Unfussy Fare

Green Pozole with Chicken

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It was cool and rainy yesterday, when I decided I’d make chicken pozole today. I pictured cold rain slapping the roof, and a steamy kitchen, redolent with the soothing smell of garlic, chiles, and chicken. I didn’t consult the forecast. The steamy and redolent kitchen part was accurate, but it’s sunny and 85 degrees today. A crunchy salad and an iced drink would suffice. But never mind. Once the idea of chicken pozole got a hold of me, it didn’t loosen its grip just because the weather didn’t follow the script.

Pozole traditionally stars pork, not chicken. I think the authentic variety involves scary pig parts I don’t typically have on hand. I”m not sure. I’m not picky about authenticity. No sense getting inhibited by accuracy, right? Cooking is an art, not a science. At least, that”s whay I tell myself, because it makes my imprecision sound kind of virtuous.

The garnishes are key here. Offer lots. Pile them on. Cabbage and radishes bring crunch and zing. Avocado adds silky richness. The cilantro chimes in with some funk, and the lime shines a little light on the whole shebang. It”s actually a darn good salad in its own right, lively with textures and taste. But this stew and its toppings are the yin and the yang. They need each other. They love each other. It would be wrong to keep them apart.

Now or later, hot day or cold, you should try this pozole. There’s some chopping and shredding, yes. But go on. It won”t take long. You’ll understand when that first spoonful unfolds its flavors. The heat is balanced by the earthy depth of hominy and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The stew lends a sturdy backdrop to the crisp garnishes. It would make great medicine for a friend with a cold. It offers all the salty comfort of chicken soup, along with a serious dose of flavor to keep things interesting. It seems made to order for a chilly gray day. I’ll have to get back to you on that. For now I can attest that it brought some extra sizzle to this already hot and sunny day.

P.S. You can feed this to people who don’t eat gluten, or eggs, or dairy, or soy. I did. I was kind of proud of myself for coming up with a recipe that met all those requirements. Little did I realize it would it would be so tasty I would feel compelled to shout it from the cyber-rooftops.

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GREEN POZOLE WITH CHICKEN – adapted from this recipe in Gourmet magazine
makes four hearty servings

1/3 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound tomatillos, husked and chopped (If you don’t have fresh, you can buy canned in the Mexican food section of many grocery stores.)
¾ cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 15-ounce cans white hominy, rinsed and drained

Grind pumpkin seeds finely in food processor or spice grinder. Set aside.

In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, heat three tablespoons of oil. Sauté onion, garlic, and jalapenos until soft, three to five minutes.

Puree the sautéed vegetables, salt, oregano, tomatillos, and cilantro in food processor. Return the puree to the stock pot.

Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, about ten minutes.

Add chicken broth and raw chicken. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken pieces using tongs and place them in a bowl. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred the chicken meat, discarding any big blobs of fat or gristle you wouldn’t want to find in your mouth.

Add hominy and ground pumpkin seeds to the pot. Add the shredded chicken and its accumulated juices. Simmer on low heat for about 20 more minutes.

Serve with shredded cabbage, chopped radish, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges, and whatever else your heart desires.

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Spicy Tomato Chutney

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The lazy days of summer may be turning chilly, and short. But there are still tomatoes, which means it is still summer, right? So there”s some good news. And here”s more: It takes just a few minutes of your time to put together a sparkling, spicy, tomato chutney that will be the envy of all your condiments. If you have a tomato glut at your house (or even if you don’t), this recipe is calling your name. There”s no use resisting.

Spicy tomato chutney is a crowd-pleaser. The sweet and sour do that dance they do with each other. Dress that up in  jewel-like red, and combine it with just enough heat from the pepper flakes, and you might just find yourself eating chutney by the spoonful. You can serve it on meat, spread it on grilled cheese, or have a dollop on your scrambled eggs. Truth be told, I did all those things in one 24-hour period. (Okay, okay. I ate a spoonful straight up, too.)  If you’re the kind of person who keeps nice little jars around (I’m not, but I’d like to be…), tomato chutney would make an excellent gift. I’m thinking it would be heaven on a cracker with cream cheese. I could go on and on. I guess I have gone on and on. Did I mention that I really love this spicy tomato chutney?

This recipe is pretty much foolproof. Take it from me, the fool. Just chop a few veggies and throw them in a pot with sugar, vinegar, and spices. Then simmer for a couple hours. All it needs from you is the occasional stir. How could you go wrong? Well, you might think you turned the burner off, only to find that you thought about turning it off, but in fact left it on (ahem). Not to worry. Just add some water to your now-very-thick chutney, and it still tastes incredible. Maybe even better, as some carmelizing might have gone on in this hypothetical over-cooking.  Not that I would know anything about that…

One note of warning to those of you who live in close quarters: When you simmer that much vinegar, it’s a strong-smelling proposition. Our house smelled like tomato chutney for hours, which was fine with me. But my five-year-old covered his nose and mouth in horror and shrieked that he could not live in this house. He’s a little dramatic sometimes. I tried to sell him the spicy chutney as “ketchup for grown-ups,” but he wouldn’t touch the stuff. The grown-ups, however, raved about it.

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SPICY TOMATO CHUTNEY  - adapted from this recipe in Gourmet Magazine
makes 1 ½ cups

1 ½  pounds tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3/4 cup chopped green onions (just the green part, not the white)

In a medium saucepan bring vinegars to a boil with sugar, salt, mustard seeds, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, stirring occasionally. Turn heat down to a low simmer.

Stir in tomatoes, bell pepper, and green onion. Simmer mixture, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about two hours, or until thickened and reduced to about one and a half cups.

Cool chutney completely. Chutney keeps for two weeks, covered and chilled.

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Nectarine Upside-Down Cake

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Our son started kindergarten today. If you knew what a mama’s boy he is, you might expect me to do a little victory dance in the living room.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s mighty flattering to be his earth, moon, and stars. But it’s a lot of pressure, too. It leads me to say unkind things like “For the love of God, must you be touching me, or talking to me (or both) EVERY waking minute of your day?” To which he replies in his guileless way: “I just like to be near you.”

Behind his back, I’ve been known to refer to my child as a barnacle. I know. That’s not nice. And he is nice. Incredibly, almost unbelievably nice.  It’s quite a dance we do. He wants me closer all the time, and he’s so damn sweet about it. He lights up every time he sees me. I covet some breathing room. But still, I”d do anything to fill the needy spaces in that sensitive little heart.

So anyway, off he went, like kids do. And in my mind”s eye, I started fast-forwarding through the long string of inevitable goodbyes. Trust me when I tell you this is not a good idea. I caught a little weak-kneed glimpse of the loss he seems to wrestle every time I walk out the door. I didn’t wail and grab his legs and howl through a river of snot, like he did when he was one or two. I didn”t bravely blink back the tears, like he did at three or four. I gave a little wave and a resigned smile. Like a kindergartner. But I must admit, goodbye took my breath away today. It was a visceral longing. I take back all that barnacle talk. I do. All I wanted today was to take him home, so he could follow me in and out of every room, talking and touching incessantly, like he does. I just like to be near him.

As luck would have it, his adoration of me didn’t wane on his first day of kindergarten. But someday it will. That day, you may just find me howling through a river of snot. I”ll be the one with the gale force wind blowing through the needy spaces in my sensitive little heart. So there you have it. I’m a big old walking, talking, sniffling cliché of motherhood on this, my child’s first day of school.

It seemed like a good idea to cook something sweet. Very sweet. Like this nectarine upside-down cake. For the cake, I borrowed Molly Wizenberg’s French Style Yogurt Cake recipe. You can buy her wonderful cookbook here. I’m sure she never intended this cake to be turned upside-down, but it worked like a charm. The cake is moist and light. The texture is perfection. Better yet, it requires nothing but a measuring cup, a big bowl, and a wooden spoon. Her recipe is for a lovely lemon cake with lemon glazes. I made mine vanilla. Oh, and I added the brown sugar and butter and nectarines and that whole upside-down business. That part was just a shameless ploy to score points with my son before he grows up and leaves me.

This cake is FAST! It”s not exaggerating to say that when I got home from work at 1:30, cake was the farthest thing from my mind. And when I left home at 2:30 to pick up my son from school, the cake was cooling on the counter. In between I had to dream up the upside-down part, and raid the fruit bowl, and rustle through cookbooks for a simple, delicious cake recipe. A more balanced person than I could have this cake in the oven in under fifteen minutes. It”s pretty, with that fruit design. Even better, it”s sinfully tasty. The brown sugar and fruit form a sticky, decadent layer that gives way to the old-fashioned white cake beneath, soft and not-too-sweet. With a cold glass of milk, it makes for a memorable after-school snack. At least I won”t forget it anytime soon.

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NECTARINE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar
3 nectarines, sliced into 1/4 inch slices.
½ cup plain whole-milk yogurt (not lowfat)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in a nonstick, oven-proof 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat.

Add brown sugar and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about three minutes. Remove pan from heat. (If you don”t have an oven-proof skillet, pour the melted butter and brown sugar mixture into a cake pan and follow the recipe from here…)

Arrange nectarine slices on top of the brown sugar mixture in the bottom of the skillet (or cake pan).

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until well blended.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, mixing to just combine.

Add the oil and stir until you have a smooth, consistent batter.

Pour batter slowly on top of the nectarines, taking care not to move the fruit. I couldn”t quite fit all the batter into the skillet, but I got all but about a half cup in there.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool cake in pan for about 15 minutes. Place a plate upside down over the pan, then flip them simultaneously, while holding the plate onto the pan, so that you invert the cake onto the plate. Lift pan off cake. Replace any fruit that moved around during the flipping process.

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Scallops and Prosciutto on Minted Pea Puree

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We shrugged off late-summer produce on Saturday.  Crazy.  I know.  Summer is nearly over. But it was pouring rain, and it didn’t feel much like summer. There were no tomatoes in our dinner. Not even one. No zucchini, pepper, or eggplant. A few months from now, I’ll wonder what I was thinking. But that day I just wondered: How can I indulge my craving for salty and sweet together?

For reasons I can’t explain, I landed on peas, harbinger of spring. And cured pork, harbinger of overeating. And scallops, harbinger of….I don’t know what. Omega fatty acids? Global warming? Scallops are billed as the main attraction here, but they were really just a vehicle for the peas and pork I couldn’t live without.

Scallops. Peas. Prosciutto. You could make this in any season (if your peas and scallops come to you frozen, as mine did). It requires little time and no finesse. Unless you’re also trying to cook a hot-dog (sigh) for your child, and feed your dog so she’ll stop staring at you, and answer the phone, and engage in the sundry mundane tasks which always seem to crop up at two-minute intervals during the dinner hour.

I burned TWO pans of pinenuts. I also dropped a hot scallop on my bare foot. Nice trick. Oh, and dinner got stone cold in the time I spent trying to take a picture of it. (I got a new tripod. There are many adjustments.) By the time we ate I was sweating, and cursing, and stabbing my scallops vindictively with a fork. Bet you’re sorry you missed it.

Regardless, it was a nice presentation, if I do say so.  The minted peas pranced and cheered sporting their zany green, while the scallops presided, subtle and dignified in classic white and brown.  The confetti of prosciutto and pinenuts lent just-right toasty and smoky notes. Not bad, all in all. I don’t expect you to forego the September tomato and zucchini bounty in favor of this. I recommend you set the recipe aside for a rainy day. They’ll be here soon enough. And if, say, you’re eating with a crazy fork-wielding maniac who bumbles and futzes furiously with her tripod in order to photograph your dinner: it reheats pretty well in the microwave.

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SCALLOPS ON MINTED PEA PUREE WITH PROSCUITTO

4 cups peas, fresh, or frozen and thawed
8 large mint leaves
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½  cup pine nuts
4 slices prosciutto (I used speck, which is smoked and delicious. You could also use pancetta. Yum.)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½  pounds sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry, sprinkled with salt and pepper
salt and pepper
lemon wedges

Puree peas, mint, melted butter, and salt in food processor.

Spread pea puree on four plates.

In a large skillet on medium high heat, toast pine nuts, shaking pan occasionally, until browned, about three minutes. Set pine nuts aside.

In the same skillet, place prosciutto in a single layer. Turn slices over after one minute. Cook until it starts to crisp, about two minutes more. Chop prosciutto and set it aside.

In the same skillet, still over medium-high heat, heat one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot brown the scallops in one layer for two to three minutes per side.  This will likely require two batches. Keep the first pan-load warm, and add the second tablespoons of butter and oil to the pan before sautéing the second half of the scallops.

Place scallops on pea puree.

Sprinkle with chopped prosciutto and pine nuts.

Serve with lemon wedges.