Mole Poblano, Arroz y Frijoles, and Tortillas

It’s been two weeks since I last posted and I apologize for the long absence. I originally hadn’t planned on taking an off week until this week but then our dog got sick and after four weeks of continuous cooking, I needed a break.

Niko is our almost eleven year old husky. In November it’ll be ten years since he became our dog, even though he was only supposed to be a foster. At the time we already had a dog, a Rottweiler named Lars, who ruled our world. Niko was abandoned by his owner, who was our neighbor at the apartment complex where we were living, and when management called me to ask if I knew who the dog belonged to (I had previously worked for the company and the manager was a friend), I told them we’d take the dog until we could find an owner. He’s been a pain in our ass since.

I’ve never met such a stubborn dog in my life! From day one, he has been an ornery s.o.b. He suffered from major separation anxiety for the first couple of months we had him, which meant coming home to turds all over the floor, shredded hardcover books, or DVD cases that became chew toys. Sometimes all three! It took years, YEARS, to break him of jumping on people and to not yip and howl at us whenever he wanted something. Actually, I don’t think we did anything, age did. But throught it all, we kept him because 1. I’m a sucker for animals and 2. I knew no one else would tolerate him and I didn’t want him to be adopted and then returned over and over again. Niko has never been our dog, we’re his people.

And it probably would have stayed that way but then we had the Four Year Old and the day we brought her home, Niko found his soulmate. He never left her side for the first three years of her life. Wherever she was, he was close to follow. He slept next to her or in her room every night up until nine months ago, when he got sick.

Nine months ago I noticed a growth on his neck. At the time it was just a growth under the skin that didn’t have fur and it didn’t seem to bother him so I ignored it. Months passed and it didn’t go away. I hesitated taking him into the vet because I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. At his age, it would most likely be the big C and I couldn’t handle it. I’m aware how selfish it was of me.

Well then it started bugging him and he started scratching it, which made it bleed, which made it hard for me to ignore. So I took him in two weeks ago. It’s a mast cell tumor that was about to rupture (apparently they start to itch before they explode) so it was perfect timing. Luckily his blood work was great so whatever caused the tumor hadn’t spread. We didn’t have the tumor tested because, honestly, had it been cancer, we couldn’t afford to treat it and he’s eleven, what’s the point?

So they cut open his face, removed the tumor, and stitched him up. I’ve spent the past week tending to his every need and yep, he’s still an ornery s.o.b.

And that’s why I took last week off. Tomorrow I’ll post why I’m taking this week off.

And since this post is long enough, the food review will be short. My mole was good but not great. My rice was uh-mazing! My beans were semi-crunchy even after being soaked for four hours and cooking for two and my tortillas were delicious!

Recipe

Posole

I had posole for the first time about eight years ago. We went to a Mexican restaurant on Burnet (I, cannot for the life of me, remember the name!) in December to have dinner with some friends. Nothing on the menu really stuck out until I got to the posole. So up until then, when I saw “posole,” I thought of the hominy in menudo. Menudo, which is a Mexican soup made with beef stomach and hominy, is one of my favorite things to eat.

It takes forever to make and not Melissa forever, like, actual forever. I want to say it takes something like twelve hours to make because it takes THAT long for the stomach to turn chewy. And it’s also very easy to make crappy menudo. I stopped eating other people’s menudo when I moved to Austin and made the mistake of ordering some at a restaurant and it was basically chili flavored water. That is not proper menudo. Proper menudo has a very distinct flavor and it’s hard to describe it. My cousin said it’s briny and I feel like that’s a good starting place but it’s much more complex than that. There’s the chili powder, that is very present without becoming unbearably spicy; oregano that is all over it and makes it smell heavenly; and the lime juice that brings it all together. Just try it and forget about the stomach.

Which is what I did up until this past January. When my Mom would make it, she would literally add an additional six pound can of hominy to the menudo just for me because I hated the meat. She would then pick out all the meat for me and just serve me the hominy. I remember my family members scolding her for spoiling me but she would always ignore them and say I was her daughter, she could spoil me if she wanted. By the way, who started chopping onions in here? My eyes are so watery!

I’m gonna wrap this up before I become a sobbing mess. I’ve been watching a lot of Jane the Virgin and seeing her relationship with her mom has really made me miss mine. I still have mine, thank goodness, but since the stroke has left her speechless, it doesn’t always feel like it.

Moving on.

Posole. When I finally had posole, I wondered why my Mom didn’t just make it instead of the very laborious menudo the whole time! It has hominy, it has pork (which menudo does as well, in the form of pig feet (I promise! It’s a good soup, it’s not disgusting!)), and it doesn’t take five hundred hours to make. Everybody wins in that situation!

And we all won when I made it! It was really easy to make, took me a little over an hour because I halved the recipe. The recipe called for pork shoulder but I used ribs because I couldn’t anything less than three pounds of shoulder and there’s no way I needed that much. Knowing my love for hominy and the four year old’s hatred of everything, I almost doubled the hominy. And when I was preparing her bowl, I stood there and pulled out every piece of meat for her. Because I can spoil her if I want to. *

*I didn’t have to do that for the baby because she loves everything. That’s her hand in the picture, grabbing more avocado and radishes. She stuffed her face and asked for seconds. I got thirds. She might not have my temperament but she has my big panza and love of food!

Recipe

Sancocho de Gallina and Tamales de Pipían

As I mentioned before, I had wanted to cook for Caro when she was in town but was unable to do so but thankfully her mother and sister still live in Austin so I was able to cook for them. When meal planning, I asked Caro for input because I couldn’t really find much information on how meals are set up in Colombia. Like, do they do appetizers? How many sides do they typically have? What are the make up of the sides? Are they primarily vegetables or protein? Caro, can I rename you Google??? And as usual, she answered in her calm and honest way “Meli, we eat everything. Don’t stress out.” I still stressed out. She then suggested sancocho (chicken stew), tamales, and empanadas. Since empanadas usually take a lot of work, I settled on the sancocho and tamales. I know what you’re thinking, tamales take a lot of time to make BUT Caro did mention that Colombian tamales are much bigger than Mexican tamales so I thought that would cut my work time down significantly.

Hint: it did not.

I started prepping early in the day to reduce running around like a crazy person. I boiled the potatoes for the pipían, washed the banana leaves for the tamales, washed and peeled the potatoes and yucca for the sancocho, I was on it! Caro’s mother and sister, Patricia and Vane, were set to arrive at seven so I really started working on the meal at 5:30. I thought the sanchocho de gallina, a chicken stew, would be easy enough because it involved chopping up a chicken and veggies and throwing them in a pot. And since I’ve finally learned how to break down a full chicken in about five minutes, I didn’t worry about that. Same with the tamales. I didn’t have to pre-cook the meat like you do with Mexican tamales and I knew the masa would not take very long to mix so I kinda just took my time with everything.

What I did not plan on were the sauces. I had to make ají de maní (spicy peanut sauce) for the tamales, hogao for the masa (tomato based creole sauce), and aliño (a dressing) to put into everything. Those three took up an hour, not even kidding. It was a lot of chopping and blending and boiling and I was not a happy camper. Next thing I knew it was 6:30 and I hadn’t even made the tamales. I then ordered James into the kitchen and we created a mini assembly line. He filled the tamales, I folded and tied them with string. I had also wanted to make some arepas (kinda like a cheese pupusa) and patacones (fried plantain) but there was no time.

Thankfully Vane showed up with patacones of her own, and some extra hogao, and Patricia showed up with pandebono, which is another cheese bread. It was like they read my mind!

Everything turned out amazing, maybe my stress enhanced the flavor. All of the chicken sank to the bottom of the pot but I think that helped with its tenderness. It literally fell apart in my bowl and it was juicy and amazing. Patricia said that my seasoning of the sancocho was perfect and even though I didn’t have much to do with it (thankyou Goya!) I still accepted the compliment. The plantains held together very well and I think that’s because they were super green. I had expected them to turn into mush from being boiled for over an hour but they kept shape.

The tamales, though, oh man. I think pipían tamales have replaced pork tamales as my favorite. Unlike Mexican masa, this masa was not only flavored with spices but with actual veggies in the form of the aliño, which is a paste made up of red and green bell peppers and onions. It was so much richer than the masa I’m used to. The pipían itself, which itself was made of peanuts, potato, and the hogao, was indescribable. It was just fantastic! Vane said the tamales were kinda bigger than normal and I told her Caro had said Colombian tamales are but she clarified that Colombian tamales typically are bigger than Mexican tamales except for the ones made of pipían. I just fell in love with them and I couldn’t have been happier with the meal.

For dessert I made coconut flan. I’d never had homemade flan, it’s always been the instant stuff, so I obviously thought it was gross, but all the Colombian desserts I found were kinda complex so I sucked it up and made the flan. I am SO happy I made the flan! It was so much more amazing than I could have ever expected! It was rich and sweet and OMG I NEED TO EAT THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! It wasn’t hard to make so I really might make this on a weekly basis.

I’m gonna get so fat. And it will.be.worth.it.

Recipe, Recipe, Recipe

Arroz con Pollo

This is the third time I’ve made arroz con pollo. The first was during Costa Rican week and then during Cuban week. This is also the second time I’ve used those sentences. I am anything if not original.

This week’s arroz con pollo recipe is Colombian. I chose Colombia because one of my favorite people on the entire planet is Colombian. Hola Caro! I’ve known Caro for eight years and we met when we were both working at a property in south Austin. I was pretty sure she hated me when we first started working together but then I learned that unlike me, she takes a while to warm up to people. I’m one of those annoying people who thinks every person they meet is going to be their new best friend because who wouldn’t want to be best friends? Best friends are great! Caro, like normal humans, gets to know people to feel them out and figure out if they’re worth being let in. I will literally tell you my whole life story within ten minutes of meeting you if you ask. Sometimes I do it without even being asked.

Once she warmed up to me, which took all of a month because I’m persistent in my friend making, we became very close friends. Since then we have spent many nights drinking wine and scotch (cause we’re fancy), having M.I.A dance parties, been in each other’s weddings, and have watched each other grow into women (which is probably the best part). Our oldest daughters are three weeks apart and this November she’ll have another daughter, whom I’m still hoping she’ll name after me. The currently named Baby Eelan will be a Scorpio, just like me, and will also be born in the year of the Monkey, just like me. She’s due at the end of November and I’m not typically keen about sharing a birthday with other people but I’m making an exception for Eelan and am hoping she will come early and be born on the the second.

Even though I’ve never been to Colombia, I feel a connection to it through Caro. I had hoped to do Colombian week when she and her family were visiting a few weeks ago but they were so busy doing so much in their short time here that I didn’t bother. Up until then, Caro and her family were living in Vietnam, where she and husband were teaching ESL. They came back to the States for a month before moving to Qatar, where they will be for the next two years while her husband teaches. I was really hoping they would stay this time but the world calls and they must answer. Until then, we’ll just have to survive through FB and WhatsApp phone calls, one of which we have today. I’ve been looking forward to it all week!

So this week is dedicated to you, my CaroLINDA.

And because this week’s decision comes from a place full of love and respect, it hurts me to say this recipe did not do it for me. It wasn’t that it was bad but the meat was kinda dry. Okay, the meat was very dry. I had to boil chicken breast and make a stock, which I was hoping would help make the breast juicy, but it did not. The rice part was great and I liked the addition of the green beans but that meat was so dry! I will try to make this again though because I think I can trick the girls into eating veggies this way. The four year old did pull out every single piece of green, including peas, beans, bell pepper, and cilantro, but she did eat the rest. The baby gobbled it up but that wasn’t a surprise. Maybe next time I’ll add more broth to the mixture when mixing the chicken in with the rice and there will be a next time.

Even though this didn’t work out, I’m hopeful for the rest of the week. And maybe Caro will give me some insight into what I did wrong but I have a feeling she’ll say what I did wrong was cook with chicken. She doesn’t eat anything with feathers because, actually I don’t know why she doesn’t eat birds. I’ll have to ask today.

Recipe