Wednesday, 15 April 2009

I Yam What I Yam. A Sweet Potato.

Now that the weather is warming up, it is time to leave the kitchen and start burning propane. When comfortable, you can cook more than burgers and chicken on a stick on your outdoor grill.

Generally speaking, there are three overall methods of cooking: dry heat, moist heat and n0-heat. Within those are all the ways we cook. For instance, dry heat is roasting, grilling, sauteing, deep frying (yes, deep frying is considered a dry heat method) and broiling. Moist cooking is blanching and braising. No-heat would be curing and pickling and these sort of things.

If you can remember that the BBQ is just an oven that is outside, then sky's the limit. Once you have the mindset, you can do braises on your BBQ, or roast beef or chicken or whatever, standard grilling foods like meats and vegetables and even some starches. Heck, desserts aren't even out of the question if you're brave enough. If you have some cedar planks, then you can really treat your BBQ like any oven.

It is unfortunate that sweet potatoes aren't as popular as they should be. Not to be confused with the yam, sweet potatoes are a distant cousin of the common potato we all know and love. Yet, sweet potatoes are high in fibre and complex sugars. Virtually opposite to the delicious cousin. So, why don't we eat more of it? I'm not sure why but I do know that many people I talk to about cooking are often afraid that they are higher in carbs than other potatoes which couldn't be further from the truth.

So stop being a Sweet Potato hater and make the switch. It is brilliant mashed, in a soup, roasted and, of course, grilled. Yum.

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with a Honey Tarragon Glaze

2 Large Sweet Potatoes, cut into 3 cm slices
50 ml Liquid Honey
Small Bunch of Fresh Tarragon, chopped
Juice and Zest of 3 Limes
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Drizzle of Oil

In a sauce pan, combine honey, tarragon and lime juice. Reduce by half to a glaze. Remove from heat.

On your BBQ, heat one side to high and the other to medium low. In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes in oil, salt and pepper and zest. Grill potatoes on hot side and grill for 3 - 4 minutes. Turn sweet potato one quarter to make cross hatches and grill for another 3 - 4 minutes. Flip and repeat. Transfer potato to other side of BBQ and using a silicone pastry brush, glaze potato with reduction. Cook until tender. Usually 5 minutes depending on the thickness of the sweet potato.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

A Humble Chef's tip: you can lay down some foil on your cooler side of your BBQ to prevent burning.

Variation: Sweet Potatoes have an affinity with spices like cinnamon and clove and these sort of things. You can make a sweet glaze using the same method except omit the tarragon and substitute whatever spice you often use in apple pie.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Don't Worry. No Poblano!

Despite the fact that yours truly is of Guatemalan descent, there aren't many Latin American recipes on my blog. Truth is, my training is classical and the places where I've worked prepares mostly traditional cuisine.

Growing up, fresh tortillas and refried beans was certainly a staple for weekend mornings. My mother takes pride in the simplicity of this style of cooking. On top of that, it is comfort food for myself and my brothers since it transports us to our childhood.

Yet, my mother never really showed me all the unique flavours and techniques Latin cuisine has to offer. We did do some staples like fried plantains, tamales, frijoles, fresh tortillas, fajitas and burritos. We even did pupusas with spiced coleslaw from time to time. For the most part, my mother cooks very simple North American foods like anybody else. And so even though I have a base knowedge of Latin foods, much of what I know of this type of cuisine is either self taught or through expirementation.

Mole Poblano is a classic sauce that hasn't really become too known outside Mexico. Yet, Mole Poblano sauce is nothing new. In fact, it has roots in Aztec culture. The thought of adding chocolate to savoury dishes seems unsavoury to many people but whenever I offer my chili to guests with the secret ingredient of chocolate, I get nothing but raves.

It can be a little off putting for some palates, but in time I'm sure you will appreciate the unique flavour and density of this sauce. If the sauce tastes a little bitter to you, a little sugar can offset that unwanted flavour.

For the adventurous, there many more Mole sauces: Amarillo, Negro, Rojo, Verde and Cacahuate. I'm sure there are more but this gives you an idea how many types there are.

Pecan Crusted Chicken with Mole Poblano Sauce

1 Cooking Onion, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, whole
Small Handful of Sesame Seeds
Small Handful of Almonds
1 Ancho Chile (if available)
Small Blend of Spices: cumin, cinammon, nutmeg, coriander, chili powder
2 Roma Tomatoes, chunked
100 g Unsweetened Chocolate, chopped
Dab of Butter
6 Chicken Breasts
100 g Pecans
Salt, Sugar and Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 325.

In a sauce pan, heat butter until a little brown. Add onion and garlic and cook until golden. About 7 - 10 minutes. Add spices and continue top cook for another minute. Add seeds, almonds, chocolate, tomatoes and ancho chile and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Let simmer and puree. Adjust to seasonings.

Using a frying pan, heat oil until very hot. Sear skin side of chicken until golden. Remove from pan and using a pastry brush, spread a layer of sauce on top of chiken. Roll in pecans and place on cookie sheet with a rack. Cook in oven for 15 minutes or until internal temperature of 160 degrees. Let rest five minutes and serve with sauce.

Serves 6.

A Humble Chef's tip: if the onion caramelizes enough, you may not need to add sugar. Taste the sauce at the end and add what your instincts tell you.

Variation: there are many interpretions and variations to this sauce but before you change it, I would stick to one classic recipe and make changes when you're more comfortable. This works well with pork chops and really well with turkey.