Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Comfort Food

    When I was 5 years old, my family and I spent the summer with Doris Duke in her Hollywood hills estate Falcon Lair. Doris was my mother's closest friend for over 25 years and was the ultimate Aunty Mame to my sister and I. There was a side to her that was definitely dark and troubled, but it was the crazy, fun part of her that I adored. I can still hear my mother's and Doris's infectious laughter wafting in from far off the coast as I clung to the rocks with my father, longing to be with them but too afraid of the depths they swam in. It wouldn't have done me much good, anyway, as their best gossip was always in French.

The memories I have of that hillside mansion were the terraced gardens where I played with my first daddy-long-legs, the rats that had  tunnels all through the hills, and Talba's chile rellenos.Tiny Talba took care of the kitchen and was renowned for her Mexican food. I remember my mother intently watching her every move as she cooked, as Talba spoke not one word of English and we , no Spanish. It was a relationship built on smiles, sign language, and food. I think she spoke eloquently through the latter, introducing us to her culture in Mexico and old old ways that were brand new to us.

I have a faint memory of watching her cook her chiles rellenos but a strong recollection of the crispy crust, melted smooth center, and the firm bite of the chiles. When I order them in restaurants, they never seem to have that voluptuous mouthfeel.  Here is how my family has recreated it for over 40 years.

                                            Talba's Chile Rellenos

vegetable oil, heated to 375 in a large pan

fresh charred and peeled anaheim chiles, or canned whole chiles

about a quarter cup flour

about 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

4 eggs, separated into 2 bowls

a pinch of cream of tartar

Some grated sharp cheddar for sprinkling on top , I like extra sharp, grated thick

   Blot the excess moisture from the chiles and fill the cavities with the Jack cheese. If they don't close perfectly, don't worry, the oozing cheese will crisp deliciously on the outside. Coat them with flour.

With clean beaters, beat the egg whites till stiff, adding the cream of tartar after you get them slightly bubbly.  Leaving your beaters in, now beat the yolks till thick and lemon colored . Carefully fold the yolks into the whites.

When your oil is hot, dip each filled chile into the egg mixture and try to get as much coverage as possible. Don't worry if they aren't perfect. They won't win any beauty contests anyway. Carefully lay the chiles in the oil without crowding. After a few minutes ,check underneath to see if they've gotten a golden brown. If they have, flip them carefully to the other side without taking them all the way out of the oil. You don't want the uncooked egg on top to splash onto the cooked parts of the other chiles.

Drain well on paper towels and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little grated cheddar .

If you don't feel like fussing at all, this just cooked together in a big mess, with the chiles roughly chopped, makes delicious scrambled eggs. Eat with hot buttered tortillas.


  1. Wow, very cool post! I was just reading something about Falcon Lair- Valentino's estate first- right? Too bad it is gone now.

    And Doris Duke-she must have been a very interesting person to know!

  2. While I'm going to pretend to know who that is, okay so not even gonna try- I will say that reminds me of some of Agnes de Mille's writings describing the lavish Hollywood homes way back when. People had actual works of art in their homes, things that are in museums now? Just hangin' out in the hallway. And furniture from 17th century France? Just sittin' there. That still boggles the mind. I would want stuff like that under glass, but that's just me. One tiny earthquake (ever heard of those?) and bu-bye expensive stuff.

    The food looks very good. However it sounds a little complicated and like I would burn myself with hot fat. I say this with all the love in my heart Nana- how 'bout you just make the food, and I just eat it? How's that??? That I can do!

  3. Doris Duke was a pretty interesting person. Only child of the founder of a Tobacco baron I think, and of course, the benefactor of Duke University. When she came into her inheritance, she was one of the richest women in the country.

    I always thought all the money, though it gave her many things, kind of kept her on guard with most people she met, especially men who might be after her money, so her life was somewhat sad, it seems, in some respects.

    However, she had a fabulous collection of Art... her foundations to this day support a lot of good causes.

  4. She was a fascinating person to know, and Doris influenced my life in countless ways. One of my favorite things about her was though she did indeed have priceless art and museum quality furniture in all of her mansions, she had a pack of at least five German Sheperds at each residence. The dogs would follow Doris everywhere and had free reign. You could see the effects of the dogs on most of the sofas- the original shabby chic!

  5. The link to this recipe from the blog's front page needs to be fixed, Ms V: it throws to http://http//nanasunpetitmorceau.blogspot.com/2011/02/comfort-food.html when it should go to http://www.nanasunpetitmorceau.blogspot.com/2011/02/comfort-food.html

    We have a new house & a brand new stove; & i'm giving Teresa a treat