Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spinach and Goat Cheese Lasagne - Mexican style

Perhaps I was craving iron. Perhaps it was the color green. I don't know. All I know is that I decided it was time to make a spinach lasagne. I wanted spinach, I wanted it cooked, and I wanted lots of it. Do you ever get that way? You know, craving an ingredient and then building a meal around it? I'm sure you do. We all have, I think.

Now, you have to understand, I'm not Italian. I love lasagne, but I rarely make it. It takes so much work to prepare, and since the cat doesn't eat it, I don't bother. Perhaps there's something about growing up with a woman in the family called "nonna" instead of "grandma" that makes some people more patient when it comes to making lasagne, I don't know. I will make all kinds of meals for myself, which my single friends admire. I know they all think I'm nuts for cooking the way I do. After all, there's always the pre-made stuff from Whole Foods, or the stuff from Trader Joe's. While I've resorted to eating those modern day versions of fast food, I always prefer making a meal from scratch. But lasagne?

But the spinach thing was strong, so I forged ahead. I had a bag of baby spinach from Trader Joe's and Henry's had spinach on sale. I was set. I went to my go-to site for recipes: Epicurious. I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit, and my sister used to subscribe to Gourmet. These days, I prefer to keep the paper consumption to a minimum, my carbon footprint to a minimum, and the trees to a maximum. So epicurious has become my main source, with additions from the various cookbooks I own, and the recipes from the magazines that are sent to my clinic for some unknown reason.

One of the first recipes I came across was Mexican Poblano, Spinach, and Black Bean "Lasagne" with Goat Cheese. I knew I was on the right track. It just leapt off the page, and I could taste it as I was reading the recipe. You know that feeling - how you can just look at some ingredients and just know that they will balance each other out. I often use my nose to tell me this when deciding upon which herbs and spices to use. But in this case it was words on the computer screen, and with each ingredient, my palate began to build a taste picture.

So here, from the screen of, is their version of this lasagne:


For chiles
  • 12 medium to large fresh poblano chiles (2 1/4 lb)

For tomato sauce
  • 1 (14- to 16-oz) can whole tomatoes including juice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For goat cheese sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons dried epazote* (optional)
  • 8 oz soft mild goat cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

For spinach filling
  • 4 (3/4-lb) bunches spinach, coarse stems discarded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

To assemble dish
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 (6-inch) corn tortillas, halved
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained if canned

  • Special equipment: a 2- to 2 1/2-quart shallow flameproof casserole dish (about 2 inches deep; not glass)

Prepare chiles:
Lay 4 chiles on their sides on racks of gas burners and turn flames on high. Roast chiles, turning with tongs, until skins are blackened and chiles are tender, 4 to 6 minutes. (Or broil all 12 chiles on rack of a broiler pan about 2 inches from heat, turning, until skins are blackened, 8 to 10 minutes.) Transfer immediately to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Roast remaining 8 chiles in same manner, then let stand 20 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, peel chiles, then open flat and discard seeds and stems, wiping with paper towels or dunking in a bowl of water briefly, if necessary, to remove seeds. If chiles taste very spicy, cut out ribs with scissors to make them milder.

Make tomato sauce:
Purée tomatoes with juice, garlic, cilantro, sugar, and salt in a blender. Heat oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then add sauce (be careful of splattering) and simmer, stirring, until thickened and reduced to about 1 cup, about 6 minutes.

Make goat cheese sauce:
Gently simmer cream, with epazote if using, in a small heavy saucepan, covered, 10 minutes. If using epazote, pour cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and discarding epazote. Return cream to pan. Whisk in goat cheese and salt and heat over low heat, whisking until smooth.

Make spinach filling:
Blanch spinach in batches in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 minute, transferring with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of cold water to cool. Drain in a colander, pressing on spinach with back of a spoon to remove excess water, then coarsely chop.

Heat oil in cleaned nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté spinach and raisins, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in salt and transfer filling to a plate.

Fry tortillas and assemble dish:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat oil in cleaned nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then fry tortillas 2 halves at a time, turning over once, until just crisp, about 1 minute total. Transfer tortillas to paper towels to drain.

Spread 1/4 cup tomato sauce over bottom of casserole dish. Arrange half of tortillas on top, then spread another 1/4 cup tomato sauce on top and sprinkle evenly with black beans. Arrange 4 poblanos flat over black beans to cover, then spread half of spinach filling evenly over chiles and drizzle with 1/4 cup goat cheese sauce. Make another layer with 4 chiles, remaining spinach filling, and another 1/4 cup of goat cheese sauce, then cover with remaining 4 chiles.

Cover chiles with remaining tomato sauce, spreading evenly, then top with remaining tortillas. Cover tortillas with remaining goat cheese sauce, spreading evenly.

Bake lasagne, covered with foil, in middle of oven until bubbling and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Remove foil and broil about 3 inches from heat until top is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes.

Cooks' notes: • Chiles can be roasted and peeled 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

• Tomato sauce, goat cheese sauce, and spinach filling can be made 1 day ahead and chilled separately, covered. Reheat goat cheese sauce before proceeding.

• Lasagne can be assembled (but not baked) 1 hour ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.Kitchen Notes:

To roast the chilis, I turned my oven on to about 400, put the washed chilis on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven until they were lightly blackened - about 20-30 minutes. This method is a little less labor intensive than the one listed in this recipe. Once they are cool, they're a breeze to skin.

For the tomato sauce, don't bother using fresh tomatoes. Using the good ones from a can yields great results - it's a sauce, after all, not a salad!

I didn't have epazote and didn't miss it. I'm sure it would have been wonderful, but don't go hunting for it unless you're in the mood for the hunt.

The poblanos weren't split in half when I used them - they were in pieces. And I chopped them into smaller pieces. I find it easier that way. Oh, and speaking of poblanos, I was certain that with 12 poblanos, this dish was going to be hotter than Hades. Well, as it turned out, there was no way I was going to fit 12 poblanos into this dish. There just wasn't the room. But even if I had fit them all in, for some reason this dish didn't turn out to be too hot. I was delighted!

And finally -- about those raisins? If they seem a bit weird, don't worry. The sweet plays nicely against the spice. They're an unexpected surprise in this unusual variation of lasagne.

In fact, I just might make this again. It was worth the effort. Am I becoming Italian? If so, can I please wake up tomorrow morning speaking the language?

What have you been craving of late?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Healing Power of Potato Soup

Back when I was a girl, if I ever felt sick my mom would make me tea and toast. I loved the toast. But the tea didn't cut it for me. I have to say that my mom was a coffee drinker, and didn't really know much about tea. In those days, it was a bag of Lipton steeped in water. I don't recall now if there was lemon served with it or not, but the point is I didn't like it. In fact, for years, the smell of tea would make me nauseated. Kind of a reverse Pavlov's dogs. Or something.

Now that I'm on my own, I have found what works for me - both in terms of tea as well as in terms of what makes me feel better when I'm sick. When it comes to tea, I drink it the way they do in India - boiled with milk, some tea masala and a little sugar. In fact, at this point in my life, I drink that every morning. I don't prepare coffee in the morning anymore. I've turned into a tea drinker.

And when it comes to foods that make me feel better, while I do still love the smell of toast (it's one of those "comfort smells"), I have found that soup is what I want when I'm feeling under the weather. But I can only stand so much chicken soup. After a while, I feel like I'm about to start clucking! When I came down with the flu a couple of weeks ago, I started out by sleeping for a few days. When I woke up, I wasn't really hungry, but my mind told me that it would be a good thing if I ate something. I don't remember what I managed to forage for, but whatever it was, I had a couple of bites and that was it. I knew I had turned a corner when I forced myself to make a chicken soup. (Only had a few bites of that, too, but at least I managed to stand upright long enough to accomplish it!)

How did I gauge when I was really on the mend? When I made a potato soup. Potatoes are another comfort food. I don't care what the carb police say - potatoes are natures way of nurturing you back to health. And this soup is simple enough to be made with stuff you've probably got already in your pantry. The only thing I had to scrounge from a neighbor was a can of evaporated milk. (Fortunately, I have neighbors who like to cook!) This recipe isn't a recipe. It's one of those "Open the fridge and the pantry, look at what you've got in there, pull it out and make soup" kinds of things. So I have no measurements.

I started by sauteeing some onion and garlic in olive oil. While the onions were browning, I peeled potatoes (I used a couple of russets and a couple of Yukon Golds, 'cause that's what I had), halved them, and then sliced them about a half inch thick. Add them to the onions and continue to sautee, stirring regularly. Open a can of tomatoes and quarter them if they're whole. Add the tomatoes along with the juice from the can, along with some chicken broth. (I used the rest of the broth from the chicken I had boiled for the mole.) Add some salt, and water if needed.

While the soup is simmering, put some anaheim and/or poblano chilis in the toaster oven and broil them. I had only one of each. If I had had 2 of each, it would have been better. I have a friend that makes it with 6 Anaheims and it's terrific! You get the idea - these chilis are fairly mild, so you can add until it has enough of a kick for your taste. You're also adding a good source of vitamin C, so don't be shy!

When the chilis have broiled to the point where the skin has separated from the meat of the chili, they are ready to peel. Remove the seeds before cutting them and adding them to the soup. (Remember to wash your hands afterwards, and whatever you do, DON'T touch your eyes!) Add some herbs. I had oregano, but marjoram works well. I think I also added some thyme. Use what you have on hand, and what your nose tells you to add. You can also add a bay leaf.

When the potatoes are almost soft, add a can of evaporated milk, bring the soup back to hot and you are ready to serve. You can put some grated soft cheese in it at this point. Served with a chunk of French bread, you've got a meal fit for company. And if you absolutely must add some meat to satisfy yourself, chorrizo works well. You can slice and fry some on the side, put some slices in the bottom of the bowl and ladel the soup over the top.

How do you gauge when you're on the mend? What foods do you like when you're feeling under the weather?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


OK, OK.... So I know I've been out of touch for a while. I honestly don't understand how the speed of life increases, but it obviously does. Is there a physicist out there who reads food blogs who can explain this phenomenon to the rest of us? In simple English? But the fact of the matter is that between the inauguration, which seemed to have taken up everyone's time in my circle of friends, to my birthday a week later - all that time was a blur. And then I had a birthday reminiscent of the way we used to celebrate in New Mexico. Translation? It lasted for about a week. And then I got sick.

I'm beginning to recover now. Still not eating much, but at least I've started to eat again. Today it was a grilled cheese sandwich, which frankly was the best tasting thing I've eaten in ages!! But I ate it before I photographed it. I guess when you haven't eaten anything in 2 days, a grilled cheese sandwich tastes better than a filet mignon.

Then I found this photo I took of a chicken mole dish I had made before my personal "crash". I was inspired to make this dish after eating dinner at a friend's house. He makes some of the best mole I've ever eaten. Perhaps it's because he's Mexican, but I don't think that's it. All moles are different, and some are better than others. My friend Luis' is spectacular. I asked him for his recipe and he smiled at me and told me that it was simple. Yeah, I thought - get out the mortar and pestle and start grinding seeds.....
But no! He started with a product I was very familiar with - Dona Maria's mole sauce.
The most welcome change in this sauce is it's packaging. It used to come in a jar with a lid you had to pry off. Once you pried it off, there was no way to truly seal it back on. They obviously figured it out, because the packaging now makes sense - just screw the lid back on and store in the fridge.

But Luis' mole didn't just come out of this jar. What he did was to boil some chicken first with a little marjoram. In a separate pan he added about a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter plus a tablespoon of sugar to the mole sauce over low heat. Once those ingredients were combined, he thinned the sauce out with the water from the chicken he had boiled. And the rest of the water from the chicken? Well, he used that to make rice, of course.

If you're looking for something quick but tastes like you've slaved over that hot stove all afternoon, this is your answer. You can make it in the middle of the week when you get home from work, and you'll be sitting down to dinner in less than an hour. Enjoy!

And I seem to be on a path these days to include poetry in my blogs. I found this one recently and thought the title of it fit the occasion:

The Chocolate Infection

by G. E. Murray

Days of the ferret, a sweet fever.
Someone is walking through the sun
With my tongue on a leash.

Say “Ahhh.” Thank goodness,
It’s not diabetes or the Bolivian Rot.

This morning I am a cross
Between lefthandedness
And pointblank rage.

The sun leaks like soft ice.
The infection deepens . . .

My eyes dissolve
In a closet of heat.
I become 4,000
Yellow flowers, chirruping.

O the clich� of a trek into the bowels of China.
O the night that zings like a harpsichord factory!
O gorgeous sun limping in the frozen dusk.
O candy wrappers stacked like bricks!

Snow growls on my roof.
The infection deepens . . .

A day on fire
Placing real rabbits
Where my mouth should be.

I am several kinds of tigers.
I am a confectionary treat.

This fever fills my sleeves
With pearls of honey drops.
Am I too strange to bleed?

I’m behind myself
With a knife and fork,
Revolving on a skewer.

I am wild with grief
As greasy children
Reach deep into my fever
To scoop out their revenge
In double-dips . . .

Come off it, kids.
Next week, I’ll be raining
On the iron road to Malta
And perfect health, melting
Like sugar in the mouth of the Orinoco.