Friday, August 29, 2014

Hatch Chile Cheese Casserole - Easy and Yum for a Potluck

Just in case you haven't been to a grocery store, picked up a magazine or food section of the newspaper, watched the news or listened to the radio...


Hatch Chiles hail from Hatch, New Mexico and their unique flavor, (and fantastic marketing efforts:)
have made them a treat that is enjoyed all over the U.S. Harvested in late August, just about now, they appear in speciality stores like Whole Foods, and on the menus of trendy restaurants. Heck, you can even find them in a tin in the local grocery store.

As a chile lover, I love em.

They range in heat from Mild...

To Hot...

And are a perfect choice for an easy potluck casserole like this one.

Here's the goodness of Hatch chilies in the casserole on a (heaping) plate of POTLUCK!

Hatch chile heads say they are the best chiles ever, because they are grown at elevation. (Sound familiar you wine nerds? Grapes that are grown on the side of mountains are often the best, too!)
Hatch lovers even have a festival full of roasting peppers and crazy treats like chile candy, caramel sauce and of course, ice cream. Savory goodies abound too, providing inspiration for home cooks to whip up their own creations.

Because this casserole is topped with a white hat of cooling nonfat greek yogurt - its great for those who LOVE the HEAT - but also the wimps among us. ( Don't get testy with me for calling you wimps, I live with one who I love dearly!)

Fast to prepare and a perfect side - it makes a 9 by 12 baking dish of lusciousness. If you're not in to sharing that much - put it in two smaller casserole dishes and pop it in the freezer for dinner the next week or so.

Gotta point out, since I AM a Healthy Chef Partyologist, that this casserole is a perfect TASTY choice with lots of flavor, but includes lots better-for-you ingredients like beans, tomatoes and chiles. Hey! did you know that the capsaicin in chiles can raise your metabolism. Thats the active ingredient in the chiles that make it pungent and/or hot. WooHoo - I think that makes chilies health food, don't you? Feel good about taking this dish to the holiday potluck, cookout or even just serving it to your family for dinner!

Hatch Chile Cheese Casserole
This serves 16 people

2 Cans (15 OZ) Hominy, Drained and Rinsed Well (you can find this in the grocery store next to canned beans)
1 Package Frozen Corn, Defrosted or 4 Ears of Corn off the cob
1 Can Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed Well
2 Cups Halved Grape Tomatoes
1/2 LB Chopped, Roasted Hatch Chilies - Buy them already roasted at Whole Foods, grill them over a hot flame or under the broiler, or buy 8 OZ tins in the grocery store
1 Cup Chopped Cilantro
1 TB Cumin
2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Tsp Salt, divided
1/2 Tsp Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
1 Cup Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese (I like Cabots reduced fat Pepper Jack)
1 Cup Shredded Parmesan
4 Cups Nonfat Greek Yogurt
1 Cup Pumpkin Seeds

Step One
In a nonstick sprayed casserole dish, dump the drained hominy, corn, black beans, tomatoes, chiles and cilantro into the casserole dish. Add in the cumin, paprika, 1 Tsp of the salt and the pepper and stir. Sprinkle on the cheeses.

Step Two
Using a spatula, spread the yogurt over the entire top of the casserole. (Don't worry if you pick up a little shredded cheese in the yogurt, it will be fine:) Sprinkle with the remaining tsp of salt and the pumpkin seeds. Cook in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until deliciously warm and toasty. This is great warm or room temperature!

MORE INFO about the Hatch Chile Festival

Thanks to Jennifer Gantner for some of the glamour shots in this blog!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tasting Summer's Best Soup and Wine

Most people are surprised when I tell them that gazpacho was originally made WITHOUT tomatoes. Yes, it’s true. The oldest version of Spanish gazpacho is thought to be from the area around the city of Cordoba, and was made with bread, garlic, oil and water! It was pounded in a mortar and pestle to combine the stale bread with the rest of the ingredients. Today we whizz up our chilled soups with a immersion blender or vita-mix, creating that perfect texture we've learned to crave during the hot summer months.

Fresh, perfectly ripe tomatoes didn't end up in the mix until after Columbus. Once tomatoes were added to the mix, peppers appeared too, and a market basket of other veggies appeared too - cucumbers, avocados, mushrooms and even fruit versions made of strawberries and watermelon. My favorite is still the traditional, after 1492 version. Tomatoes roasted red peppers, sherry vinegar and smoked paprika all play important roles in my healthy, delicious soup translation.

What to drink with gazpacho? A Spanish wine of course. My suggestion may surprise you. Not a crisp limey tasting Albarino, but a light bright red Tempranillo. You may be familiar with this grape as the lead varietal in Rioja, Spain’s famous oaked-medium-to-high-bodied-mouthfilling wine that can be aged for many years. Or maybe you’ve had wine from Ribera del Duero, a newer, trendy region of Spain? Here’s the really good news about this widely diverse grape. It’s easy to find, can be inexpensive, and without long oak ageing, it can be an effortless quaffer, with lower acidity and sparkling fruit flavors.

To test my theory, I asked four friends who love wine to taste both a young Rioja, called a Crianza in Spain, and a big hearty Tempranillo aged in lots of new oak and full of the taste of jammy dark black fruits and leather. (To see what leather smells like, stick your nose close to a leather chair or sofa. Breathe in deeply and hope no one else can see you.) The same grape, made in two different places in Spain, and vinified in quite contrasting ways.

We had whipped up a recipe of gazpacho earlier that day, so we were ready for our tasting…

We tasted the wine, noted its color, aroma, flavors and finish and then moved on to the soup. Not to my surprise, when we returned to the wine, the younger fruity glass scored 5 out of 5 votes from our group. The acidity of the vinegar and tomatoes and the punch from the paprika smoothed out the wine and made it even more delicious. A lovely pairing like this wine and soup made the start of the evening even better.

Here’s the recipe and the wines for your own tasting.  I bought the wines from Costco here in Atlanta, but both are widely available. The Dinastia Vivanco was under $20, the Ovidio Garcia Reserve about $30. I chose the former because it was such a good value, and I am a pushover for affordable young Riojas, (they are very food friendly), and the latter because the guru of wine scores, Robert Parker gave it high marks. I found it to be just the kind of wine he likes – big, round and jammy.

Cooling Summer Gazpacho
This looks like a lot of ingredients, but its super easy to make, and worth the time!

2 LBS Roma Tomatoes, halved and roasted under the broiler until blackened
2 Slices Rustic Whole Grain Bread, chopped
3 Roasted Red Peppers
2 Cups Peeled English Cucumbers
1 Cup Chopped Red Onion
2 TB Tomato Paste
¼  Cup Sherry Wine Vinegar
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, Peeled
1 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Smoked Sweet Pepper
1 – 2 TB Lemon Juice
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper to Taste

Place all the ingredients in a large pot, except for the lemon juice and salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender, puree until your desired texture. (I like mine smooth – but you may like a chunkier version.) If it is too thick, you can add some cold water to thin it out. Add 1 TB of lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper. If desired, add the remaining lemon juice. Place in the fridge for at least an hour, the flavors will mingle as it becomes cool. You can store the soup for up to 5 days in the fridge. It freezes great, and you can double the recipe, too.