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How exactly did 2013 end so quickly?

The annual “year in review” by WordPress was inspiration enough to reflect back over the past year and all of the blog posts I didn’t do. Kind of an easy reflection when you consider all the times I thought of posting, but something else was always more important. So goes life.

Image2013 was a year like many, filled with both good and bad. The highlight of the good was most certainly my wedding – tying the knot (twice) – both legally in Washington State – and locally here at home for family and friends. After 15 happy years of cooking together, making a lifetime of it seemed like a safe conclusion to make. The bad (which no one ever wants to highlight) would be cancer diagnosis of a dear friend, a number of injuries to this aging body, and far too many meals of frozen dinners and packaged mixes.

While shopping for groceries just the other day I went to my blog to look up one of my favorite recipes for chicken chili. You see the local wedding of 70, catered by one of our favorite restaurants Smoke Shack, produced enough smoked chicken leftovers (now portioned out in our freezer) that we either needed to have another big party or I needed to do some serious cooking. Alas, said recipe was no where to be found. This is a quick recipe when it comes to chicken leftovers, and perfect for a very cold Wisconsin winter’s NY eve.

So here it is, my one blog posting to bid farewell to 2013 and usher in a year that I hope will mean more meals together at home with my spouse, a lot of great friends, and our most loved families. Happy New Year!

Kickin’ (smoked) Chicken Chili

2# cooked chicken (leftovers) or 2 grilled chicken breasts

5 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade stock)

16 oz. Tomatillo salsa (again, homemade if seasonal)

1 or 2 cans great northern or any white beans (for me – not from scratch)

1 cup chopped onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 peppers of your choice (jalapeño, poblano, dried chili, etc.)

1 green or red pepper (again, your preference)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

Remove meat from chicken carcass and shred into small pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add all chopped peppers and onion. Cook for 10 minutes until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, chopped chicken, tomatillo salsa, spices and sugar. Bring to a boil and then turn town to a medium simmer without a cover. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add one can of beans. If the chili seems to thin, add two. If too thick after two, add a bit more water. Simmer another 10 minutes or so until beans heat up.

Add cilantro to the entire pot, and serve. Image

Posole – The Perfect Summer Food

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How do you plan to stay cool when the weather gets a little hotter this summer? Working in an office environment I’m constantly amused by the variety of comfort or discomfort that’s determined by a simple “tweak” of the thermostat. Sweaters go off and on for some people, while others open the window and let in the 98° air because they are too chilled by the 74° indoor climate.

For me, I’d much rather be warm than cold any day. I like it when the weather so hot you can smell the heat rising from the sidewalk. I’d much prefer a beach vacation to a mountain retreat, although I can appreciate both quite easily. So, I’ve learned over the years to appreciate both warm and spicy food on a hot summer day as the perfect way to stay in my comfort zone.

I made this pork posole a few weeks ago, a dish I had been craving ever since we returned from New Mexico in March. Posole is one of those dishes that is made a number of different ways, so if you had it one way and didn’t like it don’t write it off. I love the rich flavors that come from chipotle chiles and I’ve now discovered a new favorite – guajillo chiles. I could only find them dried here in Wisconsin, and serendipitously the recipe I found uses dried guajillos that you roast in the oven for four minutes, which brings out the amazing flavor of this mild chile. Staying true to much of what I learned last year, I used my own homemade stock (I had beef instead of chicken), but I did rely on canned hominy. But what made this dish truly awesome, besides the guajillos, was the Berkshire pork shoulder my co-op is now selling. Berkshire pork is well worth using if you can find it – is the new red meat and what I imagine pork used to taste like before the flavor, and yes, fat, was bred out of it.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Toasted Guajillo And Pork Posole (adapted from Cooking Light)

3 dried guajillo chiles

1 ½ pounds pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces

½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon canola oil

3 cups homemade stock (chicken or beef)

3 cups water

2 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

3-5 garlic cloves, crushed

1 medium onion, cut into 4 wedges

2 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (1 tablespoon of sauce, 1 tablespoon of chopped chiles)

1 can (29 oz) hominy, rinsed and drained

Cilantro, chopped cabbage, and limes to garnish and add flavor at the end.

Preheat the oven to 400° and place the guajillo chiles on a baking sheet. Bake for about 4-5 minutes until they begin to darken and the fragrance of the chile really opens up. Let them cool and remove both the stems and seeds.

Take the pork you’ve trimmed and cut into smaller pieces, and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Heat up the canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the pork and cook for 5 minutes or until the pieces are browned. Remove the pork from the pan and wipe the drippings from the pan. (Note: I didn’t do this, I just drained the pan and I regret not following the directions, as the posole was a little fatty.)

Return the pork to the pan and add the stock, water, cumin, cloves, garlic, and onion, scraping up any browned bits along the way. Add the guajillo chiles, adobo sauce and chopped chipotle chiles and bring this all to a boil. When it boils, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer and let it simmer for about 2 hours. The pork will be tender enough to pull apart when this has cooked long enough.

Remove the guajillo chiles, pieces of onion and garlic. Take about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of the liquid from the pot and place in a blender. This liquid is hot, so remove the center piece from the cover of the blender lid to allow steam to escape. Place a towl over the opening in case your blender enthusiastically spurts out this hot mixture. Blend until smooth and return this liquid to the pan, stirring it in along with the hominy. Cook for another 10 minutes and it’s ready to serve.

We garnished our posole with cilantro, chopped cabbage, and a squeeze of limejuice at the end. It was fabulous!

Week 50 – Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

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My inspiration in week 50 came in the form of two pretty amazing experiences. The first was the launch of my co-op’s new magazine, appropriately titled GRAZE. The second was a culinary trip to one of the newer Asian supermarkets in town called Pacific Coast. When I put the two amazing experiences together, it resulted in a batch of homemade kimchi, something I’ve never considered making before this.

GRAZE is the inspiration of our fabulous marketing team at Outpost Natural Foods, and the very essence of what my co-op is all about. Subtitled, “around the kitchen table” GRAZE promises to tempt novice and experienced foodies alike with the products, flavors, and recipes of our amazing local artisans. The magazine, only available in our stores, is not supported by any outside advertising so that we could be sure and have the space to talk about the foods and vendors we love. The inspiration I drew upon this week was a recipe we published from local chef Jan Kelly from the restaurant Meritage. We gave Jan a challenge of one ingredient that she needed to design a meal around, and that was kimchi. Jan of course even made the kimchi from scratch, so I figured, why don’t I try?

Making kimchi from scratch meant picking up some traditional flavors to stock up my pantry, which meant a trip to Pacific Coast. Now growing up as a child of the 60’s and 70’s, an Asian-inspired dinner at home usually meant chicken chow mein, often but not always from a can. I’m sure we had an Asian grocery store in town back then, small as it might have been, but my family would have never ventured to see it. I do however remember going to San Francisco for the first time, must have been around 1972, and my parent’s friends took us to Chinatown for dinner. My world of Asian flavors was expanded that night, not only on the streets and in the marketplace, but also at the dinner table. When I first heard about Kimchi a number of years ago what I heard was that it was some kind of pickled concoction of rotting food that was buried in a jar (yes, in the ground) for a year or so until it was ready to… um, eat. But if you search for it online you’ll see that it can be interpreted a number of different ways, everything from pasta sauce to pickles. Everyone has a different take on it and claims theirs is the best. At least that means it can be customized to include whatever your favorite vegetable or flavor. There were at least three very different looking varieties of kimchi offered fresh at Pacific Coast.

My first impression of Pacific Coast was that I had just stepped into the Mecca of Asian convenience foods. During the past 50 weeks of inconvenience I really haven’t been spending much time at all in the center aisles of any store, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to me that foreign convenience foods would be so enticing. Freezer upon freezer was filled with noodles, pot stickers, buns, shumai dumplings, purple yams, mochi ice cream, and an inordinate amount of fish balls. Lisa began filling her shopping basket almost immediately in what appeared to be a convenience inspired food frenzy. Meanwhile I was having fun looking at all of the graphics and marketing ploys used to sell products to people of differentcultures, knowing how easily it is to buy into the kitsch of it all. Yes, we came home with the giant tin of cream crackers (perfectly toasted and flaky like a pie crust), rice crackers, udon noodles, as well as the ingredients needed for my kimchi. Heck, I could easily be eating those convenience foods in just two short weeks from now, if there is any left that is.

So I started the kimchi that afternoon, before leaving town for a week on business. That meant Lisa would finish making the kimchi as the first step was to let the cabbage tossed with salt and sugar, sit overnight in the refrigerator. She said that she modified the recipe somewhat, using two carrots and grating them instead of julienne, and using a little less chili powder not knowing how potent it was going to be. The size of the cabbage will definitely determine the yield, our batch made about a quart.

I’m really looking forward to getting home from this business trip I’m on, so I can try it on a grilled pork or chicken taco, or with fish as chef Jan had prepared. Do share your kimchi experiences with me, I’d really love to learn more about it.

 

Refrigerator Kimchi (from Jan Kelly, chef and owner of Meritage Restaurant)

1 head Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

½ cup sugar plus two tablespoons

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped ginger

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup fish sauce

½ cup Asian chili powder

2 teaspoons salted shrimp (in a jar)

½ cup julienned carrots (optional)

½ cup sliced green onions (optional)

Water if needed

  1. Cut the cabbage in half then cut crosswise into one-inch pieces.
  2. Toss cabbage with salt and two tablespoons sugar and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the bring: combine the garlic, ginger, Asian chili powder, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and ½ cup sugar. The consistency will be like creamy dressing. If it’s too thick, add a little water.
  4. Add the carrots and green onions to the brine if using.
  5. Drain any water off the cabbage and add it to the brine. Make sure and coat it really well.
  6. Cover and/or store in jars in your refrigerator. Let it sit for at least 24 hours before using. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor, so keep trying it until you find the flavor that you like.

We used less hot pepper and it was still plenty zesty. We also cut back on the soy sauce and fish sauce because both are quite salty. That’s the beauty of kimchi, it’s infinitely customizable to your taste!

 

Weeks 48 & 49 – From Blur To Bliss

At this point week 48 is a blur. When you’re in a job where you can’t pass your work on to anyone else, preparing to take a vacation means you will really need it when the week is over. And so we move on to week 49.

From my experience a vacation in the southwest, specifically the mountains of New Mexico, is a total sensory overload. From the heat and flavor of New Mexican red chilies to the sweet smoky of the green, the clear blue sky in the daytime to the star-studded sky of the evening, the unmistakable aroma of the piñon fires to the short-term effects of the altitude – my senses were definitely on overload.

We began our adventure in Santa Fe at the local farmer’s market, with the purchase of red chili powder, fresh goat cheese with green chili, German butter potatoes, farm fresh eggs, a giant bunch of rainbow chard and multi-grain bread. I was having a blast. My last visit to a farmer’s market was this past summer when my biggest concern was how many fresh tomatoes could I buy in order to get me through the winter. But this time it was about the food and more importantly the food already made by others. My vacation rules allow for the convenience food already prepared by someone other than myself, so I pretty much had to contain myself from purchasing every roll, cookie or bread in sight. The market in Santa Fe was one of the better ones I’ve been to – very well organized, a great variety of options, and to carry on with my theme – total sensory overload (which believe me was a really good thing).

This vacation was yet another art retreat unlike any other I’ve taken or written about. The ten of us, all women (mostly retired) stayed in the Taos home of a local artist whose colorful artwork filled the walls of most every room, and whose sense of style created an atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. It was the perfect setting for creativity, in both art and food and as one of the designated cooks for the week I saw the opportunity to let my food love shine using the foods I purchased from the market. Leading with the two pounds of granola I baked before the trip (which our instructor joyfully claimed as her prize), I decided I would bake us some bread.

From my year’s experience so far I’ve learned enough about baking to know that things like heat, humidity, or even altitude can have a serious impact on the results. With iPad in hand, Lisa researched any potential precautions I should take in baking bread in the thin and dry air at 7,000 feet. Breads rise quickly at high altitude and the dough needs to be adjusted for moisture. Yes indeed, my English muffin bread that typically takes sixty minutes to rise took only 30 minutes to get to a stage of puffiness that kinda’ scared me a bit. The dough was beautiful and it filled the loaf pan looking like a professional had their hand at forming it. Ha – was I going to impress everyone with this bread! My next challenge was adjusting the baking time, not only for the difference in altitude but because I was using a convection oven. Okay, that meant I should lower the heat by twenty-five degrees and shorten the amount of baking time. Piece of cake… er bread. If I thought this bread looked beautiful before it went into the oven it looked even more amazing coming out of the oven. I couldn’t figure out what was the big deal about altitude adjustment? I was totally for this high altitude baking.

Well as you may have guessed that feeling of amazement and success of was pretty short-lived. The next morning I put on the pots of coffee and started to slice into my perfect loaf, setting up my cinnamon raisin “toast bar” for breakfast. The first slice was beautiful although not quite the usual texture. The second slice was equally as enticing to the on-lookers now forming over my shoulder and I couldn’t have been more proud of the treat I was getting ready for them. Onto the third slice, and the fourth which started to be a bit more crumbly with a slight hole in the middle. Well take a look at the photo because it wasn’t just a slight hole that had formed, it was a giant cavern right through the center of the bread. Needless to say we got a laugh out of it and toasted each slice in several pieces. Ah, my little lesson on baking in high altitude.

One meal that did go well was one I made using the fresh rainbow chard and potatoes from the farmer’s market. Fortunately for me I had convenience foods on hand, my first encounter with canned beans and a carton of chicken broth since last April. I served the beans and chard directly over the steamed German butter potatoes for a quick, simple, and delicious meal.

And what would vacation be without souvenirs? Many of mine, were of course, food related from sun-dried red chilies to smoky chitpotles. I plan on recreating the flavors of New Mexico at home, but I might wait until using canned beans are ‘legal’ after the year is through!

 

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

1 large bunch (about one pound) red chard or rainbow chard, rinsed well

½ cup shallots, sliced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup white wine

¼ to ½ cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 can (15 ounces) white beans, great northern, navy, or cannelinni (drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove a good portion of the stems from the chard, reserving as much as you might enjoy in the dish. (The reason you’re removing them is that they cook slower than the leafy green part, so they need to be cooked separately.)

Once the stems are removed, roughly chop the leafy green portion of the chard and set aside. Now dice up some of the stems, along with the shallots and garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, and add the shallots and diced chard stems. Sauté the mixture until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 8-10 minutes. The chard stems should begin to soften at this point. Add the minced garlic and stir for about one minute to release the flavor.

Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze it of any browning from the vegetables, and slowly add your chard greens allowing each addition to cook down a bit before adding more greens to the pan. Cook the greens stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Now add the white beans to the mixture, along with the chicken or vegetable stock. Cover the pan and let simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes, allowing a good portion of the liquid to absorb into the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

This can be served as either a main dish or a side dish. Serves 4.

 

Week 28 – Dia de los Muertos Dinner

The Day of the Dead is a holiday that will be celebrated by many people both today and tomorrow (November 1 and 2), whether they are of Mexican heritage or not. The holiday, which focuses on the gatherings of he three “F’s” – family, friends, and food – is of honor and remembrance of those who have passed on before us. The traditions include building private altars (ofrenda) to honor the deceased using sugar skulls, flowers, photos, memorabilia, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed. In Spain and Mexico there are festivals and parades, which often start at the gravesite to lead the spirits back to the home to party, guiding their way by spreading flower petals along the way.

My first memory of this celebration was years ago when my friend Avie had a party to gather us together to remember a mutual friend who had recently passed away. What I had expected to be a mournful gathering turned out to be a celebration of our friend’s life, with the clear intent to not lose our any of our fond memories of him. This year we had our annual Dia de los Muertos celebration on October 31, but all of the food prep happened in week 28.

Lisa built the ofrenda in memory of her Mom, Peggy who passed away just last October, and her Dad, Teddy who died in 1994. Peggy loved to cook – I guess that’s where Lisa gets her culinary passion from – and she was also never too old to try new foods. We introduced her to her first Indian meal when she was 80 years old, about five years ago. She really loved it when we would bring her fresh fruit from Outpost, or bake something tasty that she had never tried before. Even at 85 she was still cooking for herself and her friends in the senior retirement home where she lived. The day she passed away Lisa, her sisters and I went to her Mom’s apartment to begin to deal with the details of her death, right after leaving the hospital. It was also lunchtime, so we opened the refrigerator to see if we could pull something together from its contents. There in a Tupperware container was a macaroni salad, likely made by Peggy just a few days before she had her stroke, three days before she died. We all saw it as a sign, that she didn’t want us to miss lunch just because of her. That macaroni salad will forever be in my memory as one of the most special meals I’ve eaten.

To cook for our Dia de los Muertos celebration, I was finally going to have to come to terms with the fact I needed to make corn tortillas. Remember I got the tortilla press for my birthday back in September? What kept me from trying corn totilla were all the horror stories from others – primarily the sticky dough that was very hard to handle. Even recipes I was reading talked about the importance of getting the dough just right – not too dry, not too sticky. Then along came Rick Bayless, not literally, but from his tortilla recipe, where his words of wisdom gave me the encouragement to set my hand at making tortillas. He described the dough as “looking and feeling just like cookie dough.” Since I’ve been doing a lot of baking the past six months, I now understand the importance of dough texture, and how getting it right really makes a difference in the end product. I knew I could get this dough right, and right I got it on the very first try. I used my baker’s scale to weigh out the dough pieces so I would get uniform tortillas (and get 16 pieces total). I was really proud of the end result, and my dinner guests were totally impressed with the spread we put out for them: pork carnitas, tomatillo chicken, corn and flour tortillas, corn salad with roasted poblano pepper and zucchini, drunken beans (made with beer, bacon and salsa), homemade pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa and guacamole. Oh yeah, and Lisa made some Mexican chocolate cupcakes with cinnamon butter cream frosting for dessert.

This recipe came about when I realized the day before, that I didn’t buy enough pork to serve eight hungry dinner guests. I still had some tomatillos left from the last garden harvest, and I had already purchased chicken to have on hand for some other meals this week. Little did I realize what a hit this recipe was going to be that night. I can’t wait for the leftovers!

 

 

 

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos*

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 pound fresh tomatillos

3 cloves of garlic

1 jalapeno pepper, roasted

¼ cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons light sour cream

1 tablespoon lime juice

Salt

Start by roasting the tomatillos, garlic and jalapeno pepper. Slice the jalapeno in half and remove the seeds. Put the pepper and tomatillos on a large baking sheet and place them under your broiler, on the highest level you can get your oven rack. As the tomatillos begin to roast and burst open, turn them over until both sides are blistering. In my oven this took about 10-12 minutes.

To make a sauce, put your roasted tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno pepper, cilantro and limejuice into a food processor and process until smooth.

Heat your oven to 325°. Salt and pepper both sides of all of your chicken parts. Using a large sauté pan on your stovetop, heat up the olive oil (don’t let it smoke) and brown the chicken, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the sauté pan and place into a roasting pan. Now take the tomatillo sauce and use it to deglaze your sauté pan, scraping up any of the brown bits of chicken and oil. Pour the tomatillo sauce over the chicken, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. This method will poach the chicken quite nicely.

When the chicken is done, take each piece and scrap off most of the tomatillo sauce. Using two forks, shred the chicken pieces by pulling away at the meat in the direction of the grain of the meat. When you have shredded all of the chicken, take the remaining tomatillo sauce and add the sour cream to it, stirring it in until well blended. Now add the sauce back to the chicken, stir until well combined, and it’s ready to serve in some homemade tortillas with fresh salsa. Ole!

*Adapted from the original recipe, Tomatillo Chicken, from the Rick Bayless book – “Rick & Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures”

I couldn’t resist adding this recipe too. It’s been an old standby for many years (from the 1998 Best of Gourmet Collection.) Mine was made with fresh pico de gallo, which made it even better.

Frijoles Borrachos (Drunken Beans)

1 pound dried pinto beans

1 large white onion

2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil

2 fresh epazote sprigs (epazote is a pungent Mexican herb)

1 teaspoon salt

6 slices of bacon

2 cups fresh tomato salsa (pico de gallo)

¾ cup beer

Soak beans in cold water, stored in your refrigerator, for 1 day.

Drain beans and halve the onion. In a 5-quart kettle, simmer beans, onion, lard or oil, and epazote in enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Simmer until beans are almost tender, 45 – 90 minutes depending on your beans. Add salt and simmer until tender, another 15 minutes more. Drain all through a colander.

Chop the bacon and in a large heavy skillet cook it over moderate heat, stirring until browned. Add the beans, fresh salsa, beer and salt to taste and cook, stirring until most of the liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes).