Jalapeño Carrot Cake with Margarita Frosting

April 20th, 2009
by: Blue

I made this for a co-workers birthday.  It was a hit.  We were all very grateful that he was nice enough to have a birthday so this cake could be made.  Feliz cumpleaños el jefe!

1/2 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons tequila
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup dark brown sugar
3 cups peeled, grated carrots
2 cups drained crushed pineapple
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
3 medium or 2 large jalapenos, minced

Margarita Frosting:
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 teaspoons tequila
1 teaspoon orange extract
3 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
For Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12 cup bundt pan. Combine raisins and tequila in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat until just warm. Remove pan from heat and set aside. Meanwhile, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in brown sugar on low speed. Gradually add oil. Blend in flour mixture. Fold in carrots, pineapple, raisins, coconut, lime peel, orange peel and jalapenos. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on a rack.

For Frosting:
Beat together cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, tequila, orange extract and lime peel and beat until creamy. Frost top and sides of cooled cake. Refrigerate frosted cake until ready to serve.

Thai Green Curry

April 20th, 2009
by: Blue

Read this for more information on the ingredients for Thai green curry.

1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons green curry paste, to taste
1 medium chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 stalk fresh lemongrass (optional), white part only, cut in 1 inch pieces and “bruised”
6 kaffir lime leaves (optional), chopped
1 small can bamboo shoots
Approx 2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (approx 15 oz can)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
fresh basil and cilantro

Add a tablespoon or so of oil to a pot over medium-high heat.  Saute onion for a few minutes.  Add the curry paste, ginger, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves and saute for a couple of minutes.  Throw the green beans and carrots in and again, saute for a few minutes.  Add coconut milk, chicken stock, brown sugar, and fish sauce.  Cover and let this simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add sliced chicken, give it a good stir, and let cook over low heat until chicken is cooked through (another 10 minutes or so).  Serve over jasmine rice and top with fresh basil and cilantro after plating.


I use all kinds of different veggies in this – it depends on what I have on hand.  Try it with sweet potatoes, eggplant, peas, potatoes, mushrooms, etc.  It’s all good.

About Thai Green Curry

April 20th, 2009
by: Blue

 It stands to reason that I love green curry since the main ingredient in green curry paste is green chiles.  I’m so predictable. Thai green curry is a flavor explosion in your mouth!  On top of that it is a very quick and easy meal to put together, perfect for weeknights.  You can start some jasmine rice cooking and around the time the rice is done your curry will be ready. 

Some of the ingredients may seem foreign.  That’s because they are.  But once you get familiar with them they will become a staple in your pantry as they have in mine. 

Let’s start with rice, since that’s what you serve green curry on.  I only buy Jasmine rice, it is incredibly fragrant and flavorful.  As this rice cooks you will be able to smell the difference in this compared to regular white rice.  I buy Jasmine rice at the oriental market because it’s much cheaper, but I also find it at my regular grocery store.  The rice that you buy at the oriental market probably will not have cooking instructions on it – just cook it in the normal method:  2 cups rice, 4 cups water, salt.  Bring water to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are optional ingredients in this recipe (I know, Thai experts, BLASPHEMY!!).  The fact is that the green curry paste has both, so not having either or both of these does not a tragedy make.   Definitely make an effort to find them, your curry will have an incredibly complex, authentic flavor.  Go to the oriental markets first!   But don’t let not being able to find them stop you from making this curry.  I have found kaffir leaves in the produce section of Central Market and Whole Foods (and these days I actually find them in my back yard on my very own kaffir lime tree!).  Fresh lemongrass can also be found in many grocery stores in the produce section.  Don’t waste your time or money on dried lemongrass though, it is flavorless.  Freeze any extra kaffir lime leaves or lemongrass for future use.

Green curry ingredients at your regular grocery 

Thai products by Thai Kitchen have become relatively mainstream, I have been able to purchase these in the regular grocery store for years. 

Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste

Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk

Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce

Green curry ingredients at your local oriental market

I love visiting the oriental market, it’s like stepping into another country.  I peruse the aisles for new treasures and always ask lots of questions.  The owners of the stores I frequent know me by now, and they are always very helpful and friendly.   When I am looking for an oriental grocery, I try to find one that focuses on Thai, Philippine,  or Vietnamese cuisine.  These are more likely to have the products and brands I want.   The market that I go to also has fresh lemongrass, big bags of fresh basil, and kaffir lime leaves.  Bonus!

My favorite products available at the oriental market are below.  Honestly I don’t think you can go wrong with any brand of green curry paste, I never met a green curry I didn’t like.  But I frequently buy these brands.

Green curry

Another good green curry

Coconut milk (this is hands down  my favorite coconut milk and America’s Test Kitchen agrees)

Fish sauce

Ok.  Thai green curry discussion, ad naseum, is finally over.  My apologies.  Now get your bitch ass in the kitchen and make me some curry!  My recipe is here.

Aunt Ellen’s Mexican Luncheon

April 17th, 2009
by: Blue

Move over Hamburger Helper, I’m about to rock your world! This is a dish that I can remember having as a kid, one of those fallback family recipes that’s always fantastic and fast. Sue included this in her “From Our Mother’s Hands” recipe collection – all of those recipes will be added to Blue Cooks over time.

1 pound ground beef
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced bell pepper
8 ounces macaroni (2 cups) macaroni, uncooked
1 one pound can tomatoes, undrained
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

Brown hamburger. Add onion and bell pepper and cook until soft. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer at low temperature for 20-25 minutes.


Sometimes I like to use Rotel instead of tomatoes, it kicks up the spice a bit. 1/2 cup of sofrito (thrown in when you add the macaroni) is also a great addition. And in my kitchen Hatch Green Chiles often make an appearance in this dish, go figure.

Ode to Hatch Green Chiles

April 16th, 2009
by: Blue

Hatch green chile of mine,  you are so divine
Grown in Hatch, New Mexico, by way of a vine.
You’re planted in Spring, and harvested in Fall
To find you at harvest, if I had to, I’d crawl.

You grace my enchiladas, queso and salsa
My soups and pasta; lots of dishes in mi casa.
Hatch green chiles, my chiles, mi corazón
Why are you elusive, can I grow you at home?

Alas,  in Hatch, New Mexico magic is grown
The chiles grown here can’t be duplicated at home.
Grown in rich river-sediment soil and cool Rio Grande water
As long as I have you, other chiles don’t matter.

Oh Hatch green chiles, please, never leave me
To you I’m addicted, I’m devoted to thee.

On Hatch Green Chiles:
The culinary holy trinity in Blue and Sue’s house is Hatch green chiles, onion, and garlic.  Yes, we are fans.  Justifiably?  Absolutely, ask any chef. And just one comment about my silly little poem – you CAN duplicate Hatch green chiles at home.  As long as you live in Hatch, New Mexico, that is.  As for the rest of us, we have to be dedicated and devoted fans with the determination to keep them on hand year-round.

Once a year in the fall (around August), Hatch green chiles make an appearance at my local grocery stores (HEB and Central Market).  Sue also finds them around this time of year in her local grocery store in West Texas (United).  While they are there, they can be purchased fresh in the produce section.  But the BEST thing about their appearance in August is when there are huge roasters outside the store, where they roast the fresh peppers on site and on demand.  The wonderful aroma of the roasting chiles is amazing, and calls to my soul.  I prefer buying them roasted in mass quantities because they are much easier to peel when they have been frozen after the roasting,  plus I love the convenience of pulling the real deal out of my freezer whenever I want.    And, face it, I really don’t want to have to roast my own chiles unless I have too.  Last year I bought two cases, about 40 pounds, and froze them (8 or so peppers per quart freezer bag).  For now, I still have some in my freezer, and if I’m lucky my supply will last until August 2009 when I will be able to purchase more.  If they don’t last, I will buy three cases next time.

When I lived in Mississippi, my local groceries did not ever carry fresh or roasted Hatch green chiles.  I was sad.  Actually the state of mexican food overall is sad in Mississippi. Tortillas have a shelf life of 12 months there.  What a crime! My birthday gift to myself every year or so while I lived there was ordering Hatch green chiles online, here is one resource. There are tons of other places on the internet that you could order them from, just do a google search on “hatch green chiles”.  Again, I am addicted, which is obvious since bearing the expense of ordering them online was a far better choice for me than not having them at all.

On acceptable substitutes for roasted Hatch green chiles:
1.  Blue and Sue can find frozen, chopped Hatch green chiles in the freezer section of the grocery.  Albuquerque Tortilla Company is one company that has hot and mild green chiles.  You can order them online if you can’t find them in your grocery.

2.  Buy fresh anaheim green chiles and roast them yourself.  Anaheim chiles are not exactly the same as Hatch chiles but they are a passable substitute.  You can roast them over the open flame of your stovetop gas burner. Hold the pepper with a tong over the flame, turn, turn, turn -  until the chile is blackened on all sides.  Or you can roast them under the broiler in the oven.  Set broiler to high, roast the peppers on the highest oven rack, turn the peppers occasionally until all sides are blackened.  Once the peppers are lovely and blackened place them (still hot) in a ziploc bag.  Seal the bag, wrap the bag in a towel and let sit until cool.  When they are cool you can freeze them – or simply immediately peel the blackened skin off the peppers in order to bless one of your recipes with their presence.

3.  Canned green chiles by Hatch Chile Company  are pretty good.  I actually recommend their entire line of products, ranging from various enchilada sauces, to peppers, to diced tomatoes with green chiles.

4.  My absolute last choice as a substitute for Hatch green chiles would be canned green chiles made by any company besides Hatch Chile Company.

White Pepper 101

April 15th, 2009
by: Blue

In many dishes, black and white pepper go hand in hand (much like my beloved Beans and Cornbread). If you search on the internet you will find varying descriptions of white pepper. Generally it is considered to be milder than black pepper, and for the most part this is true, but white pepper tastes a little sharper to me and packs a higher level of heat than black pepper. Yes, I like it hot! Which is obvious if you’ve seen enough of my recipes.  But using white pepper doesn’t mean that you have to commit yourself to eating jalapenos.

It’s all about balance and layering of flavors, which happens very naturally when you use both white and black pepper.  Typically I will use a combination of white and black pepper when I’m making any kind of creamy, light colored saucy dish, or soups. If I’m making a light colored dish that I don’t want flecks of black pepper in, I’ll use only white pepper. And I use white pepper exclusively in Asian stir frys, soups, and Thai egg rolls.  Great examples of my use of white and black pepper are the recipes for Hatch Potatoes Au Gratin and Venie’s Dumplings and Chicken.

If you are new to white pepper, start with a small amount and add more as needed.

Hatch Potatoes Au Gratin

April 13th, 2009
by: Blue

I made these for Easter dinner.  That is not why this is called “Hatch Potatoes Au Gratin”, but it does fit nicely with the whole Easter theme!  I used Hatch Green Chiles to spice this up, which we adore – the dish was creamy, cheesy and spicy (the perfect flavor combination as far as I’m concerned).  The chiles can, however, be left out if you want a more traditional approach.

1 1/2 – 2 pounds potatoes (any kind, peeled or unpeeled, whatever your preference is)
3 cups milk, or half and half, or heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups cheese (I used cheddar)
3/4 cup roasted Hatch green chiles (optional)
white pepper/pepper/salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Wash potatoes (peel them if you want) and thinly slice. 

In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour (yes, you start with a roux, but this will be a very light roux).  Stir constantly for a few minutes until the flour is a very light golden brown.  Add the milk/half and half/heavy cream, whisk constantly until mixture starts coming to a boil and thickens, about 5-10 minutes.  Add cheese and green chiles, continue stirring until cheese is melted and sauce is thickened and creamy.  Season to taste with white pepper and salt.

Spray a casserole pan with non-stick spray.  Place 1/3 of the potatoes in a layer in the pan and lightly salt them.  Pour 1/3 of the cheese sauce over the first layer.  Repeat layers two more times, ending with sauce on top.  Bake for 1 hour, check potatoes for doneness, continue baking if needed.

There are lots of things that could be done with this recipe.  Be creative with the kinds of cheese you use – try gruyere, colby jack, jarlsberg, swiss – or a combination of several kinds, e.g. 1 cup chedder plus 1/2 cup fresh parmesean – the possibilities are endless.  Jalapenos would be a good substitute for the green chiles.  So would sun-dried tomatoes.  You can also turn this dish into macaroni and cheese simply by substituting cooked macaroni for the potatoes (layer in the same method as described for the potatoes).

The Best Chili In The World

April 12th, 2009
by: Grue

To me, chili is a comfort food. Blue and I were raised on a farm, and our father would often come home from the fields at odd times, so Sue learned to have something simmering on the stove almost all the time. The smell of chili or beef stew still brings back strong memories of what it felt like to walk into the house and feel the warm welcome of good food.

This recipe is an amalgamation of several other recipes, tweaked over time to taste the way I like it. It is a complex and wonderful chili, spicy and sweet. The recipe includes chocolate (cocoa), beer, coffee, and jalapenos, along with several spices. It is the interplay of this unusual mix of flavors that makes the chili so interesting to the palate.

Any time I make chili I have to make cornbread, so I will post my favorite cornbread recipe separately. I serve a sweet cornbread with this chili to help offset the chili’s kick.

My wife, who would normally be no fan of chili, can’t get enough of this – that is the best testament I know to how good it is.


2.5 hours / 30 minutes prep

Serves 6-8

The Meat

2 teaspoons corn oil
2 onions, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
1 pound lean (90-92%) ground beef
1.5 pounds high-quality sirloin, cut into bite-sized chunks

The Wet Stuff

1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1 12-oz bottle or can of beer (ale or stout is best)
1 cup of coffee, brewed (sumatra or another very strong coffee)
2 6-oz cans tomato paste
1 14.5-oz can beef broth
4 tablespoons Thai chili sauce

The Spices

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cumin
1.5 tablespoons high-quality cocoa
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt

The Beans and Peppers

4 15-oz cans premium large red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 small-to-medium jalapenos, chopped

  1. Heat oil in a large pan (I use a 7-qt dutch oven)
  2. Cook onions and garlic until soft.
  3. Add cubed sirloin and ground beef and cook until brown.
  4. Drain any excess fat / liquid (I use a turkey baster)
  5. Add Wet Stuff.
  6. Add Spices.
  7. Stir in 2 cans of kidney beans and chopped peppers.
  8. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours.
  9. Add remaining 2 cans of kidney beans.
  10. Simmer for another 30 minutes.

Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread

April 12th, 2009
by: Grue

I make this cornbread any time I make the Best Chili In The World. Since the ingredients are mixed in a hot cast-iron skillet, it has a wonderful old-world taste. It is rich and complex, a perfect offset to something spicy. It might be too sweet for some tastes.

If I had a 8- or 9-inch cast iron skillet, I might try this without another pan. I think a right-sized skillet would go into the oven just fine, and the thought of how it might come out makes me rumbly in the tumbly.

Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes. Ready in 55 minutes total.

9 Servings (medium-to-large pieces).

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
2/3 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8-inch square pan. I use a 6×10 pan. Same difference, almost.
  3. Melt butter in large skillet, preferably cast-iron.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in sugar.
  5. Quickly add eggs and beat until well blended.
  6. Combine buttermilk and baking soda. Stir into mixture in pan.
  7. Stir in the mix of dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, and salt) until well-blended and few lumps remain.
  8. Pour batter into the greased pan.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. We prefer to overcook it a little, to get the beautiful golden edges and caramelization of the sugar/butter.

Venie’s Dumplings and Chicken

April 8th, 2009
by: Blue

This rolled dumpling recipe is from my sons’ incredibly graceful, wordly, and fabulous great-grandmother, Venie. She is among the best examples of women I know whose love for family shows in everything she cooks. She gave me this recipe almost 20 years ago, and I still use it to this day. We love you Venie!  Some dumpling recipes can be a challenge when the stars are not properly aligned.  This one is special - I have truly found this to be the most foolproof dumpling recipe of all. Except for the one time that they failed,  but once in 20 years is not so bad.

Deboned Chicken
Chicken Broth
4-5 Carrots
5-6 stalks celery
Venie’s Dumplings (recipe below)

On chicken and chicken broth:
There are several options for this part of the dish. If you are purchasing chicken broth there are several brands that are far better than others: Pacific and Kitchen Basics. Swansons Certified Organic Chicken broth is also acceptable, but not preferred.

Option 1: If you are cooking on a lazy Saturday, stew a whole chicken in the traditional method until it is done. Strain the broth, debone the chicken.  This method will provide you with both the deboned chicken and the chicken broth.

Option 2: If you need a medium-quick approach, buy a roasted chicken from the deli (Costco and Sam’s chickens are fabulous). Debone the chicken, set the chicken meat aside. Put the bones and skin in a soup pot and add 3-4 quarts of good quality chicken broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for about an hour. Strain the broth. Doing the broth with the bones adds a wonderful depth to the broth and it is well worth the time!

Option 3: If you need a super-quick approach, buy the deli roasted chicken and debone (throw away bones and skin), and have 3-4 quarts of good quality chicken broth onhand.  I use this approach when I have a craving for chicken and dumplings on a work night.  Yes, chicken and dumplings on a work night.  How wonderful is that?

At this point, no matter which approach you have used, you have deboned chicken and chicken broth. It is time to make the dumplings.

Venie’s Dumplings:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper or white pepper or combination of both.

Note:  there is no leavening in this recipe, this is not a mistake.  Think of these dumplings as a close relative of a pie crust.  Add salt and pepper to flour and mix. Cut butter into flour mixture with a fork until butter is fully incorporated. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved chicken broth to the flour mixture,  and mix. You will want a relatively sticky dumpling dough, and additional flour or broth can be added if you need to alter the texture to stiffer or softer. Take the dumpling dough and press out onto floured surface with your hands (or roll out) to about 1/4″ thick. Add flour as needed to your hands or the dough to keep it from sticking. Once it is pressed/rolled out let it sit until you are ready to drop them in the broth.  I think the dumplings do well if they have a little “resting” time, after all, they have worked hard so far.  Also note that if I am cooking for 4 or more people I always double the dumpling portion of this recipe.  I *want* leftover chicken and dumplings.

Putting it all together:

This is where all the magic happens. Pour the broth into a large stock pot over high heat to bring to a boil. Peel and slice 4-5 large carrots, and slice 5-6 stalks of celery – add to broth and wait for it to come to a boil. Cut the dumpling dough into 2″x2″ squares (or whatever size you want, this is not rocket science). Once the broth is boiling start adding the dumplings, one or two at a time, until they are all in the pot. The pot can be left uncovered. Lower heat a bit, and simmer for about 30 minutes. The cook time is approximate – this dumpling recipe is not about exact time and “don’t lift the lid!!” – it is about easy, heart warming deliciousness. Season to taste with salt, white and black pepper.  I usually add the deboned chicken to each serving once the dumplings are dished up, but you can also add it while the dumplings are cooking.