Food for thought:
“…and I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody’s food money to blow their heads off anyway.”
– The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
This quote, an excerpt from The Dharma Bums, was recently brought to my attention by a friend and I absolutely love it. Not to turn this into too much of a soapbox platform but I believe this is the essence of much of what is wrong in the modern world. If we spent a little more time and effort thinking about growing, harvesting, preparing and eating food together as individuals, families, communities and also making the ability for everyone else to sustainably do the same a top priority globally then world would be a much better, much happier place.
Food is life; it’s what brings everyone to the table.
It is important to keep in mind when using a recipe, whatever the source, that it’s a guide, an outline, the basics. The misconception when reading a recipe is that if you faithfully follow every step exactly as it is written and use every ingredient to its precise measurement that you are guaranteed success, and this is not always true. Not unlike sheet music to a musician, it tells you what notes to hit and when, but you have got to do your own thing with it if it’s going to come to life and have any soul.
You want to change it up, experiment, improvise with your cooking. Every oven/stove cooks a bit differently and everyone’s flavor palette varies. Put your personal spin on it and make it your own way to your own taste preference. You have to be willing to swing to your own rhythm, because as it’s true in music, it’s true in the kitchen… “It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing.”
I live in a three story 131 year old Victorian house in the NOTA (I live on the first floor and rent out the rest) and at 9:25 AM on Christmas morning this year, when it was about 5 degrees outside, the pump on my boiler heating system broke and I had to call in an emergency repair on a holiday so my water pipes would not freeze. When the repair guy arrived, he had no idea how to dismantle the pump to look at the problem part(s) to get it running again, how he went about solving this brings me to the point: he looked it up on YouTube.
This man took out his tablet, asked for my Wi-Fi password and found simply by searching for this make/model of this at least 30 year old pump, a step by step video on its mechanical workings. It made me really think about how everything you could ever want to know how to do really is online, accessible from your phone/tablet/laptop whatever at a moments notice. So if you ever find yourself at a loss in the kitchen, on say the peeling a clove of garlic for example, look it up.
Technique is so important when cooking, there really is a difference between chopped, minced and julienned and it is handy to know there is a step by step video you can reference instantly if you need to know how to do any of them properly, or anything else for that matter. You can teach yourself how to do anything in life, cooking is no exception, but having the community resource of step by step instructions available online for FREE is something relatively new and should be taken advantage of whenever needed.
Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder
This soup, an old favorite, is extremely healthy, very simple to make year round with very little cooking time and always in my experience a crowd pleaser. I have made this soup while traveling in kitchens not my own for years. It is simple enough to be made on the fly using the most basic of equipment/ingredients. You will only need a large pot, small pan, knife and cutting board. It can be made in very large (or small) amounts should you need to feed a group of people. This soup has a complexity of flavor interplay, color and texture that will shock and delight any palette. I don’t know where this truly originates from or how “authentic” it really is, but my version has been refined throughout the years from basic “chicken chowder with Mexican tones” to something pretty special that I hope you and your friends and family will enjoy.
Stay hungry my friends.
You will need:
Boneless chicken (breast/ thigh is good)
Chicken Stock (homemade or store bought carton)
Dried Guajillo Chile Peppers
Red, Orange and Yellow Bell Peppers
Fresh Cilantro (coriander)
Corn off the Cob (fresh or frozen)
Goya Adobo with Pepper (seasoning)
Hot Sauce (I like Cholula or Tapatío)
*Note: This recipe is VERY easy to convert to vegetarian simply by omitting the chicken and substituting vegetable stock, all other steps are identical. You can also add in any other hot Mexican peppers or chilies you have available to you.
Chop the chicken into good size chunks and toss in a bowl with a simple mixture of hot sauce and adobo seasoning, cover and refrigerate several hours (or overnight).
Boil then soak the Dried Guajillo Chile Peppers in a bit of lightly salted water (the water should just cover the peppers) and let them sit for a few hours to rehydrate and flavor the water.
Make sure all the vegetables are well rinsed and dried (especially the cilantro). There are some vegetable knife skills that come into play at this point, which is the only tricky part of this dish.
Remove the seeds from all the various peppers and discard. Chop the Poblano and the Jalapeño peppers into very small minced pieces, set aside. Chop the bell peppers into larger bite sized pieces, set aside.
Finely chop the red onion and garlic, set aside.
Peel and chop the potatoes into 1 inch cubes, set aside.
Slice tomato into bite size chunks, set aside.
Remove roots/stems from the cilantro (discard) and finely chop, set aside.
Peel, remove pit and chop the avocado into cubes, set aside. (Ideally right before you cook to minimize oxidation)
In a large pot (with lid) put in the chopped potatoes and cover with water and a dusting of salt, bring the water to a boil and par-cook the potatoes until about half way cooked though (about 10 min) then drain and remove from heat.
Take the now rehydrated Guajillo Chile Peppers squeeze out any water absorbed by the chilies back into the now chili flavored water they were soaking in. Discard the peppers and strain out any seeds in the chili water, pour over the potatoes in the cooking pot and add in the chicken stock. Return the pot to heat and bring to a boil.
Once boiling add in the remaining peppers as well as the onion, garlic and most of the cilantro (saving some for final garnish) and simmer for about 10-15 min, or until everything is cooked through without being too soft.
Add the marinated chicken, corn and avocado and simmer until chicken is fully cooked. At this point you want to taste test the broth, it should be slightly more salty and spicy than you want the final product to be. Fine tune this by adding additional salt/adobo or a little hot sauce. Once to desired flavor reduce heat to low and add in the heavy cream while stirring to keep the cream from curdling.
Put a golf ball size dollop of sour cream in the center of the serving bowl(s) and ladle in the soup around it. Add a generous splash of lime juice to give it a citrus kick and top with some fresh cilantro to garnish. Serve with salt/pepper and Mexican Hot Sauce. Pairs well with fresh limeade.
1 Gallon Water to 1+ cup sugar with a generous amount of fresh lime juice and some lime slices, stir. Serve over ice in a salt rimmed glass.
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J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.