Saturday, January 19, 2008

Te Quiero Arroz a la Mexicana

diana kennedy is a mexican food queen. she's legendary, actually, and the one cookbook i own of hers, THE ART OF MEXICAN COOKING: TRADITIONAL MEXICAN COOKING FOR AFICIANADOS. i, myself, as you know, grew up eating mexican food in one of the greatest places on earth to eat mexican food (if you don't happen to be in mexico) -- los angeles. my friend, hilda, would make us mole (for which i will be eternally grateful), some of the best chicken enchiladas i've ever had in my life and... oh, man, unbelievably killer arroz con pollo. the chicken was terrific, yes, but it was her rice, her incomparable rice that made my life so fabulous. and, well, the fact that she was so cool and i could tell her anything and trust her with my children without a thought or moment's hesitation. and i hope she felt the same.

rice at mexican restaurants is always my fave -- so full of incredible flavor and yummy extras that i never mind mixed vegetables in it. i HATE mixed vegetables. okay, that sounds really third grade of me, i'm sure. and i don't mean i hate ALL mixed vegetables, but i have really ick memories of frozen Bird's Eye crapola that my beloved mother imparted upon us as our vegetable at meals -- we usually either had frozen, canned or salad, as memory serves (as well as boxed mashed potato flakes, a lot of boxed Noodle Roni, Rice-a-Roni, which i must admit i LOVED, Hamburger Helper and Minute Rice). so, mixed veggies meant a lot of cooked carrots (omg, AAAHHHH! -- those and brussel sprouts are my least favorite vegetables in the WORLD -- and i mean cooked carrots, not raw. i could eat an entire bunch of raw carrots, drink a gallon of their juice and still crave more). okay, i'm totally rambling. let me get back to the point.

mexican rice. very yummy indeed. and this evening, we decided to have some mexican rice, a mexican style meatloaf i created with our lovely ground chuck from our lovely cow that would entice my meatloaf hating son, brandon. it seemed to have the right kind of vibe going for it, so we opened our beloved, very well-worn THE ART OF MEXICAN COOKING cookbook by the extraordinary Diana Kennedy and made ARROZ A LA MEXICANA or Mexican Rice.

here's how it went:
1-1/2 cups unconverted long-grain rice
1 cup (1/2 pound) finely chopped unskinned tomatoes
2 tbs finely chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1/3 cup safflower oil, melted chix fat, or melted lard
3-1/2 cups light chix broth, approximately
1/2 cup carrot rounds (optional)
1/2 cup fresh peas or diced zucchini (optional)
1/2 cup chopped giblets (optional)
sea salt to taste

what to do:
1. put the rice in a bowl and cover with very hot water. stir and leave to soak for about 10 minutes. drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
2. put the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a blender jar and blend until smooth. set aside.
3. heat oil in a heavy pan. give the rice a final shake and stir into the fat. fry over fairly high heat until it begins to turn a light golden color. strain off any excess oil, stir in the tomato puree, and fry, scraping the bottom of the dish to prevent sticking, until the puree has been absorbed -- about 8 minutes. stir in the broth, veggies and giblets (if used), add salt to taste, and cook over fairly high heat, uncovered, until all the broth has been absorbed and air holes appear in the surface. cover the surface of the rice with a towel and lid and continue cooking over very low heat for about 5 minutes longer. remove from the heat and set aside in a warm place for the rice to absorb the rest of the moisture in the steam and swell -- about 15 minutes. dig gently to the bottom and test a grain of rice. if it is still damp, cook for a few minutes longer if the top grains are not quite soft, sprinkle with a little hot broth, cover, and cook for a few minutes longer.
4. before serving, turn the rice over carefully from the bottom so that the flavored juices will be distributed evenly.

here's what we did:
all of us really love this rice and really look forward to it every time we make it. we use vegetable oil, not lard or chicken fat, and we do not add veggies -- i've rambled on that long enough not to have to explain it. this is a no brainer kind of rice, very flavorful and terrific with everything from tacos to fish. our mexican meatloaf was a hit as well -- brandon really loved it. it's a conglomeration of a bunch of different things i made up on the fly. suffice it to say it includes mexican spices, mexican favorites and a lot of good meat.

what i really want to share with you is the cookbook, which i adore. i have cooked often and much out of this cookbook, some things that have saved me when i've had to cook for a gig. the flautas are extraordinary, my favorite one being the potato flautas, the chicken tacos and more. while the recipes are priceless, it is what diana kennedy writes, her tales, her stories, her insights into authentic traditional mexican recipes that make you want to not just cook them, but go to the country and try them right there. as in cook them, in mexico and the various cities in mexico about which diana writes (oh, yeah -- we're close) with the ingredients that are right there, in the ovens and kitchens that are seasoned with history and dishes we will never know. what i wouldn't give to go there with the boys and do that. whenever hilda would talk about her family's ranch in mexico, i could not only see it in my mind, but i could taste it, smell it, hear it. feel it. she was a good friend, one of the best, and one of the best things she brought into my family's life was a memory that will last forever of a life i have realized i wish to give to my children -- joy in a place of beauty and passion.
i miss hilda avila, because of that feeling
and because her heart was so huge, so real, completely without agenda or judgement.
i hope she is well.

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