Saturday, March 14, 2009

High Altitude Chile Relleno

Cooking at high altitudes requires a lot of changes from regular elevation cooking. "Why are you talking about high altitude? Aren't you in Chicago?" you might be asking. Well, sometimes, some of us take vacations and, on some of those occasions we choose to go skiing, and on some of THOSE occasions, we go to Copper Mountain, Colorado (elevation: 9712 feet)!

At high altitudes pasta takes longer to cook (since water boils at a much lower temperature) and food can easily get dehydrated (since the air is drier), just to name a few issues. Luckily for us, there's a book out there, written by high altitude cooking veterans, loaded with delicious recipes which circumvent the various pitfalls! We chose to make their Chile Relleno casserole. Casseroles are easy in high altitudes since both the temperatures (oven temperatures) and the moisture levels can be easily controlled.

Okay, on to the ingredients:

20 ounces worth of whole green chiles (we used canned whole chiles since we're not in New Mexico!)
about a pound of ground beef (or bison)
3/4 lbs of grated sharp cheddar (one could use less, in fact it's probably a good idea for the arteries)
3/4 lbs of grated Monterey Jack (again, 1/2 lbs or so would be more than sufficient)
4 eggs, separated, beat the whites until stiff
about 400 ml evaporated milk
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups green chile salsa

On to the cooking steps:

First, butter a large oven pan. Brown the meat and spread into the oven pan as the first (of many) casserole layer. Next, making sure that the green chiles are split (that is, butterflied open) and de-seeded, create a layer of them on top of the meat, like so:

Add a layer of the grated cheddar cheese and another layer of the remaining green chiles, followed by a layer of the grated Jack cheese.

Next, mix the egg yolks, evaporated milk, flour, salt and pepper in a bowl. Fold in the beaten egg whites (beaten with a classy manual hand mixer):

and pour the mixture over the existing casserole layers. Finally, pour on the green salsa and we're ready for the oven:

At our altitude, the dish required about 50 minutes at 350 F. The casserole is ready when the center is somewhat set.

Enjoy this hearty dish accompanied by a salad, refried beans and some tortilla chips!

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