in existence.  It’s cool, spicy, and complex, and it practically begs to dress up a crisp, cold salad.  I am also willing to bet that this salsa, folded into a pile of freshly poached or grilled chicken that has been shredded and combined with some punchy chunks of bell pepper, would make the best chicken salad known to all of humankind.  If I hadn’t already eaten all of this particular batch of salsa you see here, I would be making that exact chicken salad right now.  Which reminds me, I need to buy some more avocados.  And tomatillos.  And sour cream.  Excuse me, I have to go now.

I still can’t say I am a convert to all creamy salsas and dips (my preference still sits firmly in the chunky vegetable camp), but this entry into the fray certainly goes a long way towards persuading me that perhaps I should pay a little more attention to the world of creamy salsas.  If they taste half as good as this salsa, I can only imagine what I’ve been missing out on all these years.

Creamy Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa

From Claire’s Corner Copia Cookbook

2 fresh jalapeno peppers

4 fresh tomatillos (or green tomatoes, if you’re looking for a use for them)

2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted

½ small yellow onion, chopped

1 cup chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

¼ cup chopped cilantro

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

juice of 1 lime

1 cup sour cream (the original recipe called for low fat, but I used full fat and it was just fine)

salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan, cover the jalapenos and tomatillos (or green tomatoes) with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook at a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, drain, and allow to cool slightly.

In a blender or food processor, combine the cooked jalapenos and tomatillos, avocado flesh, onion, parsley, cilantro, garlic, and lemon and lime juice.  Blend or process on low speed for 20 seconds until pureed, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.  Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the sour cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you desire a less spicy salsa (though this is not what I would call a super spicy salsa, it definitely has a bit of a kick to it), you can cut open the jalapenos after cooking and scrape out the seeds.  Your salsa will still have some spice to it, but it will be markedly less so than if you had left the seeds intact.

Mango and Avocado Salsa

27 Jun

As the weather finally warms, I am growing ever more excited for the arrival of one of my most treasured summertime traditions: the non meal-meal.  The non meal-meal is exactly what you might ascertain it would be, given its name.  It is a meal that is comprised of many different things that do not, on their own, constitute a meal.  The non meal-meal can be anything one wants it to be, really.  It can be a handful of nuts, an apple, and half of a leftover biscuit.  It can be a log of string cheese and some crackers slathered with almond butter.  Sometimes, when no one is around to express displeasure at my oftentimes rather questionable eating habits, it can be a single bite taken from each container in the refrigerator that holds leftovers from throughout the week.

I’d like to blame my propensity for eating non meal-meals on a lack of food preparation motivation when the warm weather arrives, but, to be quite honest, I don’t really have an excuse for eating that way, so much as I just have an outright confession: I like to eat that way.  My favorite type of meal involves many small bites of many different things (hello, tapas), so grazing my way through the fridge and pantry is a pleasant and long held tradition of mine.

Occasionally, however, I will take this buffet approach of mine and apply it to an actual meal that needs to be, albeit very simply, prepared.  I’ll toss leftover roasted vegetables on some salad greens and sit down for a lunch that involves actual silverware, or, if I feel it must be done, I’ll briefly peel and chop a few items and then combine them into something that resembles an actual dish.

I’d like to tell you all that after I took the time to put this salsa together, I made sure to set some aside for the other people in the house who I am sure would have loved it.  But I did not.  Upon sampling a taste of this creamy, spicy, and sweet concoction, I immediately hoovered down the entire bowl, first with the aid of some tortilla chips, but then, realizing that the chips were merely a cumbersome vessel getting in the way of me and the salsa, I ditched the chips and proceeded to attack the salsa while armed with nothing more than a very large spoon.  Am I ashamed?  Absolutely not.  This salsa, filled with fresh fruit and invigorated by a kick of jalapeno, is nothing short of delightful, and nothing less than vigorously healthful.  Devoid of chips, you can make this salsa and call it a salad, then eat it on a bed of greens (or not) and call it lunch.  Or, if you are me, you can eat it any way you wish and just call it delicious.

Mango and Avocado Salsa

1 large mango, peeled and sliced into small chunks

1 large avocado, peeled and sliced into small chunks

juice of 1 lime

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely, seeds and white inner ribs removed and set aside

4 tablespoons of finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients.  Toss thoroughly with a spoon, then taste for seasoning.  If you want to add more heat to the salsa, add a small amount of the reserved jalapeno seeds, toss again, and taste.  Continue in this fashion until you have reached the spiciness you desire.

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