Monday, April 03, 2006

Tortilla Workout Plan

This evening, there was a need for a workout. Something physical. Not so much for me. But for the teenagers around here. So they got put to work making food, food that involved breaking a little sweat.

I used to have a pretty nice house. Walls, mostly intact. Ceilings, still with some plaster. Doors and frames, solid, functional.

Then came soccer. AYSO, advanced AYSO, club, etc. For those of you not familiar with this destructive concept, AYSO stands for American Youth Soccer Organization, there being also advanced versions of this, as well as super advanced versions (club).

Actually, the AYSO is not to blame. It’s a great organization, with lots of people who are dedicated, for little or no money, to organizing soccer for kids.

It’s actually AYSO and rain that is to blame.

AYSO gets those little feet a kickin’. All day long. With ever bigger balls. And ever stronger legs. Which is great – wears the kids out, keeps them busy – until it rains.

Then the fun moves indoors. You can take away the balls, but the magically reappear at every opportunity. You can chase the culprits to the garage, but the minute your busy, they're back.

For a while, they occupy themselves with trying to tap the ball on the end of their foot as many times in succession as possible. Which at least doesn't ruin the walls. But that ends soon. And they go back to it.

Back to bouncing the balls against the walls, ceiling, door frames, using every door as a soccer goal. You can read ‘Nike’ imprinted on most surfaces of my house.

Because those little feet just gotta’ keep kickin’. Rain or shine.

And eventually they teach the dog to play. The action turns from non-stop maddening ball bouncing against walls into a full action contact sport. From room to room. Over, under, through the furniture. Everything is sacrificed to the soccer god.

Of course, today it is raining again. And soccer practice is canceled. Again. And all that bottled up energy is raging around in those no longer so little legs. Again.

What has all that got to do with food? Well, probably more with getting out my internal energy, but as I mentioned at the beginning, they are at work making food. Food that takes some muscle and energy to make.

We could just go to the store and buy some tortillas to go with the Chicken Pozole we will be having for dinner. But that’s too easy.

So they are kneading a firm dough – “10 minutes OK?” “Nah, keep kneading!” “15 minutes – enough?!” “Nah, you’re just getting there!” The recipe only calls for a few minutes, but this is a lot more fun. For me, anyways.

Plus, the rolling out to a paper thin tortilla layer for frying is a bit of effort. 24 tortillas (we only need 8 or so for tonight, but who’s counting?) works up a little sweat!

And just because the soccer ball did get kicked in the house – despite my warning – the Fava Beans for tomorrow’s dinner are being peeled and shelled tonight. Now that’s punishment!

Pozole is a Mexican style stew containing hominy (corn), tomatillos (those little green tomatoes in husks), and usually pork, but I’m doing it with chicken. Braising the chicken (is that the right term?) for 2 hours in a broth turns it into a tender mass that is easily pulled apart with a fork into the characteristic form. The hominy, tomatillos, chili peppers and cilantro combine give the chicken broth a wonderfully sweet/hot sort of flavor. And cilantro is so aromatic – I could sit all day and smell it (if people didn’t talk about me so much afterwards!).

The flour tortillas we make are certainly not as great as you can get in a good homestyle Mexican restaurant in our area, but they are pretty good. And the difference between home made, fresh fried dough as compared to store bought is so great, once you’ve tried the home made you’ll never buy tortillas from the store again. This tortilla recipe results in a little thicker tortilla, and the milk gives them a bit chewier texture for eating along with soups, as opposed to wrapping enchiladas.

High in Vitamine C, lots of chicken broth. It's the perfect way to chase away the cold and rain, and to work out some of that energy!

Pozole Verde
Adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse, 2004

3 ½ lbs chicken breast, boneless
1 quart chicken broth
1 onion, quartered, plus 1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
5 stems cilantro, plus more for garnishing
4 ounces hulled untoasted pumpkin seeds
1 pound fresh tomatillos
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 fresh hot chile, such as Serrano or jalapeno, stem removed and coarsely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
2 (29-ounce) cans hominy, drained
Flour Tortillas (recipe follows)
Sour cream
Diced red onion
Dried oregano and/or finely chopped cilantro leaves
Ripe avocados, cubed
Lime wedges
In a large soup pot put 1 quart of water and 1 qyart of chicken broth, the chicken breasts, quartered onion, smashed garlic, and cilantro stems and bring to a boil. Skim any foam that rises to the surface, partially cover the pot, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the stock is flavorful.
While the meat is cooking, heat a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the seeds have popped and turned golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.
Place the tomatillos in a small saucepan and add enough water to cover by 1-inch. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook over medium heat until the tomatillos are tender, about 10 minutes. Strain tomatillos and discard the cooking liquid. Place the tomatillos in the jar of a blender along with the pumpkin seeds, green chile, and chopped onion.. Add 1/3 cup of the chicken cooking liquid and blend until very smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve and discard the solids.
In a skillet over medium high heat, add the oil. When hot, add the puree and cook, stirring constantly, for about 7 minutes, or until the color has darkened and the mixture has thickened considerably. Remove from the heat.
When the chicken is very tender, strain the stock. Set the chicken aside. Discard other solids. Return the stock to the soup pot, add the tomatillo-pumpkin seed mixture and the hominy and return to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 1 hour, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened and flavorful. When the meat and chicken are cool enough to handle, shred into bite size pieces using 2 forks. Add the meat to the soup pot and season with the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Serve the pozole in shallow bowls with the tortillas on the side, and allow guests to garnish their soup with condiments of their own choosing.

Chewy Flour Tortillas

4 C All-purpose flour
1 Tbsp Baking powder
2 t Salt
4 Tbsp Vegetable oil
1 ½ C Lukewarm milk

Stir together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and vegetable oil to the lukewarm milk and whisk briefly to incorporate. Gradually add the milk to the flour, and work the mixture into a dough. It will be sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with flour and knead vigorously for a few minutes until smooth and elastic. The kneading will take care of the stickiness. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rest for 15 minutes to rest.

Divide your dough into 16 balls of equal size, cover them, and let them rest again for about 20 minutes. Avoid letting them touch, if you don't want them to stick together.

Dust your work surface with flour. Working one at a time, remove each piece of dough and pat it into a 5-inch circle. With a rolling pin, roll out the tortilla, working from the center out, until you have a 7- or 8-inch tortilla a little less than ¼-inch thick. Transfer the tortilla to a hot, dry skillet or griddle. It will begin to blister. Let it cook for 30 seconds, turn it, and let the other side cook for 30 seconds. Remove the tortilla, place it in a napkin-lined basket and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat for the remaining tortillas.

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