Browsing Extra Helpings

What Are Hatch Chiles?

August27

Rosemary asks: Why all the hoopla surrounding Hatch Chiles?What Are Hatch Chiles?  Mama's High Strung

Like anything in the food world that has a limited run, many people are drawn to the exclusivity and somewhat snobbish appeal of being part of a coveted gastro experience: think black French Périgord truffles or Copper River salmon.

But you’ve asked what are Hatch Chiles and why all the hoopla. One of the most unique qualities of these meaty peppers is that you can find them with varying heat levels… from mild to extremely hot. You really can’t say that about most chile peppers, can you?

Hatch Chiles are grown only in southern New Mexico’s fertile Mesilla Valley, where the soil is rich in nitrogen and minerals. Sun soaked days and cool desert nights help these chiles develop their intense earthy flavor. They are extremely rich in Vitamin C.

What Are Hatch Chiles? Melissa's Hatch Chile CookbookHatch, New Mexico, is the epicenter for these chiles, which come into season in August and September. If you find yourself in this part of the world at this time of year, you’ll find chiles being roasted 24/7, Hatch Chile contests, and even a parade (which will be held this weekend! August 30th to be exact!)

Roasting Hatch Chiles brings out their vibrant, hearty flavor. After roasting, the chiles are peeled… that’s when the excitement begins: what type of enchantment can I (and you!) create? This year I bought Melissa’s Hatch Chile Cookbook to find even more wonderful ideas!

Growing up in West Texas, I can remember my parents making an annual pilgrimage to New Mexico to buy huge bags of the chiles (25 lbs. or more!), which they would then roast, freeze and use the rest of the year. Maybe that’s why I’m so partial to Hatch Chiles… so many wonderful childhood memories of family, food and fun.

Sooo… get a move on. If you hurry, you can still make the parade!

What’s The Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream?

July24

Blanca asks: “If a recipe asks for coconut milk can I use coconut cream instead?”

If you’re talking about that amazing stuff you use to make those deliciously boozy Piña Coladas that we all love… then the answer is no. Absolutely not. You’ll end up with something way too sweet.

Let’s start at the beginning. Coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water and cream of coconut are used in tons of recipes in Latin American and Asian cuisines. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably, but you need to carefully read the label. (We’ll assume you’re not making fresh coconut milk from whole coconuts, right?)Coconut Milk-Mama's High Strung

Speaking of fresh coconuts, I know a woman from the Philippines who can open a coconut like she’s opening a peanut. But that’s not you and me, Blanca, like most people, we have to rely on cans or cartons, so here we go:

Coconut milk is a little bit thicker and creamier than cow’s milk. It’s made by pouring equal parts of boiling hot water over the freshly grated meat of a brown coconut. The mixture is pressed to release as much liquid as possible, then cooled and strained. Coconut milk is gently fruity and rich because of the high oil content. Most of the fat is saturated fat. It’s has a very subtle sweetness, although canned varieties may have added sugar and preservatives. Coconut milk is often used in savory dishes in Coconut Cream-Mama's High Strungplace of tomato sauce and as a broth in sauces and soups. Always shake the can before using.

Coconut cream has a paste-like density because it contains less water. It’s made the same way as coconut milk, but the ratio of grated coconut meat to water is higher, about four parts coconut to one part water. After it is strained, refrigerated and allowed to set, the smooth coconut cream is skimmed off the top of the coconut milk. There is barely any sweetness with coconut cream, but the coconut flavor is marvelous. Think of it this way: Coconut cream is to coconut milk what condensed milk is to regular milk… thicker and richer. It’s also sold in wax-like blocks.Coconut Water - Mama's High Strung

Coconut water comes from the liquid inside green coconuts. It’s an excellent thirst quencher. A great source of potassium, coconut water has become the darling of the sports world. It’s packed with naturally occurring minerals and essential electrolytes. It’s not sweet, but is amazingly delicious. Coconut water, straight from a real coconut is tremendously popular in the tropics as an on-the-go drink. Here’s a video from an open market in Grenada:

Cream of Coconut - Mama's High Strung

Finally, cream of coconut is coconut milk that contains sweeteners, emulsifiers and thickeners. It’s used in sweet fruity drinks and desserts. I wouldn’t use this when making savory dishes, but you definitely CAN use it to make a fun cocktail to serve with those savory dishes!

So you see, there is a big difference between coconut milk and coconut cream (as well as coconut water and cream of coconut!). Thanks for asking, Blanca!

If you love coconut as much as I do, check out these recipes:

Coconut Raspberry Ice Pops

Glorious Morning Glory Bread

Holiday Rice Pudding

Dream Cookie Bars


What Are San Marzano Tomatoes?

July18

Celia asks: In one of your recipes you said that if I’m going to use canned tomatoes, I should buy Italian San Marzano tomatoes. What’s so special about them?

San Marzano Tomatoes: Why are these so special? http://mamashighstrung.com/blog/2014/07/what-are-san-marzano-tomatoes/

In my recipe for Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce, I suggested that you buy canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes because they deliver a tangy, bright flavor… far superior to many other canned tomatoes. But what are San Marzano tomatoes?

San Marzano tomatoes are basically plum tomatoes with a lush, elegant flesh; they are grown in Italy’s southern Sarno River Valley. The tomatoes stay on the vine longer than many other varieties, which gives them a sweeter, less acidic taste.

They also have thinner skins with fewer seeds, so you have a firm, but supple bite, even after cooking them for a long time, like in my Homemade Tomato Sauce.

If you want to make sure the canned tomatoes you are buying are REAL San Marzanos, look for the Italian D.O.P. (or Denominazione di Origine Protetta) designation on the can. This means that the Italian tomato famers followed specific government agricultural rules. You can (sort of) equate these rules to the USDA regulations regarding products that can and cannot use the USDA Organic Seal.

Italian San Marzano tomatoes do have their detractors, so you’ll need to conduct your own taste test. If you can’t find real Italian San Marzano tomatoes, try whole Muir Glen Organic Tomatoes.

San Marzano Tomatoes via GIFT


Extra Helpings: What Is Star Anise?

July8

Bobbi asks: I was eating in a Chinese restaurant the other day and I found a few of these star-shaped things in my soup. I tried biting one, but it was like a rock! What is it? Star Anise-Mama's High Strung That’s star anise, Bobbi! You’re not going to believe this, but I just used it in a delicious Vietnamese Beef Stew recipe I’m going to post tomorrow.

Star anise is the dried, rust-brown star-shaped seedpod of the Chinese magnolia and is about one-inch long. It has a pungent licorice flavor that is bitter… but that isn’t a bad thing! When you add it to slow-cooked or simmered dishes, star anise makes the flavor of the whole dish pop.

When ground, star anise is one of the spices in Chinese five-spice powder. Besides Chinese cuisine, star anise (ground or otherwise) is used in almost all Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, including Vietnamese soups and Indian curries. You can find star anise in Asian or ethnic supermarkets, or online at specialty spice shops like The Spice House.

Make sure the star anise is not broken, but in whole 8-point star pieces. Keep it in a sealed container in a cool dark place (like all spices!).

Only add WHOLE pieces of star anise to a dish (don’t break it up). That way you can pluck them out before serving (and not have to worry about anyone cracking a tooth!).

One other thing… star anise is used  in traditional Chinese medicine to help cure colic in babies and as a digestive aid. And shikimic acid extracted from the seed is an ingredient in the antiviral drug Tamiflu that’s used to fight avian influenza!

 

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Hi…
I’m Christina Chavez

I was a TV journalist for many years, but with a house full of kids I decided to come off the road, go to culinary school and follow my passion for cooking. Mama’s High Strung is all about food… everything from creative recipe ideas to some really cool kitchen gadgets and cooking tips. I live in Chicago, but I love to travel and write about my food discoveries! You can reach me by email: mamashighstrung@gmail.com