Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pipián Verde and Mexican White Rice

I was recently talking about food with my friend Heidi, and when I mentioned that we eat quite a bit of Mexican, she pointed out how poorly represented that is on my blog. I've mentioned the tacos, which are really so simple and easy it seems silly to mention them, except that they taste so good. I also posted a recipe for green poblano rice, which I don't make often enough considering how nice it is. And I have a few recipes tucked away in my head that I go to semi-frequently for Mexican food, namely stuffed poblano chiles (which I'll have to go into another day) and pipián verde con pollo.

Pipián verde, also known as mole verde, is a creamy, bright sauce that gets the base of its flavor from ground, toasted pumpkin seeds. You can often buy pumpkin seeds near the produce section (at least in my grocery store) already toasted, which is very handy and makes for a quick dinner when paired with a quality carton of chicken stock from the store and a good rotisserie chicken (DON'T assume your quality store has a delicious chicken...I've made this mistake!), but I prefer the flavor of home-toasted pumpkin seeds, and the process takes about 5-10 minutes total, so it's not a huge effort. Plus, pumpkin seeds are less expensive when they're not toasted. I buy them in my grocery store's bulk section; you can often find them in the Mexican/Latin section of your grocery store or at a Latin market.

One of the reasons I love this meal, other than wanting to eat the delicious sauce by the spoonfuls, is that it's authentic Mexican food. The first time I made it, the flavors tasted so exotic but warming, unfamiliar but pleasing at the same time. I learned about it in one of the several Rick Bayless cookbooks I own and love. Chef Bayless has a style that is very easy to read, and in his cookbooks he speaks fondly of each dish before sharing the recipe, so it makes you really want to try everything he has to offer.

Even when I take the long version to make this, excepting the time it takes to make my own chicken stock, the meal never takes more than 90 minutes to prepare, and probably less. The short version takes about 30 minutes, and doesn't taste substantially different, so feel free to go that route if you prefer.

Well, at least for the pipián. You really need to take the time to make your own stock for the rice. It makes all the difference. Here's how.

Chicken Stock
Buy a whole chicken, sprinkle generously with Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and roast it in the oven. I usually go about 60-90 minutes at 400˚. After removing all the edible chicken, throw all the remaining bones, skin, etc. (no liver) into a stockpot with water to cover. Simmer about 3 hours. I don't even add carrots, onions, herbs, or any extras to the stock unless I'm making a soup-specific stock I want to take extra care with. Strain. Reduce if you have way too much...6 to 8 cups should be about right.

Okay, now that we've cleared that up, let's talk rice. The beauty of this rice is that it just has a few ingredients, and when you have an item with just a few ingredients, it can be really, really good. If each ingredient is treated properly and has an important role in the dish, it's wonderful. Like crème anglaise. Or this rice. The onion is sweet, but the garlic sweeter, and smooth and nutty, complementing the roasted chicken stock and the mellow onion. How often would you expect to receive praise on white rice? Yet guests inevitably tell me how good it is. And it's really so very easy to make. Rice like this is also a nice side dish with anything that requires a good deal of attention in its final stages, since it's low-maintenance. You'll need 5-10 minutes of attention at the beginning to prep and sauté, but then a timer should take care of the rest of the work.

One last note, which I'm hoping will work out well and make me just so terribly excited. I'm going to start adding a link before each recipe that will take you to a read-only file on google docs where you will find a printable version of the recipe I've posted. This will make my life so much easier, since I'm always copying and pasting my own recipes into temporary documents, and some of you have either done the same or hit "Print Selection". In any case, this should be a bonus. I'd prefer to have a pdf available for download from the post, but blogger doesn't have the option to upload files other than pictures.

Print the following recipe from my Google docs page here.

Pipián Verde
adapted from Mexican Kitchen by Rick Bayless

1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2-3 serranos, stemmed
3 cloves garlic
15 large sprigs cilantro
4 Romaine leaves, torn up a bit
2 large radish leaves, torn
4 c. chicken stock
prepared chicken, either sautéed breasts or roast chicken
olive oil
Kosher salt

Set a skillet over medium heat. Once it is quite warm, coat the bottom with about 2 T. olive oil. Add the pumpkin seeds and stir to coat them evenly. Sprinkle in some salt. Cook, stirring or flipping, for about 5 minutes, until most of the seeds have popped and look rounder and toasty. Don't burn them. Remove to a plate to cool slightly.

To a blender, add the onion, serranos, garlic, cilantro, Romaine, radish leaves, and 1 1/2 c. chicken stock. Blend until smooth. Add the toasted pumpkin seeds, saving about 2 T. for garnish, and blend again until smooth, adding an additional 1/2 c. of stock if necessary.

Heat 2 T. oil in a medium-large or large saucepan over medium heat. When it's hot, add the pumpkin seed purée all at once and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 5-10 minutes. Add the remaining stock and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for about 20 minutes. Season with salt, then return it to the blender in about 3 batches, covering the blender loosely with plastic wrap only (to prevent explosions and burns), and purée again. Add to prepared chicken and warm together before serving.

Leftover sauce is great for cheese enchiladas. Warm corn tortillas filled with monterey jack, rolled, sauced, and heated.

To view a printable version of the following recipe, click here.

Mexican White Rice

1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 T. olive oil
2 c. medium-grain rice
3 1/2 c. rich chicken stock
Kosher salt

In a medium-large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or two. Add the rice and cook, stirring about 3 minutes, until some of the kernels are opaque. Add the chicken stock. Season with salt until the broth is pleasantly salty - not too much, but at the upper edge, as it will be salting the rice, too. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to a simmer (I put mine just past the 2 on a scale of 1-10). Set the timer for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, but do not lift the lid yet. Let rest 5 minutes. Remove the lid and turn out into a bowl. Serve.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Baking Bread

In case you're wondering what I've been up to lately (other than recovering from cooking camp), I've been working on breads. Namely sourdoughs and no-knead rustic breads. Here are some pictures. Please note that I've got a long way to go, but I'm pretty happy with my progress.

No-Knead Bread (3-day version)

Polish Rye (Daniel Leader version)
French Sourdough (Daniel Leader)

More Sourdough (all white, as opposed to my usual 20% whole wheat)
Still More Sourdough (best rise)

Chocolate Sourdough (better than you can imagine!)
And lastly, from today, sourdough loaves and baguettes

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jr. Chef Camp/Granola Bars

Last week I took on the crazy task of training 8- to 14-years olds how to really get to work in the kitchen. I called it Jr. Chef Camp, and I had nine students: eight girls and one boy. It was very exciting to plan all this out, quite nerve-racking as the days grew closer, and exhausting but rewarding by the time the week was over. This was our schedule:

Tuesday – Vegetables and Pasta: al dente and brilliant vegetables
Classic Vinaigrette
Pasta Salad

Green Onion Dip
Roasted Vegetables with Penne

Wednesday – Cookies and Bars: properly following recipes
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies
The Best Brownies
Granola Bars (recipe below!)

Thursday – Bread: yeast
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Parker House Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls
tasting: farmhouse rye, French sourdough

Friday – Pie Day!
all-butter pie crust
peach pie
chocolate cream pie

Really, they were very good students. They listened, they measured, they messed, they cleaned, they cooked, and they baked. I didn't have them use any sharp knives or touch the oven, since I'm not an incorporation with liability insurance, but if I did an older class (12 and up) in the future, I'd probably add those elements.

The students really made all of the recipes themselves with little assistance from me other than demonstrating or instructing, with an occasional hand if things needed to be pulled back in. The only big exceptions would be the green onion dip, the roasted vegetables (both were demonstrations only), and the filling for the chocolate cream pie (which I basically made and asked for help on some parts). It was a lot of fun watching them tentatively crack an egg after I told them it needed a big hard smack, except for Jeremy, who had no problem applying force to the egg.

My big dreamy hope for the class was that they would each feel by the end that they could really go home and make these things entirely on their own (or almost entirely, depending on knives and such), and that this would help them feel confidence in themselves. While I love cooking and baking for the opportunity it allows my creativity to come through, I find myself turning to recipes I love or want to try so I can feel accomplished and joy in the work my own two hands can do. Anyhow, I'm getting way too mushy for myself, so I'll move on...

I've been wanting to post this recipe for granola bars for some time, but I obviously haven't had much time for blogging lately (trust's always on my mind!). Mark found it somewhere online, and we altered it, as we're prone to do. He was sick of all the packaged varieties of energy bars, made these, and our entire family loves them.

To view a printable version of this recipe, click here.

Granola Bars
makes 16 bars

1/2 c. almonds, toasted, chopped
1/2 c. craisins
1/2 c. roasted sunflower seeds
2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
2 c. Rice Krispies
1 1/4 t. Kosher salt or 3/4 t. table salt
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. corn syrup (or honey, or a combination of both)
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9” x 13” baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, mix almonds, craisins, sunflower seeds, oats, Rice Krispies, and salt.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, add the remaining ingredients. Microwave on high until everything is melted and can be stirred together, checking every 30 seconds. Stir together, then pour into large mixing bowl. Stir all ingredients well.

Spread mixture into baking pan. With wet hands, press bars firmly until they are as condensed as you can make them.

Bake at 350˚ for 15 minutes. Place sheet pan on a cooling rack. Again, press the bars firmly until they are condensed as much as possible. If you have another clean sheet pan the same size, you can set it on top of the hot bars and press down. Cool completely before cutting. Bars keep well in an airtight container for about a week.