Blog Archive

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Chile Ancho and Honey-Baked Brie with Fresh Figs and Pumpkin Seeds

Chile Ancho and Honey-Baked Brie with Fresh Figs and Pumpkin Seeds
by Victoria Challancin

My apologies to all my readers who have emailed me after a long absence from my blog to ask if all is well.  All is well and I appreciate your concern.  I have simply been on a break from basically all but the basics on the internet.  Now I have returned!  But I do thank you.  It is always nice to know you are missed!

Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, was simple this year.  Traditional, yet simple.  When I searched for something different to prepare as an appetizer for pre-dinner drinks for a mainly Mexican and a Swedish group of friends and family, I found a couple of recipes for a baked brie that particularly appealed.  I read several  of them and then combined them into something that worked for me (see here for the original recipe of the main recipe I used).  The results?  A fantastic appetizer that my son said he could just eat with a spoon and forget the rest of the meal.

I served this at a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner, but it would work beautifully at Christmas--or any time of year when fresh figs can be found!  Simple, fast, delicious--what more do we busy cooks need?

A cross-hatched brie set into a baking dish

For those of you who don't know dried chile ancho, you are in for a treat.  Ancho chiles are simply poblano chiles that have ripened and then dried.  They are a mild chile with a deep, rich flavor, which has hints of date and dried-tomato sweetness.  Personally, I consider this chile, in both its fresh and dried forms, to be a national treasure of Mexico!  Ground chile ancho powder is available in Mexican groceries, but failing that, simply toast a dried ancho chile and then grind it in a spice grinder.  Look for unbroken, pliable chiles of a deep red mahogany color.

The brie is covered with an ancho-chile infused honey, topped with fig halves, and sprinkled with fresh thyme leaves and black pepper
In the oven

Still in the oven after baking
The final dish
Recipe:  Chile Ancho and Honey-Baked Brie with Fresh Figs and Pumpkin Seeds
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin, inspired by this)

1 wheel of Brie (I used a 12-oz piece)
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoons of ground chile ancho
6 to 8 fresh figs, cut in half
Several sprigs of thyme, leaves only
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Slightly score the brie in a crosshatch patter, without cutting too deeply (1/2 inch is sufficient--or less).  Place in a baking dish and set aside.

Heat the honey in a small saucepan.  Add the ground chile ancho, stirring to combine.

Pour the honey over the cheese, separating the scored areas with the tip of a blunt knife so that the honey can penetrate.

Scatter the fig halves over the cheese.  Sprinkle with thyme leaves and a few grinds of black pepper.

Top with aluminum foil, sealing the edges.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet.  Add pumpkin seeds and cook until seeds begin to pop, about 2 to 3 minutes.

To serve, scatter the pumpkin seeds on top of the hot brie.  Serve with crostini or crackers of choice.

Note:  I had intended to take this out of the oven while the cheese still held its round shape.  Other parts of the dinner got in my way and I accidentally allowed it to completely melt.  I don't think anyone noticed!

Parting Shot:  Moroccan Horn Candlesticks

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Final Ode to Summer: Yellow Pepper and Corn Salad with Turmeric Dressing

A Final Ode to Summer:  Dressing

A Final Ode to Summer:  Yellow Pepper and Corn Salad with Turmeric Dressing

by Victoria Challancin

In my desire to post something before leaving for a month in Morocco, I found myself tossing around two ideas:  poetry and hyperbole.  The poetry aspect stems from my earlier academic days spent in the study of literature.  My life has changed over time, of course, but those leanings are still with me, if now translated into my love of food.  So forgive me if I now write about food as if it were some piece of artistic, creative, and possibly verbal tribute and proof as to the wonder of our world.

Where does hyperbole enter the picture?  Why, from the internet, of course.  The internet, which is practically synonymous with hyperbole.  Take, for instance, the exaggerated claims of so many recipes presented to us daily online:  "the best and only recipe for chocolate cake,"  "the only recipe you will ever need for crab cakes," "a life-changing recipe for applesauce?"  Who can resist a mere click to see what is on offer?

So now I give you a double dose of poetry, in the form of my final culinary ode to the last days of summer produce, and hyperbole by offering you a recipe for what is simply one of the best dishes I have tasted and made in years.  It truly is that good.  No exaggeration needed.

One friend, who particularly loves this recipe for a roasted yellow bell pepper and corn salad tells me she eats it alone, on sandwiches, on pasta...with just about everything she can find in her kitchen. Although I used powdered turmeric for this recipe, another friend who equally appreciates this dish, tells me it is even better when fresh turmeric is used.  Either way, I think you will love this.

Yellow Pepper and Corn Salad with Turmeric Dressing

Cook's Notes:  I had intended to add watercress to this salad, but in the rush of getting everything prepared in a timely way in a cooking class, I simply forgot it.  But as the original recipe stipulates, endive, frisée, or, I would think, any green of choice would be a lovely addition.  Also, if you have fresh turmeric, by all means, use it!  Just think of the health benefits!

Yellow Pepper and Corn Salad with Turmeric Dressing

(Recipe from Bon Appétit, September 2016)

Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 4 servings


1 jalapeño, seeds removed, chopped

1 4-inch piece turmeric, peeled, chopped, or ¾ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon finely grated lime zest
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt

Salad and Assembly:

3 ears of corn, husked
2 yellow bell peppers
4 ounces Sun Gold or cherry tomatoes
2 endive, leaves separated, halved if large, or 1 large head of frisée, torn into bite-size pieces
2 cups dandelion greens or arugula
Kosher salt


Pulse jalapeño, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cilantro, oil, lime zest, and lime juice in a food processor until smooth with a few flecks of cilantro. Transfer to a small bowl; season with salt.

Salad and Assembly:

Prepare a grill for high heat. Grill corn, turning occasionally, until charred and cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Let cool; cut kernels off cobs and place in a large bowl. (Or, cut kernels from cobs and char in a dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high, 8–10 minutes.)

Heat broiler. Broil peppers on a rimmed baking sheet, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and nearly cooked through, 12–18 minutes. Let cool; cut into 1" strips, retaining as much charred skin as possible; add to corn.

Soon, I promise to give you the recipe for this beauty, which is, of course, a sort of hands-on free verse poem in the form of a vegetable tart, if you will, intended to laud the beginning of a new season and the glories of fall produce.

Parting Shot:  Lotus in the Pond of a Friend's Garden in Tepoztlán, Mexico

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Something New Under the Sun? Jícama Fries!

Something New Under the Sun?  Jícama Fries!...And Two Dipping Sauces
  by Victoria Challancin

From the likes of the Stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Old Testament of the Bible, we have come to know and appreciate the words "There is nothing new under the sun."  And nowhere is it as true as in the culinary world, it seems.  X number of ingredients, countless ways to prepare them...but what is ever really and truly "new?"  

I thought I had rendered every possible vegetable into some sort of French Fry or Chip Wannabe.  Sweet potatoes, eggplant, carrot, yucca, and yes, even cactus (if you haven't made these yet, check out my recipe here for Baked Nopal Cactus Fries).  And now, I proudly offer you a new one that you may not have thought of yet:  Jícama Fries!  Nihil sub sole novum, indeed! 

A Wee Bit About Jícama

When you think about it, of course jícama should make a great "fry."  Vaguely sweet and very starchy, Mexico's favorite edible tuberous root, the jícama (often called Mexican yam bean or Mexican turnip), is a likely candidate for a faux fry.  The Pachyrhizus erosus, whose cultivation was spread by the Spaniards via the Philippines, and from there to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, is usually eaten raw.  In Mexico it is a favorite snack when sprinkled with lime juice and powdered chile and in Asia with rice vinegar and salt.  Of course, it can also be cooked.  It pairs well with both fruit and vegetables, and often appears in soups and stir fries (it is a terrific substitute for water chestnut, which I can't find here in Mexico where I live).  

Jícama, which is high in carbohydrates in the form of dietary fiber, is composed of 86–90% water and is a good source of both potassium and Vitamin C.  

Does it work as an acceptable and desirable "fry?"  You bet.  Par-boiling it a bit before tossing it with oil and herbs and spices takes away just enough of its natural crunchiness to make it an almost perfect choice. Below is the recipe I came up with after reading several online.  I found I didn't like the idea of powdered garlic, which most recipes called for, so I grated a little fresh instead.  Ditto for powdered onion. And since I was serving these with two different dipping sauces, I skipped sprinkling them with parsley for fear of gilding the lily a bit unnecessarily.

Cook's Notes:  I used coconut oil, which worked splendidly.  Olive oil would be nice as well, perhaps paired with smoked Spanish paprika.

                       Recipe:  Baked Jicama Fries

Serves 6

Note:  Seasonings are optional.  Use what appeals to you.

1 medium jicama
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cumin or coriander seeds (or both)
½ teaspoon dried oregano or mixed dried herbs
1/2 teaspoon grated garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon grated onion (or 1/4 teaspoon onion powder)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Peel jicama and cut into skinny fries. Bring water to boil in medium saucepan on medium heat, add jicama and cook for 8 minutes until jicama is a bit less crunchy. Drain water using a colander, transfer jicama to a large bowl and toss with olive or coconut oil, lime juice, and remaining herbs and spices. Place in a single layer on a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy, turning halfway.  To serve:  place on a serving platter with sauce on the side.  Sprinkle with minced parsley

Recipe:  A Quick Romesco Sauce
Cook's Note:  Romesco is one of my favorite sauces.  Truly.  And I normally take the time to make a killer version I developed years ago for a class on Spanish Tapas.  But here I chose to make an easy almost "cheat's" version which I found here, and it worked fine!

1 15-oz jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
2/3 cup blanched almonds, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
2 large cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Check and adjust seasoning.

 Cook's Notes:  a bit of ground chile wouldn't go amiss in this.  
Recipe:  Cilantro-Garlic-Lime Greek Yogurt Dipping Sauce
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice and zest of ½ lime
Kosher salt to taste

Mix ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

An artichoke gone to flower.  Made me happy.

Parting Shot:  Fergus is Really a Ruby!

OK.  I now have to admit it.  I am an idiot.  Or at least a wee bit confused.  At my age you would think I might be able to tell the sex of an animal, but clearly not.  It turns out that Fergus is a girl!  Ruby!  Growing, happy, well-adjusted, and plays with Roscoe and Molly at all hours.  Good for everyone, including the humans.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende,