Saturday, April 26, 2014

Posole {New Mexican Comfort Food}

I have way more recipes to post than I can manage to find time for so this little gem from last fall has just been sitting in iPhoto for months. It is chilly and super windy this afternoon, and we are bundled up inside with the heat back on and contemplating a glass of bourbon in front of the fire this evening. So, although it is really more of a winter recipe, it seems like a good time to post it.

Posole is one of those things that I had never heard of before I moved to New Mexico, and now I crave it. It is a thick stew with hominy, pork and green chile. I like to top it with shredded cabbage, radishes, cilantro and fresh lime juice so it feels like a stew + salad.

This recipe makes a huge amount (16 servings). It is great for a holiday party or a big gathering, but you could always reduce it. It made enough for a week's worth of meals for us plus a couple of containers in the freezer.

I can find frozen posole (hominy) at any grocery store in New Mexico. If you don't see it in your frozen section, I believe you can buy it canned in other parts of the country. If you buy it canned, it won't take as long to cook or nearly as much stock because it will be pre-cooked. This recipe assumes you are starting with uncooked posole so adjust accordingly.

Adapted slightly from here

4 medium onions, divided
7 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil, divided
4 tablespoons ancho chile powder, divided
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican), divided
1 6-to 6 1/2-pound bone-in pork shoulder (Boston butt), cut into 4- to 5-inch pieces, some meat left on bone
1 gallon (4 quarts) chicken stock
4 cups diced roasted New Mexican green chile (you can use canned if needed)
5 large garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 pounds (32 ounces) hominy

For serving:
1/2 head cabbage, thinly shredded
4 limes, each cut into 4 wedges
Thinly sliced green onion
Chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350°F. Thinly slice 2 onions. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions to pot and sauté until onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano; stir to coat. Sprinkle pork with salt and add to pot. Add 5 cups broth. Bring to boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Braise pork until tender enough to shred easily, about 2 hours.

Add hominy and remaining stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until hominy is begins to soften, adding more stock if needed as hominy absorbs liquid, approximately 3 hours. (This could also be done easily in the slow cooker.)

After pork is tender, using slotted spoon, transfer pork to large bowl. Pour juices into another large bowl. Refrigerate separately uncovered until cool. Discard fat from top of chilled juices; reserve juices. Shred pork, discarding excess fat.

Thinly slice remaining 2 onions. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until soft, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder, remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon oregano, diced green chiles, garlic, and cumin; stir 30 seconds. Add pork, reserved juices, hominy and cooking liquid. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend, adding more stock to thin, if desired.

Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cool. Cover and keep chilled. Rewarm before continuing.

Garnish with cabbage, lime wedges, green onion, and cilantro.

Friday, April 25, 2014

April Food Club Menu: Shredded Chicken Tacos and Zingy Slaw

I started a food club with some friends from work. Luckily for me, I work with others who also love food as much as I do. We found ourselves talking about what we ate and what we were planning to eat several times daily so I started a food club. I love clubs.

It's really just an excuse to get out of the office and have lunch together once a month.

We are fairly limited by time and schedules so this month, we had lunch at my house, which is really close to our office. I wanted to make something that I could prep and cook ahead of time. We picked a Mexican theme, and I made shredded chicken tacos with a green chile-tomatillo sauce and a cabbage and red onion slaw with a zingy spicy dressing - two repeat-worthy recipes. My friend Felicia made beef chimichangas (chimiz as she calls them).

April Food Club Menu

Shredded Chicken Tacos with Green Chile-Tomatillo Sauce topped with all the fixings - cheese, lettuce, green onion, sour cream, guacamole and cilantro

Beef Chimiz

Coleslaw with Spicy Green Onion Dressing

Shredded Chicken Tacos with Green Chile-Tomatillo Sauce
From The Way the Cookie Crumbles

2 green chiles, preferably Hatch or Anaheim 
2 medium tomatillos, husks removed, cut in half 
1 small yellow onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled 
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, divided 
4 limes 
2 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in and skin-on) 
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the broiler. Toss the peppers, tomatillos, yellow onion, and garlic lightly with olive oil. Place on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and broil until the vegetables are completely tender and charred on all sides, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes total. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, peel the peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Transfer the vegetables to a food processor or blender with half of the cilantro and ½ teaspoon of salt; process on high speed until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice from about 2 of the limes, season to taste with salt, and set aside. 

While the vegetables broil, heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces skin side-down and cook, without moving, until well browned, about 6 minutes. Flip and brown the second side, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate. Pour off the excess fat and deglaze the Dutch oven with 1 cup of water, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. 

Transfer the vegetable puree to the Dutch oven and stir with the deglazing water to combine. Nestle the chicken pieces into the sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is completely tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from sauce and place on a plate to cool.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the meat to the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick and saucy, then season to taste with salt and pepper if desired.

Serves 4 to 6.

Coleslaw with Spicy Green Onion Dressing
From Bobby Flay found via Smitten Kitchen

I chopped the cabbage, red onions and cilantro and made the dressing two days ahead to accommodate my class schedule. I stored the cabbage and onions in a glass bowl sealed tightly, the cilantro in a tupperware and the dressing separately. I dressed the salad and folded in the cilantro right before serving.

1 cup green onions, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 serrano chiles
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup pure olive oil
1 head purple cabbage, finely shredded 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Blend green onions, vinegar, chiles, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and oil in a blender until emulsified.

Place cabbage and red onions in a bowl, add the dressing and stir until combined. Fold in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

One of the Best Things to Happen to Anyone Anywhere Ever.

Elsa came to live with us seven years ago today.

May 16, 2006
Little Wild Horse Canyon, Utah

Almost four weeks prior, on a sunny Thursday in April, Andrew had driven me the 30 miles south to the Valencia County Animal Shelter where a man brought her to me wrapped up in a towel, quivering with fear and terror in her eyes. He handed her to me as I was finishing up the paperwork.

"We gave her a bath because we knew she would be going home today."

We were so relieved. We had brought with a brace of towels in the back of the Subaru just in case she was still covered in poop like she had been when we first saw her in her cage. I couldn't sign the papers and hold her at the same time so I shoved her into Andrew's arms. She wasn't the only one who was terrified.

For years, I had wanted to get a dog of my own. While living in France, I missed my family dogs even more than the humans. At least I could talk to them on the phone, but the dogs had no idea where I was. I often looked longingly at the little French terriers, roaming the streets of Sisteron with their dirty and matted beards and belly skirts. I wondered if I could snatch one up and keep him with me until it was time to fly back to the U.S. I knew I wouldn't be able to leave behind my dog so I waited, dogless, until the timing was right.

The summer of 2006 I was scheduled to move to Portland, Oregon for an internship working on preserving the historic highway running through the Columbia River Gorge. It was a plan hatched at Thanksgiving as a way to try someplace new together, but I think that was before Andrew realized just how serious I am. After the plan was cracked, I set to finding myself an internship in my field in Portland like it was my job. Andrew took his time and realized that maybe spending a summer in a city wasn't really what he wanted anyway. He decided to go to Arizona and survey fish habitat. So, suddenly, I was going to Portland alone. I didn't know anyone except Andrew's parents who live about 45 minutes away. Andrew was sure I'd be lonely and was probably feeling guilty for backing out of the plan. All spring, he persistently pestered me to get a dog of my own to keep me company. He would have Lola in Arizona. I would have his parents in Oregon, but he knew I would need canine companionship.

When we picked Elsa up on April 20, 2006, I was filled with excitement and nerves. I would learn in later weeks, months, years, Elsa and I are a lot alike. After a week in the shelter and who knows how long prior on the streets, she had abandonment issues. After years of wishing for my own dog and suddenly met with the greatest responsibility of my life, I had commitment issues. We knew we would love each other, but we didn't really know how to yet.

When we drove back to Albuquerque from the shelter, Andrew dropped us both off at my apartment. He had to go to class. I sat down on the floor in the kitchen, and Elsa crawled in my lap and went to sleep. My heart melted. I didn't move for as long as I could stand it, but eventually my legs were numb and I had to go to class too. I coaxed a reluctant Elsa into her brand new kennel. She walked in and even sat down.

"This isn't so bad," I thought.

"I can do this," I thought.

Then I shut the door and latched it. That's when the wailing started. Wailing so loud that one could hear it in the apartment next door and in the parking lot outside. Panic took over my entire body, and I quickly unlatched the door of the kennel... But, I couldn't leave her loose in the house on our first night together. I didn't know what she would do. I didn't know her. I didn't trust her. Two panicked and scared souls alone on the kitchen floor wondering what to do next...

After two weeks of living clandestinely in my little apartment that forbade dogs, we moved to Albuquerque's North Valley with Andrew and Lola into a house with a yard. And almost two weeks after that, we set off in my tan Camry for the Pacific Northwest. Still a little nauseated from her spaying surgery, Elsa puked all over the back seat within the first 200 miles.

Andrew accompanied us on our drive to Portland. We stopped in southern Utah for some hiking. Elsa stuck close to us. She never let me leave her sight. She didn't want to be left behind. We hiked up red rocks and through canyons. When Elsa's feet got too hot, Andrew put her into his backpack with the water bottles. When I slept in in the mornings, Andrew and Elsa would go exploring. They bonded quickly.

I was smitten with Elsa from the beginning. When Andrew took the photo above, I loved her the way anyone who likes animals loves a dog, but it was a love that was censured. I was still so unsure about whether or not I could handle owning my own dog. I never admitted that to Andrew because I knew he would feel bad for pushing me to get her.

I was also a nervous wreck. I was nervous to move to Portland. I was nervous to stay with Andrew's parents who I had only met once before. I was nervous to not know anyone and start a new job. And I was nervous that I couldn't properly care for Elsa.

Little did I know that a few weeks later on the eve of my move out of Andrew's parents' house into an apartment in Portland, she would go missing. She would wander off into the evening where Andrew's childhood dog had been dog knapped a few weeks prior. My heart would sink, panic would once again fill my heart and I would call for her, walking up and down the road. My voice becoming increasingly shaky. Tears filling my eyes.

"Let's get in the car and look for her. She must not be within ear shot," Andrew's mom said to me.

"Ok," I mumbled.

"Elllllllllllll-SA! Ellllllllllll-SA!"

"Wait, what does Dick have in his arms?"

Andrew's dad had found her, frozen in the knee high grasses below their yard. She had wandered out the open front door as we dined on the back patio and apparently panicked when she heard us calling her name. Rather than make her way back to the house, she stood there, still and scared until he found her and carried her home.

"Oh, thank god! I knew that if someone had taken her, they weren't bringing her back," Andrew's mom declared.

I was so relieved, and I realized at that moment I really had fallen in love with Elsa. I didn't want to lose her or no longer have the responsibility of caring for her. She was mine. I was hers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Marriage: A Daily Choice

I was chatting with Andrew last night about the ways that marriage is hard, harder than we had ever expected back when we were dating and got engaged. I think I had my eyes pretty wide open about what getting married would mean, but there are some things that you just can't understand until you do it. There's still a lot to learn, clearly, as we've only been married (almost) five years, but I do feel like we've learned so much during those years.

I mentioned something about marriage being a choice, a choice you make every day. And Andrew made a joke like jeez, I sure hope you don't wake up every day thinking you have to choose to stay married. That's not what I meant. The fact that we don't make that choice every day or every year is one of the comforts of marriage.

Being the kind of partner that it takes to be happily married and have a strong relationship is a choice that we make every day. We choose to act compassionately and lovingly toward each other every day.

When I know Andrew is overwhelmed with work, I choose to do his laundry and make macaroni and cheese for him. When Andrew knows I am feeling stressed, he chooses to deep clean the kitchen and order take out. When we're at the movies, we choose to hold hands. When we're in a fight, we choose to treat each other with respect and remember that above all, we are on the same team. We choose to be gentle with each other. It's often an easy choice and one I can make without contemplating, but sometimes it's not so easy.

This is, of course, not unique to the relationship of marriage. It applies to all of our relationships in life, but marriage is the most intense and all encompassing of my relationships.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Now. {Paying Attention, Slowing Down}

I read something in passing the other day that struck me. Something that made me step outside myself and pay more attention to what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. It was a blog post about something totally different, but it mentioned something about not wistfully focusing on the past because it distracts you from the present.

I love reminiscing. I love looking backward. I also love looking forward. Making big plans. Day dreaming about where I'll travel to, what hikes I'll take this summer, what recipes I'll make, what vegetables I'll grow. I think there's a great place for reminiscing and dreaming in my life, but I have been distracted lately. I'm really feeling the need to focus on the NOW and these moments currently. It's part of what I choose daily.

I hate to admit that I haven't been doing a very good job of this lately. My natural tendency is to always be thinking of the next thing. I like to move fast, but slowing down to pedal speed is part of the whole goal of my life.

I feel ready for a change. Maybe it's the change of seasons. Maybe it's the fresh air blowing through the open windows that have been shut up all winter. It's been too long since I tried something new and pushed myself to pursue.

I'm feeling like I need to refocus on NOW and how this NOW is preparing me for the future I want. Being really conscious of the decisions I'm making now.

Do you ever find yourself losing sight of the now? How do you recenter yourself?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Spring Supper

We have to plan a menu that includes an appetizer and main dish for the practical final of my culinary class. We were given no criteria - just whatever I would want to serve if I had a restaurant - so the options were endless. One of my favorite hobbies is putting together menus for dinner parties so that's how I approached this task. I made a list of about seven themed menus and narrowed it down to the final two. In the end, I picked this Pacific Northwest-themed menu inspired by the meal I ate at Sweet Basil's in Cannon Beach, Oregon last summer

I did a test run for friends this weekend. I timed myself and asked for feedback on the taste and presentation. It was a hit all around. 

This is the first time that I've tried this salmon cake recipe. Chris Kimball is always a trusted source, and he didn't disappoint. I like the bigger chunks of salmon in the cakes and the minimal filler ingredients. You can really taste and appreciate the flavor of the salmon. I plated this dish similar to Sweet Basil's. When I was in Seattle, the crab cakes I ordered almost always came with sauce drizzled over the cakes. I don't like this at all because 1) I usually like way less sauce than the average person and 2) it tends to make the cakes soggy. I like to control how much sauce is in my bite so I like putting it on the side. I served the extra sauces in bowls for people to add more if they wanted it.

Although the exam will not include a dessert component, I felt like it just wouldn't be complete without one so I made the dark chocolate tart that we had at Thanksgiving. I've made this tart a handful of times, and it always knocks my socks off. It is simple to pull together, but it is so rich and decadent. 

Early Spring Supper Chez MeghAndrew

Creamy Beet Dip served with Endive and Fennel

Pacific Salmon Cakes served with Spicy and Lemon Herb Mayos and Mixed Greens with Lemon-Dill Vinaigrette

Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust

Pacific Salmon Cakes 
From Cook's Illustrated, the 2011 version of the recipe, found here

3 tablespoons plus 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 Lemon; half for juice and half for lemon wedges
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
1-1/4 pound skinless Pacific salmon fillet
(If purchasing a skin-on fillet, buy 1-1/3 pounds which will yield what you need after being skinned)
1/2 cup vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons panko, parsley, mayonnaise, juice of half the lemon, scallion, shallot, Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and pinch of cayenne. Stir everything until combined.

Cut salmon fillet into 1″ pieces, and divide into 3 even batches. Pulse each batch in a food processor for just 2-3 pulses. The salmon should be relatively uniformly chopped into 1/4-inch pieces. It is fine if some pieces are bigger than 1/4-inch. It is important to avoid over-processing into a paste. Add each batch to the mixing bowl containing panko/mayo, and repeat with remaining batches. Carefully mix the salmon and panko/mayo mixture until evenly combined.

Carefully form mixture into eight cakes (about 1/3 cup each) and place on a baking sheet. The cakes should be approximately 3" by 1" thick patties.

Put 3/4 cup panko in a pie plate. Gently dip each salmon cake into the panko so that it is lightly coated and return to the baking sheet.

Add 1/2 cup vegetable oil to a 12″ skillet, and pre-heat over medium-high burner for 4 minutes until the oil begins to shimmer. Fry cakes without moving them for 2 minutes, and flip when golden brown. Flip and fry second side for another 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown. Remove to paper-towel lined plate and allow to drain for 1 minute.

Serve with Spicy and Lemon Herb Mayos and mixed green salad. I also made some roasted asparagus, not pictured. Recipes for the mayos are below.

For the salad, I made a lemon vinaigrette. I never measure my vinaigrettes, and I never make more than enough for the salad of the night. I simply pour my ingredients into the bottom of the salad bowl, mix vigorously, taste and adjust seasoning and then add the greens and toss. Easy peasy! For this vinaigrette, I used olive oil, fresh lemon juice, dijon mustard, honey, minced fresh dill, mined shallot, and a pinch of salt and pepper. I think the delicateness of the mixed greens go really well with the salmon.

Spicy Mayo
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

Lemon Herb Mayo
From Cook's Illustrated, found here

1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade 
2-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon 
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 large scallion, white and green parts minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.
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