All of my kitchen appliances, including the stove from the dismantled island, are sitting on the back patio as two workers go about putting in a new kitchen floor in our 100-year-old house. Forty-two years ago, my mother-in-law Dorothy and I spent days on our knees scraping off linoleum and the black gunk beneath to reveal the reddish fir floor underneath. But that has begun to splinter, and its time is up.
Unable to cook and photograph something yummy for today’s column, I’m going to talk about my re-released The New Southwest Cookbook and what adventurous home cooks can learn from the talented chefs from all over the Southwest who contributed recipes to the book.
In the early 1990s, professional chefs began to look at our traditional Southwestern ingredients and come up with new and delicious ways to combine them. The one element that seems to characterize the best of the recipes is a willingness to go for bold flavors enhanced by chiles, citrus and herbs. Not just a squirt or a sprinkle, but lots. Even if you don’t have time to go all out on a recipe, using flavorings generously can elevate a weeknight recipe.
I took the Tequila Braised Country-style ribs to a recently widowed neighbor who loved them. Rub the ribs with brown sugar, 5-spice, and lots of garlic and marinate overnight. Then bake in a sauce of caramelized onions, garlic, tequila, orange juice, tomatoes, and chipotle. The recipe came from a chef in Albuquerque.
Another winner is roasted poblano chiles stuffed with a mixture of goat and cream cheese, dried cranberries, corn kernels, mint, and basil. The recipe originated at the Hilton in Santa Fe.
My favorite recipe in the book and the one I’ve made for company so often that the page is spattered in Chicken with Citrus, Prickly Pear and Chipotle. It was invented by Sue Scheff, a popular Tucson caterer. It involves marinating chicken thighs in a citrus chile mixture, then coating them in mustard and herbs before roasting. They are topped with a prickly pear-chipotle-orange sauce. It is dreamy with flavors that explode in your mouth (in a good way.). For a company dinner it is a wow entree that isn’t expensive.
Another favorite is Green Chile Macaroni from Roaring Fork in Scottsdale. It’s a more complex take on the dish with added vegetables and pureed poblano chiles. It goes well beside roasted salmon or grilled steak or burgers.
These recipes do not require complicated techniques and have few exotic ingredients. Those ingredients not available outside the Southwest, such as prickly pear syrup, can be easily found on-line. The prime factor that leads to their deliciousness is the creativity of the chef who invented them.
If you are an adventurous cook, you can possibly follow the ideas and come up with something fabulous. Or if you like to follow a recipe, at least the first time, you can order The New Southwest Cookbook directly from the publisher, Rio Nuevo, or from your independent bookstore, or Amazon or Barnes & Nobel.