Dave had to work on Friday, so I got up and did some video exercising. I had a project in mind—cleaning up my home e-mail (1193 messages in the inbox!)—so I worked on that along with emptying the file folders that hold our bills and paperwork for the year. It’s nice to start a new year with the house cleaned up and everything ready for a fresh start. Around noon I took my bike to the grocery store to buy groceries for the next few days, since I was planning to cook several good meals. We get so busy during the working weeks that we eat whatever’s fast instead of trying new, slow food.
I wanted to try cooking chiles rellenos, one of my favorite Mexican dishes. Dave and I both enjoy watching Rick Bayless on PBS, so I found his recipe online and bought the ingredients. I read it through once and took a deep breath—it sounded pretty complicated. But then I just dove in, hoping for the best.
I had planned to make only cheese rellenos instead of the pork-filled ones, but I hadn’t divided up the ingredients list and had bought some supplies that were only needed for the pork filling. “Shoot,” I thought, “I could do half and half, but I don’t have any pork.” Maybe you’re ahead of me here, but I was pretty impressed with myself when I realized we’d had pork for dinner the night before. I chopped up some of the leftovers—they wouldn’t be as tender as fresh ground pork, but they should work fine. In fact, I made several changes to the recipe. Albertson’s didn’t have any poblano peppers, so I used Anaheim chiles. My raisins weren’t as tender as they’d been if they hadn’t been at least a year old. Rick said to use “high quality” canned tomatoes, but I just couldn’t stomach paying an extra $.50 per can to get Hunt’s. And I used regular old cinnamon instead of canela. I started cooking at 2:00 p.m. and didn’t finish until we ate dinner at 6:30 or so! (I did take a break while the stuffed peppers were in the freezer for an hour.) I gulped down some lunch—my favorite, cold spaghetti—standing up in front of the kitchen sink.
This recipe called for several steps. The tomatoes for the sauce had to be blended and reduced for 45 minutes. The pork filling had to be cooked. Then part of the sauce went into the pork and chicken stock went into the rest of the sauce. More cooking.
Meanwhile, the peppers had to be fried in hot oil to blister the skins, which had to be removed. The peppers were sliced and a finger inserted to remove the seeds (the pepper juice inflamed a burn on my finger, swelling up a small spot just above my knuckle).
Then the peppers were filled with pork (two) or cheese (two). The recipe was for eight peppers, but I halved it for just the two of us. The stuffed peppers were closed with toothpicks and frozen for an hour. I went back upstairs to hang a shelf and pass paint out the window to Dave. (He’d arrived home and was repainting the spot he’d previously gouged with the ladder. See this post for details.)
Once the peppers were adequately frozen and I’d repainted a few spots of red in the back of the house that had peeled off with the blue painting tape (multitasking!), I got ready for the next step: frying. Luckily, it was a warmish day with no precipitation, so I could do the frying outside on the gas burner part of the grill. (Dave gets nervous about having hot oil inside. Dangerous—and messy.) First you have to make the batter, which involves beating egg whites and salt until they’ll hold a stiff peak. I’m not much of a baker, so I was impressed by that. Then you beat in the yolks and a bit of flour. Outside, once the oil had heated up to 350°, I dredged the peppers in flour and then in the egg mixture. They looked like real chiles rellenos when they came out, fluffy and golden! Finally, after frying, they had to be baked for 15 minutes, during which time you reheat the sauce. Yes, I felt like I had used every appliance in the kitchen and dirtied every dish. But when I ladled sauce into the bowls and added two rellenos apiece, one cheese (Monterey Jack) and one pork mixture (pork, cinnamon, slivered almonds, raisins, and tomato sauce), I felt like Rick Bayless. It was a lot of work, but the recipe was perfect— everything worked just like it was supposed to and the ingredients were proportioned perfectly. I’ve cooked enough now to know that’s not always the case. This dinner was a delicious advertisement for Rick Bayless’s books and TV show. I’ve been thinking about buying Mexican Everyday as my next “international” cookbook, and this tricky recipe made me think that his easier recipes are probably terrific too. I’ll need guinea pigs, of course, so invite yourselves over…