Friday, May 18, 2012

the calm after the storm (inside mother's day)

ready (how i saw it)

blair called to ask if we were ready for 
guests: she and grandma would be first.
we had said 5ish - it was 5ish. 
i said sure, got off the phone and looked
around the kitchen. we had been cooking for
three days, we had done as much as we could
and when i looked around,
i saw a relatively put together space and the picture above.

(what you can't see in the picture is the wine glass, 
mostly empty, just to the bottom right of the
casserole dishes. 
that glass was a new addition.
one that was welcome as we entered
cleanup mode.)

we were having nine people for dinner - 
our family. years ago, there were five of
us for mother's day celebrations - 
my mom,
my sisters and
my grandmother.

now, we've grown:
larry, my mom's boyfriend,
my sister's boyfriend, my sister's fiance.
nine is a lot of people.
we've morphed from a quiet small
group content with one bottle of wine
and a barbara streisand cd
into a loud, beer-requiring,
sports-watching party.
we don't know how this happened.
and, we love it.

but nine people require a lot of food.
here's the rundown and my mental
checklist that i went through as i waited for
blair and my grandmother.

charred jalapeno and charred scallion guacamole
almost guacamole
we were having a lot of food for dinner - i did not want to go crazy with appetizers. we kept it pretty simple - veggies, chips and guacamole. several times i've noticed this recipe for guac made with roasted ingredients. i was planning to make my own, using the charred additions. i prepped everything ahead of time: tossing jalapenos and scallions into a hot oven, then chopping an onion, another raw scallion and cilantro. once the charred ingredients were cool, i chopped them, added them to the bowl and stuck them all together on the counter with the 4 avocados. this way when it was time, i could just halve, scoop, mash and mix. i should have predicted that everyone in the kitchen would be distracting. i should have added the whole limes to that bowl.

we needed a vegetable for this meal and i wanted something that was quick, easy and no stress: asparagus. i picked up a couple bunches of locally grown stalks and one named purple haze, which admittedly, looked nowhere near as purple once roasted.

red swiss chard
red swiss chard
the soup, which i'll tell you about soon, called for swiss chard added the last couple minutes. the last thing we did before entering clean-up mode was stem and trim the chard. larry washed and dried it.

smooth salsa
the cookbook mod mex has been sitting on my bookshelf, untouched, for years. something made me pull the book off the shelf and i'm so glad i did. we consulted it for a good chunk of this meal. one dish that i used as inspiration, but then went completely off course, used this orangey-red, smooth salsa, which requires chilies to soak, tomatoes and garlic to broil, onions to saute and then everything gets simmered together with orange juice and apple cider vinegar before getting whirled in the blender.

(in the back, on that ugly, ugly thing we are getting rid of soon - we keep promising ourselves - is this almond olive oil cake via lottieanddoof, glazed and cooling.)

tomatillo salsa
i love making tomatillo salsa. so many people have recipes that they say, i have no idea why someone would buy - homemade ricotta, pasta, fresh bread. the closest thing i have to that is tomatillo salsa. i've learned that there are several different ways to make it and i've done it several different ways depending on my mood - boiled and pureed, broiled and pureed, fresh and diced. but, this time, because the oven was already on for the guacamole, i opted to roast half the ingredients and combine them with fresh in the blender. i roasted 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, a serrano pepper and half an onion. in the blender, the other half of the fresh onion, 3 cloves raw garlic, one scallion, cilantro, lime juice and tomatillos sat in the blender waiting. i whirled, adjusted the salt and lime, whirled again, and was satisfied.

black beans
over the years, i've stopped using a recipe for black beans and started using sauteed onions, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and ground coriander as a base. when everything's soft, i add the beans (not soaked) and cover with a couple inches of cold water. i bring the mixture to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, partially cover and keep an eye on the pot, stirring sometimes, adding more water when necessary and tasting for doneness after one hour. when the beans are tasty and almost soft enough, i add salt, a bit of sherry vinegar and a few splashes of sherry. the mixture simmers for about 10-20 minutes more. best case scenario - make the beans the day before and reheat when needed, stirring in a little more sherry, if necessary.

tortilla soup 
about to eat
this soup was the inspiration for the entire meal. a few week's ago, i received an e-mail from my mom with the recipe (which i'm giving you, below) and a note that said, "don't you want to make this for me and larry?" i think she was kidding. but when i decided to host mother's day, i knew that the meal should include this soup. i had planned to make the soup on friday so that it was one thing out of the way when we started cooking on sunday. somehow, i ran out of time, but when larry got home from work on friday, he convinced me to stick with my plan, and together we made a triple-batch. it was wonderful to pull the saucepot out of the fridge on sunday afternoon (not so wonderful - trying to store everything else around an 8-quart saucepot in the fridge).

chicken enchiladas
ready to reheat
i don't know why i wanted to make enchiladas, but i was determined. my only requirement was that it used tomatillo salsa. i found one in mod mex that called for making a marinade, baking the chicken in the marinade, shredding the chicken, making a tomatillo salsa and making the enchiladas. it seemed a little intense - i had to work saturday during the day - but, also, perfect. i knew that i was going to make my own tomatillo salsa (above) and that i wasn't going to fry the tortillas before filling, but otherwise, i was pretty sure i found my recipe. (the recipe for this one is below, too.)

corn, zucchini and cremini mushroom tamale pie
with nine people, one casserole wasn't going to cut it. and, while i know i could have made double the enchiladas, a bunch of us aren't big meat eaters, so i wanted a vegetarian option. mod mex had a recipe for a tamale bottom with grilled vegetables and that smooth salsa. while looking through another cookbook earlier in the day, i spotted a recipe that featured a three sisters gratin, boasting a black bean, corn and zucchini layer. i decided to sort of combine the two, replacing the black bean layer with a mushroom layer and skipping the gratin aspect. 

when i got home from work on saturday (just after i set the beans to boil), i sauteed corn with half a chopped onion, stirred in chopped green chilies and set everything aside to cool. next, i sauteed four sliced zucchinis with the other half of that onion, thyme and mexican oregano. while that cooled, i cooked diced creminis with garlic, then stirred in scallions. larry mixed together that tamale mixture, then i patted it into the bottom of the dish, topped it with that orange-infused smooth salsa and layered first with the mushrooms, then the zucchini, followed by the corn and a bit of shredded cheese. i loved putting the lid on that thing and sticking it in the fridge. one more thing done for saturday evening.

toppings for the tortilla soup
i adored this platter and wish you could see it better. i did take a quick picture: here. rick bayless (did i tell you the soup was a rick bayless recipe?) recommends that you pile lime wedges, tortilla strips, flash fried chilies and shredded cheese onto a big platter for serving. i almost went with bowls, which seemed more manageable on a big table, but ultimately, i was happy with the presentation of the platter.

it seems like a lot of food.
it was a lot of food.
but, we had very little left over.
just memories.
and enough soup left for dinner the next night.


rick bayless' tortilla soup with red swiss chard
adapted from food52 and rick bayless
as i mentioned above, we tripled the soup. i probably could have gotten away with doubling it, but i think i would have been too nervous up until the minute i doled out 9 servings. ultimately, everyone got one cup (there was a lot of food coming) and we had about 6 cups left over. 

something that i think is important to note: a true triple batch would have used 18 cups of broth. on friday, when i was stirring broth into the puree, i stopped at 14. the mixture was pretty thin and i was concerned about what the four extra cups would do to the flavor and the texture. the soup thickened up over two days, but i still feel good about the decision to keep the broth low. i'm not sure how i would have felt if i had made a single recipe. below is the original recipe for one batch with my three small changes - i baked the tortilla strips instead of frying them, used canned tomatoes (per food52's permission) and reduced the oil (no need to use that much if baking the strips). this is for one batch, but honestly, if i made this again, i think i would double it and save the leftovers in the freezer.

one last note: this recipe calls to flash fry chilies, which crisps them up. i made the recipe ahead and by the time i was ready to serve the soup, they were no longer crispy. i placed them on a baking sheet in the oven for 1-2 minutes, watching and smelling carefully. it worked beautifully.

1.5 ounces dried pasilla chilies (also called chillies negros) (about 4-5 chilies)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (note: i didn't use much more oil than this for the triple batch)
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 medium-large tomato or 1 can (14 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained
1 medium white onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt (approximately)
4 cups loosely packed, thinly sliced red chard
for garnish:
4-6 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese (i used sharp cheddar)
2 limes, quartered

heat oven to 350˚f.

stem and seed chilies. cut into 1-inch squares.

in medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until hot. reduce heat to somewhere in between medium and medium-low. add chilies, in batches, cooking about 4 seconds; transfer to paper towel-lined plate, to drain. (note: i found myself cooking them for about 4 seconds, turning and cooking 4 seconds more. i was very careful not to burn.)

place 1/3 chilies in small bowl; cover with very hot water and let sit 30 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally. reserve remaining chilies for garnish.

in medium saucepot, heat remaining vegetable oil over medium heat; add onion and cook 25 minutes, or until golden, stirring often.

meanwhile, in dry skillet over medium to medium-high heat, roast tomatoes and garlic about 10 minutes, or until golden and softened, turning often. peel garlic; transfer to food processor or blender. add softened chilies and 1 cup broth. process for 1 minute, or until smooth.

place strainer or chinois over saucepot with onions; increase heat and listen to hear the onions sizzle. strain tomato mixture into onions; pressing on solids. cook, stirring constantly for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and darkens. stir in remaining broth; bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. cook 30 minutes, stirring ocassionally. season with salt, if necessary.

using sharp knife, cut tortillas into thin strips. place in single layer on aluminum foil-lined baking sheet that has been coated with cooking spray or olive oil. coat with cooking spray or olive oil. bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden (keeping a careful eye to prevent burning). let cool.

when the soup has finished cooking, let cool and chill until ready to serve. when ready to serve, reheat. add swiss chard and simmer 5-6 minutes, or until tender.

place tortilla strips, cheese, chilies and lime wedges on platter. ladle soup into bowl and serve with toppings.

roasted chicken enchiladas al pastor with tomatillo salsa
adapted from mod mex
if i'm being honest, i think that when i first imagined making enchiladas, i was thinking about a rotisserie chicken shredded, some salsa and some cheese. these were about 10 steps up from that not-really-cooking idea. these definately require some time and some ingredients, but if you break it up like we did, it won't be that bad. we made the marinade the day before, which was a huge help.

al pastor marinade
this was pretty bold when tasted on its own, but was very nice with the chicken. we left out the achiote paste and reduced the cloves (the original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon), but otherwise followed the recipe.

3 ancho chilies
3 guajillo chilies
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried mexican oregano
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

in dry skillet over medium heat, toast chilies 30 seconds-1 minute on each side, just until fragrant. transfer to bowl; cover with hot water and let sit 30 minutes, or until softened, stirring ocassionally. drain chilies; transfer to blender. add remaining ingredients. blend 2 minues, or until smooth.

chicken enchiladas
as i mentioned above, i like to play around when i make the tomatillo salsa. there was a recipe in the book for one, but i opted to go with my own. i also chose to heat the tortillas to soften and roll; i did not deep fry as instructed. 

3 cups al pastor marinade (above), divided
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups tomatillo salsa (your own or store-bought)
2 cups corn kernels, grilled on the cob and cut or defrosted frozen kernels
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 corn tortillas (or more)
2 cups grated cheese

heat oven to 350˚f.

place 2 cups al pastor marinade in 9x13 glass baking dish; add chicken. seasonly lightly with salt; turn chicken to coat. cover tightly; cook 30-40 minutes, or until completely cooked though.

remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. shred chicken; stir in corn, cilantro and remaining 1 cup marinade.

in skillet over medium heat, warm tortilla 25 seconds; flip and heat 25 seconds more. place flat on clean work surface; top with a light 1/2 cup chicken mixture. roll carefully and place seam-side down in 9x13 dish. repeat with remaining tortillas and chicken mixture. sprinkle with cheese. cover with aluminum foil; bake 20-30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. serve with tomatillo salsa at the table.