Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tales from the Market Part 3: Bison Quesadillas

My last adventure with food from the Rice Farmer's Market yielded some very tasty results.  This time around I was able to get a different set of ingredients to play with.  What I got was a deliciously pungent truffle cheddar from Brazos Valley Cheese, a creamy, rich and slightly smokey chipotle goat cheese from Blue Heron Farms, a nice flavorful cut of bison tenderloin from Katerra Exotics and some tasty old fashioned nixtamal tortillas from Nixtamal Tortillas & Sopes.  I guess its not much of leap when I tell you that I decided to make some quesadillas with this set of ingredients.  The only thing I added was some fire roasted red peppers for flavor and color.

To review, here are the ingredients that I used to make my quesadillas:

10-12 oz of bison tenderloin

3 oz of truffle cheddar

4 oz of chipotle goat cheese

two or three roasted red peppers

8 nixtamal tortillas
I should also note that I used a cast iron comal to make the quesadillas.  If you don't have a comal, a cast iron skillet will do.  If you don't have cast iron cookware then simply any skillet or fry pan will work.

Like any good piece of cast iron cookware this comal has been in the family for generations. This one belonged to my grandmother.
The first step in making the quesadillas was to get the bison ready. When working with bison there are a few things to keep in mind.  First and foremost, just because it looks like beef, that does not mean you can treat it like beef.  Bison meat is very very lean and will not marble like beef does.  What this means for you is that bison should never be cooked to anything more than medium.  If it is cooked any more than that it will become tough and chewy.  Next, season simply. You want to enjoy the flavor of the bison itself so don't go crazy with rubs or other seasonings.  I used plain old salt and pepper. With that out of the way I can get into the procedural stuff.  I let my comal get nice and hot. You know it is ready when you drip water on it and the water sizzles.  With my comal nice and hot, I began to sear my meat.

This will add flavor and color to your meat as well as cook it.
While searing the meat it is important to keep turning it so you sear all sides.  I had to turn my meat several times.

This also help assure that your meat does not burn before it is cooked all the way.
I pulled my meat when the internal temperature was a little over 125 degrees.  This is considered rare.  I did this because I did not want my meat to overcook, especially if it was going to be put inside a hot quesadilla that could potentially heat and cook it some more.

Once I pulled the meat off the heat I did two things: I seasoned it and I let it rest.  Seasoning your meat after searing will keep your seasonings (mainly the pepper) from burning.  Allowing your meat to rest means that the juices will redistribute and not immediately run out from your meat when you slice it leaving it dry.

Having the meat rest gave me an opportunity to shred my cheddar and dice up my peppers. There was no really prep needed with the goat cheese since it is already nice and soft.

I only shredded half the of the 6 oz of cheese I got.

That is 3 peppers diced up.
After about ten minutes I finally sliced my bison.  I sliced nice and thin so that it would not be tough to cut through the quesadillas.

Slicing it thin also helps stretch it out.
With my ingredients prepped it was now time to make my quesadillas. The first step was to get the tortillas ready.  Unlike corn tortillas you get from the grocery store, the nixtamal tortillas I got are in a raw state and need some cooking before being used.  I turned down the fire on the comal so it would stay hot, but not as hot as I needed it for searing the meat.  With the comal ready I placed a tortilla on it and allowed it to cook and brown taking about eight to ten minutes.

Let it cook until you can flip it without it breaking.
After flipping it I let the tortilla cook on the other side.  This will help keep the tortilla's structural integrity intact.  The reverse side should take slightly less time, maybe about five to eight minutes.

The cooked tortillas should have a golden hue as well as some darker spots.
Once the first tortilla was ready I took it off the comal and put the second one on. 

Still warm.

 While the second tortilla was cooking I began assembling my quesadilla.  First I added a layer of shredded cheese and some peppers.

The heat from the tortilla will help begin melting the cheese.

Next I added some of my sliced bison as well as some more cheese.

Starting to come together.
By this time the second tortilla was just about ready.

Don't forget to flip this one while assembling the bottom half.
I then placed the fresh tortilla on top of my assembly to complete my quesadilla.  It was then back on the comal with the first tortilla still on the bottom.  At this point all I was really doing was helping the cheese melt and warming up the middle.  I only left it on the comal for about two to three minutes before flipping it over and letting the other side warm up and melt the cheese.  The important thing to realize is that flipping the quesadilla over multiple times is OK as long as the cheese melts and the tortillas don't burn.

MMM, melty.
After it was done I simply cut the quesadilla into quarters to enjoy.

When I made the quesadillas with the chipotle goat cheese I followed the same procedure.  The only difference I noticed is that you don't need as much goat cheese since it is softer and tends to melt faster and spread out more.
First tortilla with layer of cheese and peppers.

Next layer of bison and more cheese.

Bison quesadillas only with goat cheese instead of cheddar.

There you have it. That is how I made my bison quesadillas using fresh tortillas and cheese from the farmer's market.  I do have to note that while both variations of these quesadillas were very delicious I would omit the red peppers from the first variation.  Between the strong flavors of the truffle cheese and the bison the peppers were kind of lost.  However they played well with the goat cheese.  If you can't afford or get bison you could very well make these quesadillas with beef, specifically fajitas.  I hope you get a chance to try your hand at these very delicious quesadillas.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tales from the Market Part 2: Swiss Chard, Cremini Mushroom & Pork Empanadas from Rice Farmer's Market

Last week I was invited to the Rice Farmer's Market.  The purpose of this visit to the farmer's market was not just to indulge in some chit chat with vendors.  I was brought along to write about my experience and to show people what could be done with ingredients bought at the farmer's market.  When I arrived I had some preconceived notions of what dish I might concoct.  I thought I was probably going to end up making a delicious salad with all the vegetables I was going to get.  But as I went along and started looking at all the different ingredients, I started to tinker in my mind and and come up with a world of possibilities, especially if I allowed myself some ingredients from outside of the market.  What I ultimately ended up deciding to make was a Swiss chard, cremini mushroom and ground pork empanada. The chard, mushrooms and green onions all came from Animal Farm Center and the ground pork from Shiner Pork and Beef.

My goodies from the Farmer's Market

Five buches of Swiss Chard

Two bunches for green onion

About two pounds of cremini mushrooms

Three cloves of garlic

A little over a pound of ground pork
As well as these ingredients I also used two sheets (one package) of puff pastry and about a 1/4 cup of egg beaters for egg wash.

Whisk the egg with about two tablespoons of water for the perfect egg wash.

First I prepared my vegetables.

Chop and wash the chard

Slice the green onion

Slice the mushrooms

Mince the garlic
Next in a large pan I added my ground pork to allow it to start browning.  Normally I would start with a little oil and saute my garlic until it was aromatic.  The pork however, had a good bit of fat, so I decided to let that render out, then add my garlic and let it cook in that fat.  I made sure my heat was not too high as I did not want my meat to burn before browning. I also added just a little salt and pepper to season the pork.  I was taught that when preparing a dish it is always good to season in layers.

Allow your pork to start browning on medium heat and for the fat to render out.

Add your garlic and let it cook in the pork fat.
Next I added my mushrooms and the white parts of the green onion.  The idea is once again to let the mushrooms and onions to cook in the fat of the pork.  I once again added a pinch of seasoning.

Add your mushrooms and whites of the onions.

Stir to make sure everything gets incorporated and cooks evenly.
After I let the mushrooms cook for a while I finally added the chard.  I let the mixture cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the chard could also cook down.

Add your chard and allow it to cook down.

Mixture after stirring.
The last thing I did was to stir in the remainder of my green onions off the heat, taste it and adjust the seasoning.  After I tasting I decided that the mixture did not need any more salt, but a pinch more pepper. Then I let it cool off a bit.

Add remaining green onions and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly
While I was cooking my mixture I made sure to pull out my puff pastry and allowed it to thaw out.

Thaw and stretch out your puff pastry.
While the mixture was cooling off, I stretched out my puff pastry and cut each sheet into six squares.

Tip: add a little flour to the surface you are cutting the pastry on so it does not stick.
Next, take I took a  couple of baking pans and sprayed them with cooking for baking spray.

This makes sure that the empanadas don't stick after baking.
I then lined the squares on the baking pans so I could make my empanadas.  I lined up the squares as evenly as possible.

Not the most even, I know.
Then I spooned about a tablespoon of the mixture into the middle of each square then I brushed the edges with a little egg wash. After that I simply folded the squares in half to form a triangle and pinched the edges shut using a fork.

Spoon about a tablespoon's worth of mixture in the middle of each square.
Fold each square in half and pinch the edges closed with a fork.
After the empanadas were assembled I simply brushed each one with egg wash before going into the oven.

Brush each empanada with egg wash before going in the oven.
Now all I had to do was bake my empanadas at 350 F for about ten minutes until the puff pastry was golden brown and puffed up.  Once they came out of the oven I let them cool down, then arranged them on a platter to look nice.

Bake until golden brown and puffed. Allow to cool and enjoy!
An alternative to using puff pastry is to use pre-made pie dough.  Since pie dough usually comes in circles, it would be a good idea to use a circle cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles.  Simply follow the same procedure as if you were making the empanadas with puff pastry.  The only real difference is that if you are using pie dough you need to poke small holes in the empanadas to allow steam to vent as they cook.

Made with pie dough instead of puff pastry.

My experience with making this dish was that since I was experimenting I did not have all the amounts perfected.  That being said, if you make these empanadas the way that I did be prepared to have plenty of leftover mix.  I had enough to make a dozen empanadas from puff pasty, about twenty from pie crust and still have some left over.  That is not necessarily the worst thing in the world to happen.  I will simply freeze what I have left over and use it again at a later date.  I hope this recipe inspires you to forge your own culinary masterpiece using your local farmer's market!