Sunday, September 23, 2012

I feel the need… the need for feast!

Since I last checked in to let you know that I’m still alive, I have made good progress on the secret projects that I’ve been working on. Sorry, you’ll still have to wait until the end of the year to see them though!
What I can show you is the delicious food that Nick and I have been making. You’ll have to forgive my many instagram photos, but I was so eager to eat the yummy-smelling food that I didn’t want to waste time getting out my good camera. In some cases I thought ahead and got my camera out before cooking, but that mostly only happened when Nick reminded me.

I’m surprised that we haven’t been granted Mexican citizenship at this point due to how much Mexican cooking we’ve been doing. Sundays have become “Slow Cooker Sundays,” filling our house with amazing Mexican smells thanks to Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday. It has now overtaken The Joy of Cooking as the most-used cookbook in our house.

The great thing about Rick’s recipes is that they are delicious and healthy. They are focused on fresh produce and not mounds of melted cheese (don’t get me wrong: I do love love love cheese). His introduction discusses his journey through figuring out how to eat delicious foods and still be healthy. Basically he eventually realizes that, as humans, we have a fundamental need to feast and should allow ourselves to do so once a week without feeling guilty. The rest of the week you should watch portion size and eat fresh, low-fat and low-calorie meals, but once a week you should gather together with your nearest and dearest and enjoy an amazing meal together. The meal doesn’t necessarily have to be a large unhealthy meal, but the point is to enjoy the food that you’re eating and the company that you are keeping. Essentially, the meal is an event and not just something we’re doing so we can keep our bodies going. I can totally get on board with this. He also talks about regularly exercising. He practices yoga and includes this crazy picture of himself doing this crazy handstand—of course making it look super simple. The introduction legitimized my need to feast but also inspired me to get back into my regular exercising routine. It's really what's behind all of this cooking as of late.

Although, to be honest, some of the recipes have fallen a little flat and we’ve had to think of ways to kick them up a notch. Somehow they smell amazing but you don’t get all of that deliciousness in the taste. For instance, the Chicken a la Veracruzana is absolutely perfect when it has a dollop of the tomatillo salsa on top, but is just OK without it. Last Sunday we made chicken with jalepenos and potatoes and it needed a little something extra to give it some depth. We’re still trying to figure out what that something is.


A few weekends ago I made his creamy corn soup with chicken, poblano chile, and cilantro.


It was better the second night, which confirmed my suspicion that all soups need a day of rest in the fridge so that all of the flavors can meld together. Otherwise, the flavors were good, but it was still a little thin for my taste, probably because Rick has you blend the ingredients and then strain them. I might skip the straining the next time we make this. We added a side salad of arugula topped with a yummy but light dill and sour cream dressing that Nick whipped up. You only needed the tiniest amount of dressing, but it paired really well with the arugula.

We have been doing some non-Bayless cooking though. Last weekend we made lime soup and our very first completely homemade pizza. Both were hits! I got the lime soup recipe from my sister-in-law, who got it from the February 2011 Clean Eating.


I had never heard of that magazine before, but it appears that they strive for delicious and healthy recipes. I am resisting the urge to subscribe to it since they have a ton of stuff online. We first had lime soup when we were in Cancun in 2010 for a wedding and have been thinking about recreating it ever since. This soup was so flavorful, clean, and delicious, although slightly different than the soup we had in Mexico (it was essentially just a broth with chicken). The chicken is cooked with some cumin and jalapenos and then you add the broth over top of that, retaining all of that amazing flavor. Isn’t cumin the best? We use it, in combination with other spices, to flavor chicken for tacos and it just makes it. After the broth comes to a boil, you remove the pot from heat and add green onions, cilantro, diced tomatoes, and spinach. After letting it rest in the fridge for a night, we reheated it and added the lime right before serving. The original recipe calls for toasting tortillas and topping the soup with the tortillas and sour cream, but we skipped that and just ate the soup with a side of tortilla chips. Let me tell you, it was amazing. It was like taking the successful elements of the lemon and cilantro chicken soup that I made last year and adding it to a complexly-flavored broth. What might have made the difference was cooking the chicken and then adding the broth in the same pot. Nevertheless, it was perfect! We will make it again and again.

Last Saturday we had our most adventurous cooking experience yet when we made pizza entirely from scratch. A friend recommended Jonathan Waxman’s recipe for pizza dough in A Great American Cook, and, after seeing the photo of it in the book, we immediately snatched it up. Even though prior to learning how to sew, I was into baking, I have never made dough from scratch, especially one that utilizes yeast. The dough turned out a little sticky, so we had some issues transferring the pizza to the stone, which resulted in a bunched up, thick-in-the-center pie. Still, it baked well and it tasted amazing. Other than getting the dough right, the one thing I would change for the next time is to put the bacon pieces on top of the other ingredients so they crisp up a little bit more (this time they were buried under the tomatoes, cheese, and green onions).


The best part about all of this weekend cooking is that we just eat the leftovers during the week! We did this a few times last winter but then fell off the wagon when the weather got warm. I’m now determined to make at least one meal over the weekend that we can just reheat during the week to cut down on the cooking/clean up time on weeknights. It makes dinner so much more enjoyable!

Do any of you have any tried and true cookbooks that you absolutely love? Nick will probably disable my Amazon account if I buy another cookbook, but Christmas is coming up and I am always looking for gift suggestions!