Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Olé! Pozolé!

Grab your sombrero and break out that bottle of Cabo Wabo that you've been saving for a special occasion, 'cause it's time for some Pozolé! Er, is it "Posolé"? Or "Pozole"? Or "Posole"? Maybe it's "Mexican Chicken Soup"? Or "Mexican Pork Stew"? Ah, who cares? Call it what you want, just don't neglect to make yourself some, and soon. (Hat and tequila optional.) This stuff is not to be missed! It is soooooo gooooood! In fact, if I were somehow forced to limit my soup choices to only one kind for the rest of my life... well, it wouldn't be Pozolé, actually, it would be Pho. But if I could have two choices, then it would definitely be Pho and Pozolé, that's for sure! I love Mexican food, and Pozolé has in it all the flavors that I associate with good Mexican food- white corn, jalapeno, tomato, cilantro, lime, and cumin, just to name a bunch. It's like Mexico in a bowl, or something. In fact, if it's not the national dish of Mexico, it should be. Somebody get me Felipe Calderon on the phone, we'll straighten this out right now.
I got my first taste of Pozolé awhile back at work. One of the guys happened to bring some in that he'd gotten from one of the many Mexican stores/restaurants in the area. I didn't really like working with that guy. I'm glad he's not there anymore, to be honest, but when he brought that soup in that day and offered me some, he certainly caused me to overlook a lot of the reasons I didn't like working with him. I'm still glad he's gone; but I'm glad he worked there, too. Anyway, I'd never had it before, and didn't even know what it was, but when I got home I did some looking around on the internet and managed to find a recipe for something that sounded like it might be it. So I asked the boss to order some hominy so we could try it out, and a couple days later I brought the recipe in to give it a go. Now at Sweeney's, where I work, we have a Soup of the Day, which we sometimes offer as part of our daily special. So we have to make sure we have enough on hand to get through the day. And since this is Pozolé we're talking about here, I knew we'd need kind of a lot; I don't know, maybe 20 servings or so. But if you look at the recipe, it's only written for 4 servings. Hmm.... So this is going to entail math or something? Jeez, I just wanted to make some soup here, not calculate Fermat's Last Theorem. So I pretty much just gave the recipe a quick read-through to see what it called for and get an idea of how to do it and then tossed it aside. (I really do have a hard time following recipes.) I posted the link above mainly as a reference. You really don't need it. Pozolé is just one of those foods that are really flexible and kind of hard to make wrong. So let's get to it, shall we?

Ok, as I said, Pozolé is really flexible- meaning there's lots of different ways to make it and still call it Pozolé. So some of these ingredients can be considered optional, and you can use others that may not be called for in a particular recipe. I'm just going to list a bunch here that I think would be good, not that I would necessarily use all of them myself. Think of it as an ingredient smorgasbord. Some ingredients, obviously, are not optional, like the hominy. The recipe link I posted above says that if you can't find hominy you can substitute frozen corn kernels. I wouldn't go that far, myself. The flavor is too different, not to mention the appearance. (If you've never had hominy, it's flavor is like that of corn tortillas.)

Pork, shredded
Chicken, shredded
Chicken stock, preferably homemade
Various chilis
Lime juice
Chili powder
Diced tomatoes
Black pepper

Did I miss anything? I know on the Pozolé wiki page they mention cabbage, lettuce and radish as garnishes also. I listed pork and chicken for the meats- my understanding is that it's commonly made with either. My first taste of it was with chicken, but when I make it for myself I usually go with whatever's cheaper, since I'm kind of broke. It can also easily be made completely vegetarian and still be just as awesome tasting.

Chances are, you'll have to go with canned hominy, instead of dried. It's pretty hard to find, for some reason. Some people think the dried might taste better than the canned- I'm not so sure. (I know that when I make that Hummus I posted about earlier, canned chick peas taste exactly the same as the dried.) But I do happen to have some dried hominy, so one of these days when I get around to trying it out, I'll post an update here with my opinion on the matter. In the meantime canned will do just fine- however- brand does make a difference! At work we've been using Bush's- the same brand that makes the baked beans- and it's been very good; very tasty. But I happened to have a can of Juanita's on hand at home-

so I made a batch with that. Noticeable difference in quality, with the Juanita's being not nearly as good as the Bush's, and not very good in general. Sorry Juanita, but it's true.

Now as to the putting-together of it all... easy as pie! Actually, it's even easier than pie. Here's what I do...
I start off with either the chicken or pork, whichever I happen to be using, and cook it off in the oven; but I don't just cook it as is, although you could and it would still be good. I like to marinate mine in that guajillo salsa I told you about in a previous post. Oh yes. Major tastiness right there. Just coat it all up good in that stuff, place it on a pan or in a dish, add a little water or chicken stock, and cook on 350 F or so until it's done. It won't take long. You may want to avoid getting on the internet, though, or doing whatever it is you might be addicted to, while it's cooking. You might just forget about it like I did, hehe...

(I used it anyway; it was fine.) While that's in the oven, this would be the time to get the other stuff going. Heat up a large pot- like a stock pot- trust me, this stuff is good good good, and whatever amount you happen to make, you'll wish you had made more, so you might as well go for a lot right off the bat. (Incidentally, it doesn't do terribly well in the freezer, but it'll get eaten long before you need to freeze it anyway.) Add your oil, or butter, or whatever fat you happen to like cooking with. I'm currently using canola since I bought one of those industrial size containers of it at Sam's Club, but I think corn oil would be the obvious choice here. Add whatever veggies you're going to be using (except the diced tomatoes and hominy), along with the chilis and spices, and sauté away. I'd avoid adding the avocados at this point- they're meant as more of a garnish on the finished dish. Here's what mine looks like-

If it looks like I just threw the spices at the pot without so much as even a glance toward any sort of measuring device, well, that's because I did, pretty much. I can't be bothered to go over to my cupboard or drawer, look for the cups and spoons, then come back to what I was doing and evenly and accurately measure stuff out! Who's got time for such nonsense? Not me, that's who. (Hence the name of my blog. Who cares about recipes and such- How's it Taste? Don't worry, it'll be totally fine. This stuff's hard to mess up.)
Anyway, normally my Pozolé is not this red, but I had some smoked paprika that I've been wanting to try out, so I loaded it on.
Once all the veggies are cooked to the desired tenderness level, add the chicken stock and diced tomatoes. Bring just to a boil-

then turn down

way down low

almost off

but not quite.

[Ok, that was just an inside wink to a friend, so maybe not quite that low. Just down to a simmer, then.]

While that's simmering happily away, go check on the protein situation, if you're using any. If it's ready, shred it up. (Assuming you've let it cool enough to handle. Now that I think about it, you may want to take care of this part a little further in advance of the actual soup making part.) At this point, add the meat and hominy, and cook for about 10 minutes more. Right at the end is when you want to add the lime juice and cilantro. Now it's ready!

Garnish with additional lime juice, cilantro, cayenne, avocado, and whatever else makes your mouth water.

                            Olé! Pozolé!

p.s. Deborah over at Taste and Tell recently posted a recipe for Green Posole, (and I saw another new one somewhere else) - I swear I'm not ripping hers off- (hey, mine's red, hers is green! ; ) I've had this post planned since the very beginning; it just takes me awhile to get around to taking care of business.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Filler Material

Looks like Robert Irvine is a big fat liar! (Well, maybe not fat, but he's definitely big.) If you've ever watched the Food Network at all, you likely know who Robert Irvine is (or thought you did, hehe...) but just in case you don't know about him, he has a show on there called "Dinner: Impossible", where he "travels the world on culinary assignments" and must produce an entire meal under seemingly impossible, or at least very tough, conditions. It's mildly interesting, I guess. My brother likes it a lot; I'm not a fan. Anyway, apparently he made up a lot of the stuff in his bio, like in his book and elsewhere when he claimed to have worked on the wedding cake for Prince Charles and Princess Diana-

"It was an English fruitcake that weighed over 360 pounds," he told the Toronto Sun. "I worked on these elaborate side panels, which told the history of the royal Windsor and Spencer families in icing!"


"I was at the school when that was happening," he said. "They made the cake at the school where I was."

Did he help make it?

"Picking fruit and things like that."


Anyway, I first read about it here. There's another article here. And this is what he looks like.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sour Grapes

This post isn't really about sour grapes- I just thought that made for a better title than "Sour Pickles". Plus, I don't really like calling these "sour", even though I suppose that's what they are. Call them whatever you want- just try them out. You won't be disappointed. They're super easy, low-fat, low-calorie, they don't take long at all, and are only a little bit addicting.

First, the original recipe, handed down from my grandfather-


1 gallon crock
8 cups vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry mustard

mix dry ingredients, add a little vinegar at a time until well mixed, then add remaining vinegar and place in a crock.

wash and dry pickles, put in crock, add a small piece of alum for crispness.

Now as I said, that's the original recipe. My family has made it many times over the years and it always goes over well with everyone who tries it. I highly recommend trying it as-is, not only because it's very good, but also to use it as a sort of flavor reference point for when you start messing around with the ingredients, like I do.

I made these for the first time in a very long time a few months ago, and as I was dissolving it on the stove I tasted the vinegar/spice mix and decided it was a little too vinegar-y. So I added a little more of each of the dry ingredients, not measuring anything out of course, until it tasted about right. A week or so later when they were ready, I tried them out and thought they were pretty much outstanding. So I brought some into work for people to try and they were a big hit. Gave some to my folks one day too- that turned out to be a mistake. My dad loved them, so he gave me some money to buy stuff to make more for him, plus went out and bought some english cucumbers for me to try out as well. I was not expecting all this extra work. I got the recipe from him, after all. Couldn't he have just gone home and made some himself? Maybe asked for some pro tips? The lesson to be learned here is this: whenever you make something that is so good and you know people are just going to love it, make sure you have a recipe on hand to give to them when they ask you to make them some. "Can I make you some? I'll do you one better! Here's the recipe! Now you can make them anytime your little heart desires!" It doesn't matter if you don't actually have a recipe- make one up. Keep it on hand for just such occasions. If you do have one, but it's a "top secret" recipe that you don't want to share with anyone, just give them a fake recipe, something that looks similar, but is actually not at all the same. Then when they try it out and it's not nearly as good as yours they'll think you're just the shit and you'll build up a reputation. Of course, if simply handing them a recipe won't do, like say if they're your parents or something, and trying to brush them off with just a piece of paper will make you look rude and ungrateful for all the cooking they've done for you, there is another option: just don't share your stuff with them. If they don't know you got the goods, they won't know to ask for them, right? Of course, then you'll have to keep the knowledge that you are, in fact, the shit, to yourself, but hey, we all have to make compromises somewhere, right?

Alright, moving on... check out these fine looking cucumbers I picked up at my local Asian grocery store for 75 cents a pound!

Apparently they're in season all year-round, at least around here anyway. The photos don't really do them justice- they really looked like they were fresh from somebody's garden in the middle of July. But as a matter of fact, I bought them January 21st!

Now, the recipe calls for a "small piece of alum" for crispness. Some people say you shouldn't use alum, that it's bad for you or whatever. I think I read somewhere that if you ingest a couple ounces it will kill you. I don't know. I do know that it's FDA approved, for what that's worth, and that 2 ounces is a lot- accidentally ingesting that much would be like something along the lines of accidentally ingesting an entire bottle of aspirin; it's just not going to happen. If you're still not sure, I'd just recommend doing a little online research and getting all the info you can, then you can make the decision that's right for you. As for me, I use the stuff. (Then again, I also use and love MSG and aspartame.) I've made pickles with and without it, and the difference is huge. Without, they're super soft. Disgusting, in fact. I threw a whole bunch out because of it. With the alum, they're super crunchy, and stay that way for a good two weeks or more. As for a "piece" of alum, the only alum I've been able to find is granulated, and the label doesn't give much in the way of instruction on how to use it. It usually just says "follow the recipe". From my own online research, the consensus is that you shouldn't let the cucumbers (or whatever it is you happen to be pickling) just soak in the alum solution the whole time. A short soak, followed by a rinse, then pickling is what's recommended. So when I make pickles, here's my procedure:

dissolve 1 teaspoon alum in 1 gallon of water.
add rinsed whole cucumbers and let soak for 1/2 hour, then rinse and dry.

For some reason though, the 1/2 hour usually turns into an hour. But that's just me. I'm easily distracted.

As far as the rest of the recipe goes, usually I start off the same as the original recipe- 8 cups vinegar, 1/2 c. each of the dry stuff, but then I just keep adding a little more of each of the dry ingredients until I like the way it tastes. I heat mine on med-low in a pot on the stove- makes the dissolving much faster and easier. Note that if you do it this way, you really need to cool the mix down to room temp (or lower) before adding the cucumbers, or they probably will get mushy, even with the alum. I say "probably" because that's what I've been told repeatedly by my mother, and as any mother will tell you- mothers are never wrong. So I figure better safe than sorry. (I usually use the cool-down time to slice the cucumbers anyway. I used to slice them into rings, but now I prefer spears.) It's hard to say exactly how much extra of the dry stuff I add. I did write it down one time, and I'll post it here, but please don't follow it exactly; you're far better off tasting as you go. (Another reason to keep the heat on med-low- I just dip my finger directly into the mix on the stove and taste it like that. If you find yourself adding more dry mustard, it may clump if you add it directly into the vinegar, but if you sprinkle it on very lightly, it usually mixes in fine. Alternately, you can mix it with a little salt and/or sugar and it will dissolve much easier.)

8 c. white vinegar
8 c. apple cider vinegar
1 1/4 c. dry mustard
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. salt

This recipe will get you two gallons of pickles. I do like to mix apple cider vinegar and white vinegar half and half. It's fun to experiment with different types to see how the flavors differ. I like the flavor profile I get from white vinegar, though, so I always use at least half white. As for salt, they make pickling salt, but I use kosher. My understanding is that pickling salt dissolves better, leaving a less cloudy brine, but the dry mustard will cloud it up anyway, so I say use whatever's cheaper. Dry mustard can be expensive, but most stores have a bulk foods section and you can get it much cheaper that way. As for the container, pretty much anything non-reactive will do fine. Those large Gladware/Rubbermaid/etc. things would probably be great. Me, I recycle the one gallon mayo containers we get at work:

Just stuff it full of cukes, and pour the vinegar mix over and you're pretty much all set. These don't need to cure in the fridge. Room temp is fine. At room temp, they should be ready in about 4 days. At cooler temps, like your basement in the wintertime, or the fridge, it'll take about a week or so.

You simply must try these pickles. They're quick, easy, and delicious!

(And only a little bit addicting.)

Monday, February 4, 2008


Quick and easy, crunchy and delicious. You are going to want to make these.

Here's what I use:

brown sugar
white sugar

hoagie buns (any sturdy white bread will work. french baguette would probably be better, but ours are usually frozen and I never plan far enough ahead to thaw them out in time.)

I mix in white sugar with the brown to keep it a little more free-flowing, but other than that, there's no particular "way" to do it- just mix up the dry ingredients in a bowl and ask yourself this-
"How's it taste?". Maybe you like a lot of nutmeg. Or none at all. Perhaps you'd like a little ginger, or cloves? Go right ahead! I personally go heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cayenne, and very light on the nutmeg.
Don't skip out on using the salt, though. If you're watching your sodium intake, just use a little less, but it really goes well in this. If you're using a coarse-grain salt, I'd recommend grinding it up a little in your thai granite mortar and pestle. (You do have one of those, don't you?) Once you get the mix just the way you want it, cube up that bread and coat it well in the butter you melted earlier. (A plastic squeeze bottle makes a great applicator, by the way.) Then simply toss in as much of the dry mix as you like (I like a lot) and bake in the oven on 300-350 degrees until they're all nice and crunchy. Keep an eye on them, though; all- that sugar can easily burn.

That's pretty much all there is to it! You won't believe how good they are. Sheesh, just writing about them right now makes me want to make some.

A little addon to the B.S. post-

I've heard that apple slices added to the soup as you cook it go very well with it. Haven't tried it as of yet, but it's on my to-do list.

Up Next: Pucker up, baby!