08 December 2014

Food Lab 31: Mexi-Test

Your core Food Lab team has an annual swap agreement. The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientist throw a big annual New Year's Eve party, and Chef Spouse and I go over early in the day to help cook. Chef Spouse and I throw a big annual Super Bowl party, and The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientists come over early to help cook.

The Super Bowl party is always Tex-Mex because it seems appropriate, it's easy to make for a crowd that may include some vegetarians and/or gluten-free folks, and because Chef Spouse makes rockin' guacamole and fajitas.

The New Year's Eve soiree has a different food theme every yea, but the same requirements: finger food that can be served cold or at room temperature.

This year, Chef Spouse and I will be on vacation until the day before the Super Bowl, so The Executive Committee and Mad Kitchen Scientist have graciously agreed to do the shopping and day before prep work for our Super Bowl party. Given that, the theme for New Year's Eve seemed obvious: Mexican street food. Which we decided to pre-lab this weekend, rather than just jumping in with both feet and hoping for the best day of (I think our biggest risk ever was the sushi New Year's Eve, which happened WELL before our sushi lab this summer).

So for Food Lab: Mexi-test we chose a variety of dips in preparation for New Year's Eve and chiles rellenos and jalapeno poppers in prep for the Super Bowl. Chef Spouse had to miss due to work commitments, but fortunately we had two more hands in one of Mad Kitchen Scientist's colleagues and her spouse, blog nicknames pending.

We started with a Mexican cheese taste off:
  • Two types of Queso Blanco
  • Two types of Queso Fresca
  • Cuajada Casera (which is fermented)
  • Queso Seco (which is queso blanco with more water removed)
  • Two types of crema - Mexican, which was thinner and more subtly flavored, and Guatemalan, which was thicker and funkier

Conclusion: most of the flavors were pretty mild, but they were all VERY salty.

Our dip plans included:
  • queso with chorizo
  • pumpkin seed dip (from Diana Kennedy)
  • duck confit green chile 
  • haute seven-layer dip (which involved making guacamole, refried beans, two varieties of salsa, and two spiced cremas all from scratch)
The queso was simple. Pop two sausages out of their skins and brown in a cast iron skillet (that bit's key). Deglaze with a little tequila (flambe optional but recommended), then melt in a combo of queso fresca and blanco, and add a little turkey stock to help the fats from the chorizo and the cheeses emulsify. Simple and delicious.

The pumpkin seed dip (sikil pak) was a Diana Kennedy recipe.

1 cup unhulled raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 c hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1.5 tsp salt

Roast unhulled in a cast iron skillet until brown and toasty - add hulled and roast for one more minute, then coarse grind them and add the salt.

(Diana said all coarse grind, but on reflection, we thought it should've been half coarse, half fine - and 1.5 tsp. salt was a little too much)

Roast two whole tomatoes (skins, seeds, and all) and one jalapeno (same) under the broiler

Stick blend the tomatoes with1/3 - 2/3 c water

Fine chop the roasted jalapeno
Rough chop 2 Tbsp cilantro
Fine chop 2 Tbsp chives

Mix it all together and eat

We removed the jalapeno seeds post-roasting, and we probably should have left some in, because it could've been a little spicier, although it did get more spicy over time. But: delicious, and will definitely repeat for New Year's.

Duck confit green chile was an adaptation of a pork green chile Mad Kitchen Scientist usually makes.

In olive oil, saute:

3 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 a small onion, finely chopped
3 oz duck confit
1 tsp cumin seeds
two chopped jalapenos (one seeded and deveined, one whole)
1 1/2 chopped poblanos

Deglaze with brandy

Simmer w 3/4 c duck stock until the peppers are soft

Add some cilantro and stick blend

Then last 1/2 of poblano finely chopped, 1/4 small onion minced fine, 1 seeded and deveined jalapeno minced fine, 3 oz duck confit, two small chopped tomatillos and simmer until cooked through

It also ended up less spicy than ideal, but fortunately the Nicknames Pending had brought along homemade habanero pepper sauce, so we were able to jazz it up.

In prep for the seven-layer dip, Mad Kitchen made refried beans, The Executive Committee made guacamole, I made a simple salsa verde and pico de gallo, and Nicknames Pending made two varieties of crema, one based on regular sour cream the other on the Guatemalan crema.

Both had
  • Cayenne
  • Smoked paprika
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Onion powder 
All to taste, and we tested chipotle with more cayenne versus ancho with less. I liked the hotter one (of course), and the ancho was notably more smoky.

Then we put two varieties together:

Refried beans
Spicy crema v. smoky crema
Pico de gallo v. salsa verde
Queso fresca
Chopped olives and green onions

Again, of course I preferred the spicy.

The only fail of the day was the poppers and rellenos. We labbed roasting the peppers first versus going raw. Some were filled with just a cheese mix (basically a combo of everything we had left), some were filled with the rest of the chorizo queso dip. Then we egg-washed, breaded with a combo of masa and flour, dried, and deep fried.

Basically all of them - roasted and raw - turned out too spicy for everyone, and the breading did not adhere AT ALL to the raw peppers. If we're going to do them for the Super Bowl, this is going to require at least one more test, but probably not for New Year's, because you really have to eat both of them hot.

What did we drink?

Duh. Margaritas.

Mad Kitchen Scientist had made a mango shrub with pineapple vinegar and palm sugar, so that featured prominently, as did the Herrandura reposado tequila and habanero sauce Nicknames Pending brought.


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