Friday, February 18, 2011

Posole Rojo Con Pollo

"It’s a dessert, and a floor wax!!!" If you are old enough, you will remember the SNL skit that made this funny. If not, then bear with me.

Posole is treated corn. But it is also a stew, and last night I took my first swing at an authentic simmered Posole stew. And, if I risk injuring my arm by patting my own back, so be it.


One dish meals have always had a pull over me. They can be so simple, and yet so complex and satisfying. Layer after layer of flavor and texture can be added and continue to evolve over time. I think I am also drawn to o them because we did not get many of them when I was growing up – my parents favoring the more traditional, Escoffier balanced plates. Which is a shame, these one pot dishes are endemic to almost every culture and I would have like to try more as a kid from my own background.

But for last night, I adopted the southwest of the United States. Having found some true posole online through ranchogordo(check it out, this guy is really committed to his food mission), I decided to go for a con pollo recipe to start. I am sure my next one will be pork centric (always loving the porcine) but a few posts got me interested in keeping the flavor of the posole front and center and I knew the chicken would play a more supporting character, as opposed to pork that would insist on a staring role.*

As expected, the dish really bought out the earthy and unique flavors and aroma of the treated corn. I had always associated SW cooking with the smells of corn tortilla and tamales, but the essence of corn produced by cooking posole is like those other smells multiplied. You could have closed your eyes and been in Santa Fe.
I also managed (for once) to get the heat factor just right – surprising since I swagged the number of peppers. In the end, this dish was just a total winner/crowd pleaser. It will go into regular rotation and only continue to improve.
* there was agreement that a pork version would add some nice richness/fattiness but that the chicken version had a nice, clean flavor. This is a lean dish.

Posole Rojo Con Pollo
1 3-4lb chicken
2 cups dry posole
1 can Chioptle peppers in adobo
2 mild red dry chilis, soaked, seeded, destemmed and pureed in ¼ cup water.
2 onions
1 TBSP cooking oil
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp Tomato paste
1 tsp oregano
1tsp cumin
1 tsp mild chili powder
2 bay leaves
Diced radish
Green onions
Red onion
Queso blanco
Sour cream/yogurt
Poach whole chicken (30 minutes on boil, then steep for 1 hour). Let cook and pick off all meat, retain the stock.
Soak Posole overnight in water, retain water.
Rough chop onion and sautee in oil in heavy bottom stock pot
Add in tomato paste, garlic, pureed peppers, one diced chipotle and 1 tsp of adobo sauce
Sauté until cooked through
Add in stock from poached chicken, soaked posole and chicken meat
Add enough of the retained posole soaking liquid to cover by 2-3 inches, add in dry spices and bay leaves
Bring just to a boil, and then simmer at the lowest setting, with lid slightly ajar, for 2 hours.
Serve with garnishes and tortillas and beer.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pizza from the Freezer

No, not that kind. No Stouffers or Boboli here. Saturday night, we pulled some pizza dough I had made two months ago and frozen. The dough was as good as brand new, and using frozen dough significantly cut the time from inception to consumption. One hour to warm up the oven and pizza stone and 15 minutes to make and cook. Topped with some homemade pizza sauce (a complex concoction of one can of whole tomatoes with juice, smashed and boiled down with salt and pepper) and some basic toppings (we used mozzarella and goat cheese, some thinly sliced fennel and a tomato).

I am amazed that more people don’t make pizza at home. It is far superior to anything you can buy and take home (with the exception of really good, true wood oven artisanal) and very inexpensive. I think I spent a total of $2.50/pie, if you include all of the costs, like the yeast, veggies.

Knowing that the dough will freeze well is a revelation. When I make it from now on, I will double up the recipe. That will give me enough dough for 3 or 4 small 12 inch pies. Individually wrapped and frozen, they can be pulled out the night before and thawed in the fridge. Bittman says to only freeze for 3 weeks, but they will last 3-4 months easy.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

You Still Have To Eat

Winter with a kid can be tough. Before my adorable son joined us, I could sail through the winter months germ and illness free, but alas, no more. However, even when you catch a cold or a stomach bug, you have to eat. My winter motto is "feed a cold – feed a fever.” And coming from a long line of chicken soup-eating European peasants, the key weapon in my medicine cabinet is real, honest chicken soup. Not for the soul, but for your health and recuperation. Not from a car, box or LORD FORBID a cube.

I am constantly amazed at how few people make their own chicken soup/stock. It is easier to make than eggs, although it does take a bit longer to make – but not that much longer. I can go from nothing to a good bowl of soup in less than 2 hours, with about 15 minutes of actual working time. of course, when you are not sick or when you want to get fancy there are all sorts of ways to dress it up – dumplings are always nice, noodles make a terrific filler, etc but with a good soup and a few veggies, you can be on the mend ASAP.

In the end, this is a must have in your arsenal and, of course, this is a recipe where the quality of your ingredients show off because you use so few and use them in their purest form. When I am really going for a big batch, I will use 4-5 chicken backs, or the collected carcasses and pieces from other chicken dishes than no one should ever throw away, but in the end, a 10 minutes stop at the store can provide you everything you need for a honestly good meal. Oh, and it will make you feel better fast.

Basic Chicken Soup
2 chicken legs, washed
1 2”long thumb of ginger, sliced into coins
1 glove garlic, smashed
1 star anise
6-8 cups of water
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, fine chop
1 piece of celery, fine chop.

• Chop the chicken legs into 2 inch pieces
• Add oil to stock pot and heat, add chicken
• Brown on both sides for 5 minutes (the longer you cook them, the darker your soup will become)
• Add in ginger, garlic, star anise, water, salt and pepper.
• Bring to a boil, then let to simmer almost completely covered for 45-90 minutes depending on how long you want to wait.
• Strain soup and pick chicken meat off bones, add back to soup.
• Bring back to a boil and add carrots and celery
• Simmer 10 minutes and serve.
• Add noodles, make dumplings, and season as you want (I prefer a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Got Posole?

I love when I stumble across someone who is passionate about their food life. One such recently discovery was the owner of Rancho Gordo, a grower and missionary for artisinal-heirloom beans. Steve Sando is on a mission and that mission is beans. His blog and website is worth a look, and his travels and meals are the stuff to inspire envy. Just reading the entries made my mouth water, and within 30 minutes I had placed an order for 4- 1lb bags of beans. The Christmas Lima beans are works of art just to look at, and the Santa Maria Pinquito bean all but complete the ingredients for an up coming summer feast (more on that later - think Tri Tip). The Good Mother Stollard were so gorgeous that that they went into water right away and are slow cooking as we speak. But what really got me excited was the hominy/posole.

Posole is corn, but corn that has been slaked or treated with an alkalai (like Lye). Wikipedia explains that “Soaking the corn in lye kills the seed's germ, which keeps it from sprouting while in storage. In addition to preserving the grain as foodstuff, this process also affords several significant nutritional advantages over untreated maize products. It converts some of the niacin (and possibly other B vitamins) into a form more absorbable by the body, improves the availability of the amino acids, and (at least in the lime-treated variant) supplements the calcium content, balancing maize's comparative excess of phosphorus.”

To me, just the word conjures up an image of a cast iron dutch oven over an open fire bubbling away with aromas of stew filling the air. Something simple, yet sustaining, basic yet enticing.

The product and process dates back to 1200-1500 years before the common era and is a key ingredient in traditional central and native American cooking. Perhaps even more importantly, when cooked with pork for a long time, it makes an awesome dish known as Pozole Roja, which I am dying to cook. I have a few recipes I have been hording, but am open to more and once I find the right one, look for a full post.

In the meantime, I have been wondering why this product and this site has so captured my attention. I think it is a combination of elements. one is just the guys passion. Here is someone who has gotten spun up over a humble item that so many people treat as a commonplace afterthought, yet at the same time is probably as central to how life developed on this continent as anything else. Beans – as in not worth a hill of – are as humble as can be, yet represent a culinary product that is good for you, cheap, and delicious. At the same time, beans are good for you, delicious, nutritious and cheap, yet seems to be something most people won't cook because it takes some time. yes, they have to be soaked. Yes, you have to think about it in the morning or the night before and covered with water. But that takes 2 minutes, and if you put it in a crock pot in the morning, you are done by the time you get home. And, to boot, it adds to the incentive to get home. What is not to like?

Yes, I ordered them from California, so this is not a local product, but it is a product from local growers in California and one of the compromises we have to make in this interconnected world. I am sure that in time, we will be able to find as good a product from local sources or grow it ourselves. In the meantime, I am a convert.


It would be hard to overstate what a major role food and cooking play in my life. For as long as I can remember, cooking and eating good food has been central to my everyday experience. Some of my earliest memories are getting to season the spaghetti sauce in our kitchen at home. It is not uncommon for me to wake up thinking about what we should have for dinner, and I am more than content to spend my expendable income and time cooking a good meal or seeking some new ingredient that I have been longing to cook, and stumbling on a new bean, vegetable, cut of meat or type of seasoning is akin to buying a winning lottery ticket.

As the food revolution continues to swirl, more and more of my daily thoughts have been spent not only thinking about food but thinking about how we think about food in this country. As a born and bred urbanite, I grew up thinking that meat just grew in shrink wrap and Styrofoam plates. The idea that companies injected CO2 into the packages to prevent meat from turning grey never even occurred to me. I was like many oblivious to the effort it took to grow and deliver vegetables to my plate, or milk to my glass. And the connection between how we think about food and what our food culture is doing to us – our bodies, our children and our society (with implications for our health, economy, and our security) is becoming a more common topic of discussion everyday.

So my hope is that this blog (should it succeed where others have failed) will be my muse – where I’ll try to share what I am buying, cooking and thinking as it relates to these subjects. Along the way, with any persistence on my part, Local Munch will hopefully become a kitchen sink of content, from recipes, anecdotes about the kitchen and our community garden plot, places we eat and other food related topics.