Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Need to Feed...

Everyone has their own special way of expressing love, don't they?

Whether it's hand-holding and a heartfelt Hallmark or skywriting and something that sparkles, isn't wonderful to be shown how much you are loved?

Charlie? It appears, he prefers to say it with Charmin.  Yes, this is the love note I awoke to the other's perfect and it made my day.

Me, on the other hand? I find the need to say it with soup...and bread, and cookies and pies and jam and pickles...anything made by my hands and with my heart.

The rolls Will and I made for Grandpa Ole's 80th.

But love, it seems, isn't the only emotion that fires up my burners.

When I'm angry and the world seems cold and wrong, there's nothing like beating a big wad of stiff bread dough into submission then watching it transform into something warm and soft and pure and good.

When I'm frustrated that I don't have the power to cure my kid's croupy cough, I take up arms with a stock pot and a raw chicken and proceed to fill the house with steamy goodness and the eternal hope that chicken soup really does cure everything that ails you.

When I feel guilty about cancelling Sunday night dinner with the in-laws...again...I make a lasagna and leave it on their doorstep.

When I'm worried about one particular friend, I make her butterscotch pudding. When I'm happy for another, I make her cupcakes with sprinkles. And when I get the news that yet another is bracing herself for a round of chemo, I know that sweet and creamy baked custard (the one that my mother-in-law makes for me when I'm sick) is one of the only things that will soothe and settle and nourish.



Put simply...I have the need to feed.

I don't know what it is about cooking for the people I love...

Is it that cooking gives me power to do "something", to somehow try to "fix-it", when all too often life is completely out of control?

Is that I have an even greater need to feed my own ego as I eagerly anticipate the gratifying sights and sounds of my friends and family enjoying the fruits of my labor ?

Is it that I love to eat so much that I'll take any excuse to open a bag of chocolate chips?

I don't know for sure but I'm guessing the answer, quite simply, is: yes, yes and yes.

It's what my mother does. It's what I do. And, quite frankly, I could think of less productive ways to work through my issues! Ya think?

Mom and I with the Jack-O-Lantern cookies we made for Kindergarten.

Mom and I teaching a kids' cooking class.

So, the other day, I got a wonderful email from a friend who is two months into a long recovery from a brutal car accident. It seems that their scheduled homemade meal deliveries had come to an end and my name was on a list of those who signed up to help out but didn't yet have the chance...and I jumped!

One of my favorite meals to deliver a home bound friend and their family is pozole with all of the fixins'. It's an authentic, Mexican, one-pot pork and hominy stew which is surprisingly simple to make yet rather fun and spectacular when adorned with all of the fresh toppings that go with it. I like to surprise my friends with it when I know that they just can't take another Pyrex full of lasagna or creamy chicken casserole! I always make a double batch and we eat it for days too and freeze a little for later.

It starts with dried New Mexico chiles...they're pretty mild as chiles go but still have a little kick. I couldn't believe it when both of my kids gobbled the pozole up the first time I made it (they call it Mamma's Spicy Soup). They're not culinary wimps mind you but they are kids none the less...I think there is something magical about this stuff.

After the chiles are soaked, they're blended with onion and garlic to make this killer, potent, puree that gets dumped into the stock pot with the pork that has been simmering for a while...

Here's what the pork looks like when it comes out of the pot. It has been simmering with chicken stock, water, Mexican oregano and enough garlic to ground a coven of vampires, then removed, cooled, shredded, and added back to the stock with lots of hominy and the chile sauce.

Once everything is added back to the pot it's almost ready to go. While it simmers, you are preparing all of the tasty stuff that gets piled on top to your liking...diced onion and radish, avocado, shredded Romaine, lime juice, and...

...this is the best part...lot's of freshly fried tortilla strips sprinkled with salt.

Here's how I like mine. I just love the combination of warm and hot, spicy and cool, stewed and fresh.

Pozole Rojo (Mexican Pork Stew)


• 1 large head garlic
• 12 cups water
• 4 cups chicken broth
• 4 pounds country-style pork ribs
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano crumbled
• 7 dried New Mexico red chiles (2 ounces)
• 1 ½ cups boiling-hot water
• ¼ large white onion
• 3 teaspoons salt
• 3 15-ounce cans white hominy
• 8 corn tortillas
• 1 ½ cups vegetable oil

• Accompaniments: diced avocado, thinly sliced romaine lettuce, chopped white onion, diced radishes, lime wedges, fresh cilantro, sour cream


Peel garlic cloves and reserve 2 for chile sauce.

Slice remaining garlic. In a 7- to 8-quart heavy kettle bring water and broth just to a boil with sliced garlic and pork. Skim surface then add the oregano. Gently simmer pork, uncovered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

While pork is simmering, discard stems from chiles and in a blender combine chiles with boiling-hot water. Soak chiles, turning them occasionally, 30 minutes. Cut onion into large pieces, add to the blender and purée with chiles and soaking liquid, reserved garlic, and 2 teaspoons salt until smooth.

Transfer pork with tongs to a cutting board but save the broth mixture! Shred pork the pork when cooled, and discard bones. Rinse and drain hominy. Return pork to broth mixture and add chile sauce, hominy, and remaining teaspoon salt. Simmer pozole 30 minutes and, if necessary, season with salt.

While pozole is simmering, stack tortillas and halve. Cut halves crosswise into thin strips. In a skillet heat 1/2 inch oil until hot but not smoking and fry tortilla strips in 3 or 4 batches, stirring occasionally, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. They get dark fast so watch 'em! Transfer tortilla strips with a slotted spoon as they are fried to paper towels to drain (I place my paper towels over a flatened brown grocery bag for added absorbtion). Transfer tortilla strips to a bowl.

Serve pozole with tortilla strips and bowls of accompaniments.

Serves: 8

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Note: This is a great do-ahead recipe. Make the pozole a couple of days in advance, no problem. Fry the tortillas the day before and prep all of the fixins' morning of.