Friday, December 31, 2010

new favorite

The people at Cook's Country magazine come across as mad food scientists.  They make and remake and mess with and test a recipe so many times that it makes me impatient just reading about it.  The result is typically a reliable recipe, but sometimes involves ingredients I'd rather not keep on hand (anybody keep apple brandy in the cabinet??).

In the case of their "New Mexican Pork Stew", the result is a delicious and fairly simple posole.  When deciding to make this recipe, I did something I really shouldn't do.  I decided to make an ethnic dish from a recipe when I had never tasted any other version of the dish, good or bad.  I've attempted this foolishness with varied results.  Spanikopita was only so-so.  Korean bulgogi was actually pretty great.  And so was this posole.  The problem is, I don't know whether these recipes even begin to approximate the authentic dish.  If you're some kind of posole expert, please enlighten me.  I guess when it comes right down to it, I don't particularly care--this stew is that good.

Many meals in our home either start out spicy or get some kind of spice added to them later (red pepper flake, jalapenos, sambal).  This was not one of those meals, and yet we both found it immensely satisfying.  The ancho chiles, which Wikipedia tells me are a dried poblano, are not particularly spicy.  Instead, they are smoky and earthy.  Between the chiles and the intensely corny hominy, this dish reminds me of the first particularly earthy Mexican dish I ate, a tortilla soup at La Mestiza in Madison.  This is one recipe that will be going into our regular rotation.

One major benefit of Cook's Country (and they don't pay me to say this) is the mad scientist's report on the process which led to the recipe.  While mind-bogglingly involved, it does provide the justification for each step of the recipe that might seem unnecessary, like, say, browning hominy.  Steps that I might be tempted to skip, which would be very silly of me.  I will not be typing up Cook's Country's introduction to the recipe.  Just trust me and follow the directions.  As a side-note, the pork ribs from our butcher had little bones in a few of them, but they had no adverse effect.  Just pull them out when you shred the pork.  Also, my grocery store doesn't carry 15-ounce cans of hominy, so I went with two huge 28-ounce cans.  The more hominy, the better, I say.

New Mexican Pork Stew (Posole)
from Cook's Country-January 2011

3/4 oz dried ancho chiles (about 3 chiles)
8 c low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade)
2 lbs boneless country-style pork ribs
salt & pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 (15-oz) cans white hominy, rinsed and drained well
2 onions, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp lime juice
chopped avocado, cabbage, and radishes for serving (optional)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place chiles on baking sheet and bake until puffed and fragrant, about 6 minutes.  When chiles are cool enough to handle, remove seeds and stems.  Combine chiles and 1 cup broth in medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until bubbling, about 2 minutes.  Let stand until softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Cook pork until well browned all over, about 10 minutes.  Transfer pork to plate.  Add hominy to now-empty pot and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and hominy begins to darken 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer hominy to medium bowl.

Heat remaining oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Puree onion mixture with softened chile mixture in blender.  Combine remaining broth, pureed onion-chile mixture, pork, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon sald, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in now-empty pot and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until meat is tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer pork to clean plate.  Add hominy to pot and simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.  Skim fat from broth.  When meat is cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces, discarding fat.  Return pork to pot and cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  Off heat, add lime juice.  Season with salt and pepper.

Posole can be refrigerated in airtight container for 3 days.  We did not really skim the fat off the soup, thus the shiny spots in the photo.  We did, however, scrape some of the congealed, bright-orange fat off the top of our leftovers before reheating.  Only some though.  Matt's turned me into an animal-fat fan.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Wow.  It's been ages since I last blogged here.  This semester I discovered that I can only maintain one blog at a time.  My grad class blog had a grade attached to it, so of course it took precedent.  I probably wouldn't bother reading it unless you too are a library grad student.  I have months of recipe photos backlogged, but the summer and fall ingredients I used in those are no longer available, so they can wait!

Dinner from last weekend is fresh on my mind, so here goes!  We like to have excuses to try pricier restaurants and my birthday's as good a reason as any.  Matt and I went to Nostrano on Saturday night, a brand new restaurant on the Capital Square.  I would call it loosely Italian, with several pasta dishes and house-made Italian-style meats.  The atmosphere is great in there, with old architectural pieces and pretty bottles giving the place a modern yet comfortable feel.

charcuterie plate: (clockwise from top) grilled focaccia, salsiccia, caponata, piparras, turkey liver mousse, pate campagnola, salame nostrano, fingerling potato salad

 We had read that their charcuterie plate was excellent, and unsure as we were about liver-based snacks, we gave it a try.  I knew I would like the salsiccia, pickled peppers, and smoked shallots.  What surprised me was how much I liked the pate with smoked pork (bottom left) and turkey liver mousse (bottom right, my favorite!).  If you are a connoisseur of fine meat platters, please don't read my amateurish exposition too carefully.  But if you are a newcomer to charcuterie (like I was) and iffy on the merits of chopped and formed liver (as was I), let me assure you that both the pate and mousse were delicious.  The mousse we've decided must be something like a turkey liverwurst and tastes like a soft, smooth, smoky summer sausage.  The pate is harder to compare, but both items were pleasantly meaty and fatty.  I am very glad we tried everything.

crispy chicken thighs & boudin blanc, bacon, pickled honeycrisp apples, arugula, fennel puree
Our entrees were just as good as the starter.  Matt had the chicken thighs, which had some of the best-cooked chicken skin I've ever tasted, on top of juicy and moist meat.  The boudin blanc was a vaguely anise-flavored house-made chicken sausage with a very fine texture.  To my husband's relief, the fennel puree did not taste like fennel.  This is a benefit to the licorice-flavor-averse, but would disappoint those looking for the fennel flavor as advertised.  The lightly-dressed arugula salad made for a well-balanced plate. 

braised beef short ribs with gnocchi, cipollini, ceylon cinnamon, swiss chard, and microgreens

I think balance is one of Nostrano's strengths.  A bite of tender short rib, pillowy gnocchi, and smoked cipollini was heavenly.  Then the swiss chard with what tasted like a bit of citrus offered a nice break from the heaviness of the meat and potatoes.  Again, one of the flavors advertised was not pronounced--the cinnamon.  I'm not sure whether it is to the chef's credit that the cinnamon was not overpowering or whether I should have expected more of a punch of flavor.  In any case, the dish was very satisfying (sorry the picture is fuzzy--it was pretty dark in there).

finanziera: brown butter cake, roasted pears, hickory nuts, maple gelato, pomegranate sauce

Dessert was interesting.  My dessert, the finanziera,  was ultimately what drew us into Nostrano, and it did not disappoint.  It's hard to go wrong for me with maple, pears, and butter.  Matt, however, did not find any dessert that really suited his preferences.  He went for the crema, which was more of an "interesting experience" than a lick-your-plate bonanza like mine was.  Matt's verdict was "not bad" but not something he'd order again. 

crema: milk chocolate cream, pumpkin sponge, olive oil gelato, px sherry, roasted pumpkin and cranberries

Matt and I agreed that for a restaurant in the first few months of its life, Nostrano is on the right track.  We've recently tried two other new restaurants on the square, Graze and Cooper's Tavern, and Nostrano is my favorite (though comparing them is really comparing apples and oranges--more about Graze later).  If they lent difficult winter ingredients such appeal, I will be happy to return to Nostrano to see what they do with bright, fresh summer ingredients.  Anniversary dinner, here we come!