Thursday, June 3, 2010

Theyyyy're Hee-eeere!

We had guests, Sunday!  C'mon, you have to read it with a voice like an excited puppy, tumbling and peeing all over itself -- mixed with Looney Toons' abominable snowman:  WehadguestsWehadguests-WehadguestsWehadguests...and we would pet them and pat them, and name them George...

We don't invite people to the Eating Like The World Kitchens often.  Okay...like, ever.  So it was a pretty big deal that for the last day of Mexico week, we invited over our neighbors who hail from New Mexico and have a pretty fair palate for Mexican food.  In order to preserve their anonymity, let's call them "Patrick" and "Margie."

"Patrick"

 
"Margie"

First off, Margie had made tamales a week or two ago, and we were curious how she'd like ours, knowing full well that we'd emasculated the spiciness and that Angel hated them utterly.  Turns out, Angel should be proud of her tamales.

"If you don't like these," they said.  "Don't bother ordering tamales at a restaurant, because this is what they'll taste like."

They also brought yet more Corona's with them.  We have inhaled more beer this week than any week I can think of since college...and stereotypical or not, a Corona with lime just goes well with most of the dishes we've prepared.

So, for Patrick and Margie, we prepared chicken with Spanish rice, sopapillas, and grilled corn on the cob with queso fresco melted on top.  As the chef's prep cook, I was pressed into the usual service of chopping up vegetables.  This time, a colorful mix of green, yellow, orange and red bell peppers, with a couple of small onions, for the rice.  I was also tasked with preparing a dish all on my own -- the grilled corn.

I've never grilled anything but meat before, honestly, but I'm kinda the grill guy around the house.  I hadn't fired up the grill yet this year, so I scraped off the wasps' nest, pulled out the last of last year's charcoal, the lighter fluid and the propane torch and headed out to the back deck.  Yes, I said "propane torch."  It doesn't blow out and lights the lighter fluid with a decent "fwomph."  And it's no secret that we at ELTW like fire.  Half an hour later, we had a nicely ashed bed of coals, and grilling the corn turned out to be an anticlimax.  No sizzling and smoking like steaks and burgers...just the occasional pop.  After grilling, the ears were rolled in melted butter, brushed with mayonnaise and sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco.

Meanwhile, Angel was working on the sopapillas -- little, deep-fried rolls that are supposed to puff up like pillows, I guess.  At one point, over my shoulder I heard "Hey!  They're floating up!  Yesss!"  From what I understand, to cook them you slide them under the oil and when they're ready to turn, they float to the surface.

So, at dinner we had the six of us, plus "Patrick and Margie" and their two kids.  We covered the table with chicken and rice, platter of corn, bowl of sopapillas, and a cup of lime wedges for the Coronas and to drizzle over the corn.  The kids all siezed lime wedges and did a passable interpretation of them as the greatest treat ever.  Go figure.

Arroz con Pollo, Maiz de Cojito, Sopapilla

I thought the main dish was really good.  The rice was saucy and bell-peppery -- it was a more risotto-style rice than a long-grain rice, so it was good and sticky.  The chicken, braised and simmered with the rice, was soft and tasty.  Angel didn't like it -- mostly because of the rice texture, she said -- and the kids split about 70/30 in favor of it, I think.  Next, the corn was a nice surprise.  I was mildly repulsed while brushing mayo on perfectly good corn, but it actually imparted a nice, creamy flavor to counterpoint the smoky, slightly charred grill flavor...and on top of that there was the salty, melty queso fresco dancing with the tart lime juice.  It was surprisingly good, I thought.

And the sopapillas...kind of bland and fried-tasting by themselves, like fairground elephant ears without any cinnamon or sugar on them.  "Got any honey?" Patrick asked.  I found a jug of the stuff in a cupboard, and it transformed the sopapillas into a beautiful thing.  It's like that was what they were meant for.

Oh, I almost forgot -- for dessert, Angel made an orange angelfood-like cake.  Flavored with fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh-grated orange peel, and made with egg whites that had been beaten to stiff peaks and folded back into the batter, it was a light and airy, citrusey tasting delight.

After dinner...we pulled out the official tin.  The twin who was slated to draw our next destination...had fallen asleep in her high chair.  So Gable reached in and pulled out...

...Australia.  G'day, mate!


Recipes:

Chicken with Rice (Arroz con pollo)

Chicken:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 minced garlic clove
1 lime’s juice
2 tsp salt
Place a cup of water and the remaining ingredients except for the chicken in a double-bagged gallon size zip top bag. Add the rinsed chicken (always rinse meats before using) to bag, toss it up a bit with a spoon and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Marinate / brine for no longer than 3 or 4 hours but at least 2, turning and rearranging a couple of times. Don’t be afraid to throw in some macerated fresh herbs like oregano or thyme or even an un-macerated rosemary sprig??

Rice:

1 large chopped green/red/yellow/orange sweet pepper
1 large chopped yellow onion
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 fat pinch of saffron (think dip, not leaf)
2 medium size bay leaves
1/2 cup Virgin olive oil
1/2 can tomato paste (small can)
1 cup chicken broth
2 1/2 cups Valencia or Arborio or some sort of risotto rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 bottle beer, imported–of course, try Lowenbrau
After the chicken has soaked long enough, take it out and dry it on and off with some paper towels. To your dutch oven that has been gathering momentum for the past 5 minutes over medium high heat, add 1/4c of the oil. Once the oil starts a-shimmerin and a-smellin, place as many chicken parts in there you can without crowding. You are trying to give the chicken some nice brown crust, so as much of it should be in contact with the pan. Brown on the other side and place browned chicken in a dish covered with foil (loosely). Repeat with remaining chicken.
Add the other 1/4c of oil and when ready, add the chopped onion and pepper, reducing the heat to medium now. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, scraping up the browned chicken bits off the pan.
Add the minced garlic and cook for another 4-5 minutes until all these veggies are nice and soft and and quite silky in their extra helping of oil (it’ll come in handy for the rice). Add the oregano, the bay leaves and the saffron and stir some more, until the saffron fragrance tapers (1-2 min). Now add the tomato paste that you mixed with a 1/2 cup of water and cook this SERIOUS sofrito down for a few minutes so as to be more pasty than watery.


Throw in the chicken and it’s juices collected in the plate, making sure to toss all this together to coat the chicken in the sofri. This goes on for another 3-4 minutes. Now, add the 2.5c of rice and toss that with the chicken and sofri for a few minutes. Finally, add the 1 cup of chicken broth and 3.5c of water (ok, 4.5c if you want it sloppy), mix and bring to a boil. Stir, cover and reduce heat to as low as possible on your range. Now kick back for the next 20-30 minutes and get your beer. I mean, you can go ahead and pound a couple, but save one for the rice!
Your rice is cooked now and there is still some liquid in the pot amongst the rice. This is good, yes. Crack yer beer and pour that bad boy in there and don’t be all slow or careful about it either, it’s not champagne for chrissakes. Look at that sucker foam up!

Now cover immediately and turn off the stove. Wait at least 10 minutes before serving. How about a crisp romaine salad with a lime vinaigrette?

-- from the arrozyfrijoles.com website

Mexican Corn on the Cob ( Elote)

Ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup grated cotija cheese
  • 4 wedges lime (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat.
  2. Grill corn until hot and lightly charred all over, 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the temperature of the grill. Roll the ears in melted butter, then spread evenly with mayonnaise. Sprinkle with cotija cheese (we used crumbled queso fresco) and serve with a lime wedge. 
-- from the allrecipes website
Sopapillas
3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons
baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 6 tablespoons lard or shortening
1 1/4 cups warm milk (approximate)
Vegetable Oil

In a large bowl, blend together the flour baking powder, and salt. With a pastry cutter (unless you are one of those, like my teachers, who always used their hands) cut in the lard or shortening.

Add the milk all at once, and mix the dough quickly with a fork or by hand until the dough forms a mass. 

Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and begin to knead the dough by folding it in half, pushing it down, and folding again. It should take about a dozen folds to form a soft dough that is no longer sticky. 
Cover the dough with a towel or plastic wrap to let it rest for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. 
Divide the dough in 1/2, keeping the 1/2 you are not working with covered with plastic wrap or a towel so it does not dry out. 

Roll the dough half you have chosen on a floured board with gentle strokes. Roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. The more you work the dough, the tougher your sopapilla will turn out. However, to keep a sopapilla well puffed after cooking, you may want to work the dough a minute or so longer.
Cut the dough into rectangles that are about 10-inch by 5-inch. Divide the triangle into a 5-inch squares, and then cut this into a triangle.  NOTE: If you find the dough beginning to dry as you work with the remainder, cover this loosely with a some plastic wrap. 
Do not attempt to reform and roll the leftover dough scraps. They do not roll out well on the second try. You can cook these dough scraps along with the others, and they taste just as good.

Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet or a deep fryer until the oil reaches about 400 degrees F. NOTE: Check the temperature of the oil with your digital cooking thermometer.

Carefully slide the first sopapilla into the hot oil. Submerge the sopapilla under the oil. It should begin to puff immediately. 

NOTE: For sopapillas, they either puff, or they don’t puff. Their puff is what makes it a sopapilla - but don’t despair as both can be eaten. If your sopapillas are not puffing properly, the temperature of the oil may need to be increased or decreased.  Environmental changes in temperature and altitude can make setting the temperature tricky at times.
Using a slotted spoon, turn the sopapilla over to brown the other side. Sometimes this can be difficult, as the sopapilla will want to stay on the side it was on. A little coaxing with your slotted spatula will help this. Hold it for only a moment, and it will adjust to the side it is on. Once both sides are browned, remove the sopapilla to a surface to drain (paper towels or a draining rack will both work).
NOTE: Sopapillas can be kept warm in a 200 degree F. oven for up to 1 hour. They refrigerate well and can be reheated in a 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
-- from the whatscookingamerica website

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