Friday, September 04, 2009

Dinner, Day 6: Pozole

Before I write anything, I need to make sure you pronounce this properly. It's a Mexican soup, and it's pronounce "poe - SOE - lay". Now we're talking about the same thing.

So I mentioned last week that I was quite sick. I'm all better now, thanks for asking, but my husband was hit at the beginning of this week with the same knock-your-socks-off cold I had. This was no ordinary humdinger, but rather the kind where you can do nothing but lay in your bed and avoid everything. There was only one thing I could do for him: make pozole.

What?! What about chicken soup with homemade noodles? I'll answer your question, but just because I'm so nice. Back in my single days, anytime a friend got sick, I would make the very best homemade chicken soup and use my grandmother's recipe for homemade noodles. It was delicious at the time, and I especially loved the noodles, but I was burned out on chicken soup before I ever got married. Lucky for me, Mark has never been a chicken noodle soup fan. He does, however, like soups that are aromatic, spicy, and have a good broth.

Pozole is a combination of many of the best flavors Mexico has. You start with a strong stock (though you can cheat, as it gets stronger) then add the flavor of chiles, lots of garlic, pork, hominy, onions, cilantro, cabbage, and lime. I'm convinced that if you only had that garlic, chile-infused broth, you'd be delighted, but everything else puts it over the top. When you're sick, this is the best thing you can eat. It's satisfying and healing. When you're healthy, this is still one of the best things you can eat. It's satisfying, fresh, and packed with vibrant flavors.

I learned how to make pozole soon after I married Mark, as he's long had a strong affinity for good Mexican food, and learned to make it better from Rick Bayless. If you want to make good Mexican cuisine at home, or even just want to improve your Mexican repertoire, he is the master. And if you live nearby, you can come over and browse a cookbook. I have three or four from him, all very useful.

This is a fairly simple version of the recipe. I include my instructions on making a good chicken stock, but if you buy a good variety in cartons at the grocery store, you'll still get a decent soup.


5 lbs. chicken drumsticks
1 large head garlic
2 lbs. pork (sirloin roast or Boston butt works well; even pork chops will do), sliced or diced, 1/2" thick
2 oz. dried guajillo or New Mexico chiles (or more, if you like it extra spicy; or less, if you don't)
1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
1 30-oz can white hominy, drained, rinsed
cabbage, thinly sliced
onions, thinly sliced
limes, wedged or cut in half
cilantro, roughly chopped
radishes, sliced

To make the chicken stock, lay the drumsticks in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400˚ for an hour. Cool the chicken until it is manageable. Remove the meat from the chicken and save it for another use.

Place the bones, skin, and anything else remaining from the chicken in a large pot. Cover with water. Bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have about 6 cups of broth, give or take. Season lightly with salt, but not too much, as the stock may further reduce a bit.

Remove all the garlic cloves from the head. Set two cloves aside. Peel and slice the rest, then add them to the chicken stock. Add the pork to the stock as well. Place the Mexican oregano (not even remotely the same thing as regular oregano, this is found in inexpensive plastic packets in the Mexican section of most grocery stores) in the palm of your hand. Rub your hands together over the pot to crush the oregano as it falls into the soup. Bring the stock to a simmer again; simmer for about 90 minutes, until the pork is tender.

After about an hour, remove the stems from the chiles and shake out the seeds. Place the remaining chile pods in a bowl. Cover with very hot water (or microwave the bowl with chiles and water until water is nearly boiling); set aside and let the chiles rehydrate for about 20-30 minutes.

Once the chiles are soft, place them in the blender with the 1/2 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 t. salt, and about 1/2 c. water from the chile bowl. Blend until smooth, adding a touch more water if necessary.

Here's an optional extra step: you can pass the chile purée through a strainer before adding it to the pot if you like. If you don't, you'll have very small pieces of chile skin that you will feel occasionally as you eat the pozole. This doesn't bother me, but it is more pleasant without them. If you thin the purée with a little more water first, it will be slightly easier to strain. The soup will be very good either way.

Add the chile purée and hominy to the soup. Simmer for about 30 minutes to let the flavors come together. Taste for salt and season as necessary. If it's not spicy enough for you, add some cayenne as well.

Set out the aromatics: cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, and lime.

Ladle some soup into a bowl, then add aromatics as desired. Don't miss the squeeze of lime; it's essential!

Enjoy. You'll be better soon.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dinner, Day 5: Pop Tart (Slab Pie)

First, I have to admit I'm cheating a little, but you should have known it was coming if you read my blog. I never blog daily. Even when it sounds like a good idea. So to prevent myself from being way behind (and move myself to only slightly behind), I'm eliminating a few dinner nights.

In the spirit of truth, however, I will fill you in on what dinners I will not be posting about: 1. Nothing. This was two nights in a row, actually, when I was feeling sick as a dog and my good husband continued to make sure the kids got random food or found some good leftovers for them. 2. Costco hot dogs. This is actually part of number 1. 3. Little Caesars. Sometimes we're just busy. This is decent, inexpensive fast food. Probably the fastest, now that they have $5 pizzas always ready to go.

I guess I just posted about those. But we're not counting them in my 14 days of meals because I don't care for them. And it's my blog, so I get to say.

So Day 5 was actually Sunday, Day 6 was Tuesday, and Day 7 is tonight (Thursday). See how it works?

Day 5 was our turn to host family dinner, a favorite of mine. Not only do I love, love, love cooking/baking/toiling in the kitchen, I love hosting. I don't know why, and I'm not going to figure that one out, but I love it. I don't put doilies on the tables and vases with flowers throughout the house, but I do vacuum. I think I just like being home, and I like other people being in my home, rather than going to them.


My father-in-law took a trip to Alaska with his brothers and they caught some mighty fish – salmon and halibut, to be exact  – and he brought some to us to grill for family dinner. Mark marinated the fillets for about an hour in olive oil, salt, sliced onions, garlic, and lime zest. They were very good.

Family dinners are a little potluck, with the host choosing what to base the meal around. Since we had the fish already planned, I made ciabatta, sourdough, peach pie, and nectarine slab pie. What's slab pie, you ask? Well.

Slab pie is a pie made on a sheet pan (with edges). It contains roughly one and a half times the pie dough used for a double-crust pie with the same amount of filling. And when you drizzle a little frosting over the top, it looks very much like a large Pop Tart. Well, more like a Toaster Strudel, I guess. But it tastes a wee little bit better. At least. And it serves a large amount of people, which is a bonus. Still great with ice cream.

My sister-in-law and her husband planted a nectarine tree two or three years ago and asked me a bit ago if I could use the nectarines for pie or something. Never one to turn down free ingredients, I gladly peeled, sliced, and froze the nectarines until it was time to host dinner. Their generosity was a benefit to me: I wouldn't have tried using nectarines otherwise, and I think they may be one of the best fruits for slab pie. They formed a dense, smooth, soft filling, rich in flavor, that was a nice center for such a thin pie.

Let's talk about the crust for just a minute. It's important that you still use the very best crust for this dessert, as the crust is even more predominant than in a regular pie, but keep in mind that you will need to roll it out until it is quite thin, thinner than a regular pie. This is probably the most difficult part of putting the dessert together, but it's not rocket science. Just take your time and be mindful of trying to make a rectangular shape.

My half sheet pan that I used is about 17" x 12", or perhaps just a bit more, with sides that are about 1/2" high. This recipe should work for any pan that is no larger than this size and any pan that is smaller. If you're only going to make a 9" x 13" pan, you'll want to cut back on the pie dough and a third of the filling.

I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper to be sure I could easily remove all the pie pieces. That part is optional but recommended.

I also think this recipe would be terrific with apples. No matter what fruit you use, it really looks perfectly created for breakfast.

Nectarine Slab Pie

for the dough (adapted from Sherry Yard):
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter
3 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt (table, or finely ground Kosher)
3/4 c. ice water
3/4 t. white wine vinegar
6 c. peeled, sliced nectarines
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. flour

2 c. powdered sugar
3 T. milk
1 T. fresh lemon juice

For the dough:
Cut the butter into 1" pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes (no more).

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the flour and sugar. This lightens the flour to make the dough more tender. Add the butter and salt. Mix on low speed for at least 30 seconds and no more than 2 minutes, until most of the butter is about the size of walnut halves. Stop the machine and pinch all the large pieces of butter flat. Be careful not to just mash the pieces; the goal is to create flat, flaky layers in your dough.

Combine the ice water and vinegar, then add the liquid all at once to the flour mixture. Blend for no more than 15 seconds, until much of it is just coming together.

Spread out two sheets of plastic wrap. Bring the dough together just a bit with your hands, just enough so that it's not all crumbs, but do not work it much at this point, as working the dough while it's slightly warm from this process will damage the layers of flakiness and cause the dough to be tough. Divide the dough into two rounds, one larger by about 25%. Wrap in plastic and square off the edges. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. If you refrigerate it an hour or more, let it set at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling out. 
Just before rolling out the dough, prepare the fruit and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400˚.  Line your baking sheet with parchment paper if desired.

On a well-floured surface, heavily dust both sides of the larger piece of pie dough and roll into a rectangle slightly longer and wider than your baking sheet. Be sure to dust the dough with flour a few times, brush the flour around, and flip the dough over to be sure it doesn't stick to the work surface. Once it is large enough to fill the sheet, come up the edge, and lean over the edge enough to crimp later, fold it in half and transfer it to the pan. Then unfold. 

Roll out the top dough. Fill the bottom dough with the nectarine filling, making sure you get all of the extra juice into the dough. Top with second rolled dough and crimp edges.

Bake at 400˚ until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Since the filling is thin, it will be done as soon as the crust is done. You can reduce the oven temperature to 375˚ if you feel the crust is browning too quickly. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack.

Stir together the confectioner's sugar, milk, and lemon juice. If it needs to be thinned a bit more, you can add a little more milk or lemon juice. Drizzle over the slab pie.

Let cool. Slice into 20 pieces. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.