He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul's estate.
~Henry David Thoreau
When asked in recent weeks "where I have gone", I could only respond that I had taken time off. The move from Mexico home & subsequent moves of "our life", people & animals had about worn me out. I felt I needed to take the Holidays off to recuperate & regroup. I spend the past few weeks & months getting back into the groove as well as slowing down to enjoy life. We had a slow holiday spent at home with our daughters & enjoyed what is most important. We cooked, relaxed & recharged our spirits. Of course that means Spicy foods at the Texas to Mexico household. If we don't take time to enjoy the everyday we may miss the small but important things around us.
My daughter & I recently enjoyed a day at Austin's Chinatown Shopping Center where we explored the exotic & impressive array of foods at the M.T. Supermarket. Our family enjoys the spicy array of foods & cuisines available at the market. In the past I loaded up a suitcase & hauled spices & teas back to Mexico from this wonderful grocery store. We have long enjoyed the Thai Coconut Soup we find at our favorite local restaurants. My daughter shared a recipe she enjoys & she even helped me locate the elusive Red Curry paste on our trip to the Asian market. This recipe can take more or less heat which is derived from the Curry Paste so use sparingly & taste frequently. I was under the assumption as I made my first pot of this soup that if a little was good more would be great! It was a wonderful but fiery & fierce bowl of soup.
Spicy Thai Chicken & Coconut Soup
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 to 2 stalks lemon grass, outer sheath removed, bottom 3 inches trimmed and minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 to 3 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
6 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
3 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 (14-ounce) cans unsweetened coconut milk
1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 12 ounces), cut into 1 by 1/4-inch strips
1 (15-ounce) can straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
4 oz. of shitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
lime wedges to garnish & squeeze juice over soup.
• 1/2 cup loosely packed whole fresh cilantro leaves
• 3 scallions, greens only, sliced
Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the lemon grass, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until aromatic, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
Add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pot and stir to dissolve the curry paste. Add the remaining stock, fish sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms, and lime juice. Bring back to a simmer (do not boil as this will cause the coconut milk to curdle) and cook until the stock is hot and the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with cilanto, scallions & a lime wedge.
Each Christmas eve our family dines on Tamales & either Chili or some similar kin in the Tex-Mex culinary family. This past Christmas Eve we had Chili & Tamales from Juarez Mexican Bakery. The local Round Rock restaurant & bakery known for the long lines of customers patiently waiting for dozens of savory Juarez Tamales. The owner of Juarez is from Guanajuato, Mexico & so much of the true "Sabor de Mexico" is what keeps locals coming back again & again for the food at Juarez.
My favorite Chili recipe is the Lady Bird Johnson Pedernales River Chili. I use the basic recipe & kick it up a tiny bit with a few extra chili peppers. (somehow I am certain LBJ would have approved of this bit of heat!) This recipe is one of the most widely circulated Chili recipes thanks to her husband's great love of the official "state food" of Texas. Lyndon Baines Johnson was once said: "Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing. One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of Red. There is simply nothing better." Texans are as unapologetic about our foods as our politicians, having said that; this my favorite bowl of Texas Red!
Pedernales River Chili
4 pounds coarsely ground beef (chili-grind, ask butcher if there is none available)
1 large chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
6 teaspoons chili powder
2 (16-ounce) cans tomatoes
Salt to taste
2 cups hot water
In a large frying pan, brown meat with onion and garlic until meat is lightly browned; transfer ingredients to a large kettle cast-iron Dutch oven.
Add oregano, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes, salt,**2 Soaked, seeded & skinned Chili Anchos and hot water. Bring just to a boil; lower heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour. Remove from heat. Skim off grease and serve.
**These are the flat wrinkly Dried Chili Peppers found in the Latin section of most grocery stores. They have to be soaked in hot water 20 minutes then remove seeds, stems & scrape the pulp from the inside of the skin. The dark mahogany color adds a rich color as well as a deep rich flavor. If you are partial to heat you might add Chili Petin peppers threaded onto a toothpick so they can be removed later before serving your bowl of Red!
Our family garnishes this Texas favorite with diced onion & the occasional sprinkling of cheese....of course for the not so faint of heart there is always the liberal toss of locally grown Chili Petins also known as Chili Pequin or Bird Peppers. This native chili is one plant which seemed to thrive in my garden the Summer of 2009. **Take note fellow Texans this plant is beyond hearty if it could survive our drought & lack of rainfall.