Thursday, November 15, 2007

Muy Bien, Y Tu?

i love mexican food. i'm a native los angeleno, so i suppose that would go without saying, except not really. we didn't go out to dinner a lot when i was a kid, because my dad's schedule was pretty crazy and when he had a free night, he wanted to just chill at home. it was cool, because my mom was a really good cook and she'd let us help in the kitchen. but on those rare occasions when we would go out, half of the time it was to a restaurant my father (who was a member of The Gourmet Society with my mom) had checked out from his chi-chi gourmet friends which meant dressing up, reservations and trying new things like escargot with garlic butter (swoon worthy even at age 9) and seafood linguine in a tomato vodka sauce (also worth the nap i had to take to be allowed to stay up late enough to eat it). the other have were our regulars -- Twin Dragon, a Chinese place to which i still flock whenever i'm back in l.a.; Hamburger Hamlet -- the one off sunset not the one on Beverly Drive; Don the Beachcomber, a rather delightful Polynesian restaurant in Marina del Rey (long gone now); Farrells Soda Fountain (my brother was always determined to eat the Trough, a fairly sizable ice cream monstrosity that got you the actual trough you ate it from if you succeeded -- skinny guy that he was, he always succeeded -- the jerk) and La Fonda, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Los Angeles well known for their mariachi. without fail, whenever my father would ask if we were in the mood for Mexican food, i would always say, "NO!!!", which was always outvoted by my family (as you probably have guessed, i was more interested in going to Twin Dragon for Chinese or a restaurant long gone from Los Angeles and usurped by Benihana, Pear Garden for Japanese). and we'd go to La Fonda, me dragging my feet and my "lip on the ground" (my father's favorite saying for when i would pout) then order Arroz con Pollo and be in heaven while the mariachi serenaded us. once there, i didn't want to be anywhere else, but getting me there as a kid took a LOT of doing.

now, however, i adore mexican food. i admit it, give into it, and cook it often. i miss that about Los Angeles, because my sons and i had our favorites -- still have our favorites -- and spent our fair share of time hanging at Olvera Street downing mexican food. tonight, we decided to try a cookbook i've had for a fair amount of time, but have yet to cook from. i have Diana Kennedy's mexican cookbook and i use it a ton, so i had never cracked open this one. it is also by a well-known and accomplished mexican food cook, RICK BAYLESS and is called MEXICAN EVERYDAY. as i read through it, it reminded me of my Let's Eat Japanese cookbook with its great stories and accessibility with the recipes. i chose CHICKEN IN TANGY ESCABECHE OF CARAMELIZED ONIONS, CARROTS AND JALAPENOS, or Pollo en Escabeche de Cebollas Caramelizadas, Zanahorias y Jalapenos. whatever you like.

1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 tsps dried oregano, preferably Mexican
4 (2 pounds total) chicken breast halves, bones and skin intact
2 tbs vegetable or olive oil
1 large white onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 large carrots, peeled if you wish and sliced 1/4 inch thick on a diagonal
4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/4 cup vinegar (apple cider vinegar is traditional)
2 to 4 pickled jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth

what to do:
1. combine the spices, including 1 tsp salt, in a small bowl. sprinkle half the mixture over the chicken.
2. heat the oil in a very large (12") skillet over medium. lay in the chicken, skin side down, and cook, turning once, until richly browned (about 3-4 minutes per side). remove the chicken to a plate, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
3. add the onions and carrots and stir frequently, cooking until the onions are browned, about 7 minutes. add the garlic and stir for about 1 minute, then add the remaining seasoning mixture, the vinegar, jalapenos and broth. nestle the chix pieces, skin side up, in the onion mixture, cover the skillet (a cookie sheet or pizza pan work well here) and simmer gently over medium low until the chix is cooked just through, about 15 minutes.
4. taste the broth and salt as necessary. transfer a piece of chix to a dinner plate, spoon over the juicy veggies, then serve.

here's what we did:
first off, we used skinless and boneless chix thighs and chicken legs, skin on. we didn't use carrots, because, as i've said before, I HATE COOKED CARROTS. SO, since carrots are root vegetables, i used potatoes, yukon gold, which are also root vegetables (i'm SO agriculturally proficient). i also didn't have jalapenos -- oddly enough, i had a HUGE jar of these guys from one of my old catering jobs way back when and i just got rid of it before we moved here. go figure. i added a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes to add heat and was REALLY excited about the brown bits that came up with this adding of the broth and vinegar. when i saw those guys get all saucey, floaty in the broth, i was in heaven and the smell was DELICIOUS. but would it be as good as it smelled?

yes. simple yes. the flavors were simple and good, the semi-soupyness just right for the chilly night and nicholas and brandon completely chowed down. i added some nice, cooling celery sticks to the whole thing as a side -- just fresh, raw and chilled -- and it topped off the heat really well. even the broth had the boys happy.

i think i love rick bayless as much as i love tyler florence.

what's a girl to do?

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