Is anyone else experiencing a mid-winter, post-holiday cooking rut? Let's call it the Doldrums, the cooking Bleahs, the opposite of cooking inspiration. The home cook's equivalent to "writer's block". Nothing sounds good, and despite trying to cook some interesting meals, a run of bad recipes has gotten me down.
We may be in a cooking rut, but we are definitely not in a skiing rut. Nick pushing it on the last kilometer of his Classic cross-country race.
This is our fourth month of winter here in the blustery, snowy, frigidly beautiful Tetons. My cooking doldrums theory is that I have exhausted all of my best "winter foods", and that I am ready for Spring. (See basil spinach pesto, last post). I don't want springtime weather, I just want springtime foods: pristine strawberries, crispy asparagus, and an early season greenhouse tomato or two.
Jack stomps it out in Casper Bowl. Working up an appetite in the winter makes my family ravenously hungry every night.
What do you do when you are in the midst of a cooking rut? I would love to know. Here's what I did this week: I went to Teton Thai
3 times, presumably to work on a piece for my blog (see next post). I really just wanted someone else to make me Beef Noodle Soup, Roasted Duck Curry, and Pad Woon Sen with Shrimp.
Teton Thai just opened at Teton Village. If you are feeling uninspired, go there and eat the best in Thai comfort food.
The rest of my cooking week went like this: a sad, experimental Penne with Swiss Chard and Orange Zest that no one ate (except Mountain Man, who'll eat anything), a Bacon Wrapped Elk/Turkey Meatloaf that needs some work before it makes its debut here on jacksonholefoodie, and a Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon that was quite good, but was hard on my stomach, being not used to so much cream and cheese and bacon all in one dish. Leftovers of all of the above completed my miserable food rut week.
Penne with swiss chard and orange zest seemed like a good way to embrace winter foods, but it was dry and not as tasty as I envisioned.
On a high note, my Bittersweet Chocolate and Oatmeal Cookies with Cocoa Nibs were very good. As was my simple Almond Cake. I made it twice. Will post soon.
In the midst of a food rut, I find that a tried and true recipe for cookies never lets me down.
After thumbing through some old cookbooks, I remembered how much I loved to make Pollo Tepehuano. From an early Diana Kennedy book, Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico, I found a recipe I started making in 1986, when I was very busy attending medical school and in need of quick, easy , and inexpensive nourishment.
Perusing old cookbooks is a good way to rediscover old and beloved recipes, that have somehow been dropped from your repertoire.
Pollo Tepehuano is just chicken and rice, with some lively flavors thrown in, a simple one-dish meal that can be tossed together at the end of the day. The soupy rice becomes a Mexican risotto of sorts that you don't have to stir.
Having fresh tortillas on hand from the local Tortilleria
told me that this dish was meant to be. Like a midwinter week in sunny Mexico, Pollo Tepehuano will deliver me from my cooking rut. Things are going to turn around soon.
The rice will be a bit soupy, like a loose risotto.
Pollo Tepehuano (Chicken Tepehuan)
This recipe from Diana Kennedy's Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico
, is credited to Senora Gilberto Nunez, from Durango, Mexico.
Serves 4, with leftovers.
A few notes on ingredients:
- Don't be tempted to substitute ground cumin for the whole cuminseed. The essence of this dish comes from the earthy flavor of the toasted cuminseed.
- If you can't find a nice fresh tomato, chop up a canned Italian plum tomato.
- Any hot green chiles will work here; I didn't have serranos so I used Thai chiles instead.
- 12 green onions (scallions)
- 4 1/2 pounds chicken parts, skin removed (such as a whole chicken cut up, or 2 bone-in breasts and a package of boneless chicken thighs)
- 8 cups strong chicken broth, homemade if you have it
- 1 1/2 cups white rice
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 2 Tbsp. safflower or canola oil
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 2 chiles serranos or any fresh, hot green chiles, seeds removed and finely chopped. (Wash hands and knives thoroughly after chopping).
- 10 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves only, roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp. cuminseed
- Cut four of the green onions into quarters lengthwise, using the tender part of the green.
- Put the green onions and the chicken pieces into a large pot with the broth.
- Bring slowly to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rinse the rice twice in a colander and leave it to drain. After the chicken has simmered for about 10 minutes, add the rice to the pot, and add salt. Cook until the chicken and the rice are very tender, 30-45 minutes.
I used 2 bone-in breasts and 8 boneless, skinless thighs. A whole cut-up chicken would work nicely too.
Homemade chicken broth is perfect for this dish, but it will also be fine with store-bought. My favorite: Swanson Organic Chicken Broth.
Using only one of the tomatoes from this can, I saved the rest to make Bison Chili later this week.
The aroma of chilies, cuminseed, tomato, cilantro and scallion will lift you out of a cooking rut.
5. While the chicken is stewing, chop the rest of the green onions fine. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and saute the green onions for about 2 minutes, without browning. Add the tomato, chilies, and thee cilantro, and keep cooking for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the cuminseed to the tomato mixture. Cook for a few minutes until the cumin gives off a toasted aroma, but do not burn.
7. Add the tomato/cuminseed mixture to the chicken, and cook for another 5 minutes.
8. Serve hot, with warm tortillas.
Here's our culinary phrase of the day: Mis en Place. A simple concept to understand, but difficult to practice if you are in the habit of grabbing pantry items and cooking at the same time. Practicing Mis en Place can elevate your cooking to a new level.
Mis en Place: A French term that literally means "put in place"; it is used to describe the importance of having everything ready (sliced, diced, measured, cut) before you start cooking.
from Word. A journal with 100+ cooking words, by Ingrid Emerick and Christina Henry de Tessan