Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Archive for February, 2012

Posole (…or, Pozole) 0

Posted on February 28, 2012 by Sahar

Pozole, a word of Pre-Hispanic origin meaning “froth”, is a stew-like dish prepared with grains of a special corn called cacahuazintle (a very large kernel corn with a tough skin originally grown in Mexico) pre-cooked in a weak lye-water solution, making the corn grains lose their tough, fibrous outer layer so that they open like flowers when boiled, giving them the appearance of froth (what we now call hominy).  This corn is added to a broth with shredded chicken or pork. When serving, the usual condiments are chopped onion, limes, dried oregano, avocado, shredded cabbage, and tortillas.

Different states of Mexico have made pozole their own. People in the State of Guerrero add tomatillos, Michoacán residents add pork rinds, Colima residents enjoy it with queso fresco (white cheese), and in coastal areas it is common to add sardines and other small fish. The best known recipe, however,  is from Jalisco, prepared with pork and dried poblano peppers.

Posole is usually served at celebrations, like birthdays, Dia de los Muretos (Day of the Dead), and Christmas.  The Aztecs, however, had their own recipe for posole. During the celebrations in honor of god Xipe (the God of Agriculture and the Seasons), Emperor Moctezuma was served a huge pozole dish, crowned with the thigh of a sacrificed prisoner.  In fact, the earliest history of posole states that the broth & hominy were cooked with the flesh of sacrificed prisoners.  When cannibalism was outlawed, chicken and pork took the place of people.


Now, for the recipe.

The style posole I make is the Jalisco style.  I haven’t tried any of the other variations, but I’d bet the Michoacán style, with the pork rinds, is amazing.

A quick note, I include quantities for both whole chiles as well as the powdered equivalents.  I  made this recipe with the powders.  They are both equally good, but I find making the recipe with the powders easier and quicker.  However, it is up to you.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients


The spices, a closer look. Clockwise from top: Black Pepper, Salt, Cumin, Ancho Chile Powder, Pasilla Chile Powder, Mexican Oregano, Chipotle Chile Powder


3 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 2″ pieces, or, country-style ribs (be sure to keep any bone)

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 ea. whole Ancho chiles, or, 2 tbsp. Ancho chile powder

2 ea. whole Guajillo or Pasilla chiles, or, 1 tbsp. ground Guajillo or Pasilla chile powder (NOTE: Guajillo chile powder is usually sold as “ground chile pepper”)

1 ea. whole Chipotle chile, or, 1/2 tsp. ground Chipotle chile powder

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

10 cloves garlic, minced

2 med. white onions, diced

2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 cans hominy, drained


Condiments:  lime wedges, shredded green cabbage, dried Mexican oregano, minced onion, corn tortillas


The Condiments: Corn Tortillas, Lime Wedges, Onion, Dried Mexican Oregano, Shredded Cabbage


1.  Prepare the chiles: (If you have clean latex gloves, now is the time to use them.)  Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles.  Place them in a small bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water.  Weigh down the chiles (a small plate will be sufficient) and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  Remove the chiles from the soaking liquid and place them in a blender with just enough of the soaking liquid, if needed, to make a smooth puree.  Set aside.

*If you are using the chile powders instead, skip Step 1.

2.  In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Brown the pork, in batches.  You just want to sear , not cook the pork all the way through.  Remove the pork from the heat and set aside.  If you have any bones, sear them as well.

Searing the pork


3.  Add the onion and garlic to the stockpot and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  The moisture from the onions will help to release all those browned goodies stuck to the bottom of the pan after the meat has been browned.

Browning the onions and garlic. Note the clean pan bottom.


Add the chile puree or chile powders and the other spices.  Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Be sure not to burn the spices.

The onions and garlic with the spices.


4.  Add the pork and any bones you may have seared back into the stockpot.  Add just enough water or broth to cover the meat.  Cover and bring the liquid to a boil.  Partially uncover, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. (The bones will add a lot of flavor to the broth.)

The pork added back to the pot and mixed with the onions, garlic, and the spices.


After adding the chicken broth.


5.  After the first hour of cooking, add the hominy.  Uncover the stockpot completely and continue cooing until the meat is tender, about another 30 – 45 minutes.  (Be sure to test the meat for tenderness about every 15 minutes after the first hour.  You want the meat to be fork tender and easy to shred.  Even though you’re essentially braising the pork, it can dry if you overcook it.)

Adding the hominy after the first hour of cooking. Note the change in color of the broth.


Remove the meat from the broth and set it aside until cool enough to handle. Discard the bones, if you have any.  Either chop or shred the meat and add it back to the broth.  Taste for seasoning.

The shredded pork.


The finished posole. The hominy helps to thicken the broth.


6.  Serve the posole with corn tortillas.  Pass around the garnishes and let everyone serve themselves.






Baking Soda & Baking Powder. A Primer. 1

Posted on February 22, 2012 by Sahar

A friend asked me over the weekend if I knew the real difference between baking soda and baking powder.  I replied that it was a very good question.  I know that they both react with liquid, acid, and heat to cause whatever baked goods they’re in to rise.  I also know that if you use too much baking soda in a recipe, your food will taste like soap.

But beyond that, I must admit, I never gave the difference much thought.

Well, now I have and I’ll share the answers to this question.

As always, I have turned to one of my all-time favorite books on baking, In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley (Artisan Books, 2001).  If you don’t own this book and you enjoy or even simply interested in baking and making desserts, then, by all means,  buy a copy.  The first half of the book talks about method, ingredients, equipment, method, and technique.  The second half is all about recipes.  And they are wonderful.

All the following (paraphrased) information is from Ms. Daley’s book (pp. 194-7).

Baking Powder & Baking Soda


Baking powder and baking soda are what are known as “chemical leaveners”.  These are used when the recipe isn’t suitable for a natural leavener (i.e. yeast) or mechanical methods (i.e. creaming, beating or whipping).  Chemical leaveners (when fresh) also provide a much more reliable method of leavening.  Many recipes with chemical leaveners also use some form of mechanical leavening, to ensure a lighter, more tender result.

Baking Soda: Baking soda is commonly used as a leavener in baked goods such as cakes, quick breads, and cookies.  It has no leavening power on its own and must be activated by the presence of acid and liquid.  These elements together help the baking soda release carbon dioxide in the form of air bubbles which helps the baked goods to rise.

Acids with the power to activate baking soda include cream of tartar, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, molasses, dark brown sugar, maple syrup, citrus juices, or even non-alkalized cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed).  In some cases, although there is a moderately acidic ingredient in a recipe, it may not be acidic enough or a large enough quantity to provide the necessary leavening.  Honey, light brown sugar, and cocoa may sometimes fall into this category.  If this is the case, then baking powder is added to the recipe as well to provide the necessary leavening.

Baking soda releases carbon dioxide quickly once it is mixed with a liquid in the presence of an acid.  So, be sure that the baking soda is mixed thoroughly with the dry ingredients before the liquid is added, pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake immediately.  If too much time elapses, the carbon dioxide will dissipate and your recipe may not rise fully at all or not at all.

If you replace a non- or low- acid ingredient for an acidic ingredient in a recipe, you must replace introduce another acid (i.e. lemon juice or vinegar in sweet milk) or add baking powder to the recipe to achieve leavening.

A secondary function of baking soda is to neutralize acidic ingredients.  For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion if ingredients like buttermilk, lemon juice, or other sour flavors. If you replace sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses, or barley syrup, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the recipe, even if it is the principal leavener.

The substitution ratio for baking soda to baking powder is 1:4.  This means, for every 1 teaspoon of baking soda substituted, you use 4 teaspoons baking powder.  However, baking powder will not neutralize the acidic flavor of some ingredients.  So, the final product may taste more acidic than you like.

Baking soda will last 9 to 12 months when properly stored in a cool, dry place and in an airtight container (especially if you’re going to use it for baking).  To test the potency of baking soda, combine equal quantities of soda and vinegar.  If it bubbles vigorously, it’s good.

Be sure not to use the baking soda you use to neutralize the odors in your refrigerator or freezer.  Since baking soda absorbs odors, it could be a rather rude surprise.

Testing the baking soda. Equal parts baking soda & lemon juice


Baking Powder:  Baking powder was originally a mix of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), a moisture absorbing starch (usually cornstarch),  and tartaric acid (cream of tartar).  When introduced to liquid, the mixture releases carbon dioxide that produces air bubbles which leaven your baked goods.  However this mixture, called “single action” baking powder, releases its carbon dioxide as soon as it is mixed with liquid.  Unless you move quickly, the baking powder will lose its potency and your recipe won’t rise properly or at all.

Almost all commercially available baking powder now is called “double acting”.  This means that the baking powder reacts both with liquid and the heat of the oven. This type of baking powder gives the baker a little more time without compromising the finished product.  However, it is still best to get the recipe in the oven as quickly as possible.

The tartaric acid in the original baking powder has been replaced with two different acid salts; most commonly monocalcium phosphate and sodium aluminum sulphate.  However, adding aluminum to baking soda is controversial.  it is best thought to be avoided as a foodstuff and some people feel that recipes that use large amounts of baking powder, like biscuits, can have a metallic taste.  Additionally, there are some who cannot tolerate any amount of sulphates.  Many bakers also feel commercial baking powders don’t produce as delicate a product.  You can find in some health-food and specialty stores aluminum-free (or non-alum) baking powder.  However, it tends to be expensive and doesn’t keep well.  But, many bakers prefer it.

Ms. Daley has a recipe for a make it yourself at home baking powder: for every teaspoon of baking powder called for in a recipe, combine 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch.  Blend well and use immediately.  It loses potency with prolonged storage.


Ingredients for homemade baking powder. Many serious bakers prefer homemade baking powder to the commercial brands.

testing the homemade baking powder. Equal parts powder mix and warm water.


Baking powder, when stored properly, will last up to a year.  Keep it in a cool, dry place.  To test the potency of baking powder, place 1/2 teaspoon in a small amount of warm water.  If it fizzes and bubbles away, it’s good.

Testing the commercial baking powder. Equal parts baking powder and warm water.


Hope this helps.  Happy baking!


Chili… Or, Them’s Fightin’ Words 0

Posted on February 14, 2012 by Sahar

Chili.  A word that can stir up passions usually reserved for first love or politics.

There are as many recipes for chili as there are families in the Southwestern US.  In Texas, we make “Chili Con Carne” – basically a spicy meat stew with chiles, spices, lots of meat, and maybe some tomato.  But no beans.  That would be sacrilege.  In New Mexico and California, you can find green chili, “Chili Verde”, usually made with chicken or pork.  If one would like beans in their chili, you can go vegetarian.

The other well-known of chilis are:

a) “Cincinnati Chili”: made with a variety of Greek and Middle Eastern spices.  It was invented by a Greek Immigrant, Tom (Athanas) Kiradjieff, in 1922.  He originally used the chili at his hot dog stand.  When that didn’t work, he started to use it as a type of spaghetti sauce.  It is now one of Ohio’s most beloved foods.

b) “Springfield Style Chilli”: This Southern Illinois style ground-meat, with beans,  is very different from Texas chili.  The spelling supposedly comes from a disagreement between the owner of the Dew Chilli Parlor, Dew Brockman, and his sign painter.  Another legend has the spelling mimics the first four letters of “Illinois”.

c) “Chasen’s Chili” The owner of Chasens, Dave Chasen, made probably the most famous chili in California.  He kept the recipe a secret, trusting it to no one.  He always made it a week in advance and froze it, feeling that would make a better chili when it was reheated. The original Chasen’s opened in 1936 and closed in 1995.  The second version of Chasen’s closed permanently in 2000.

Like many other dishes that become loved over time, it was a dish made out of desperation and necessity.   There are many legends and stories about where chili originated and it is generally thought, by most historians, that the earliest versions of chili were made by the very poorest people.

“When they have to pay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for a family; this is generally into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat – this is all stewed together.” – C.J. Clopper, remarking on San Antonio Chili, 1926.

According to an old Southwestern American Indian legend and tale.   It is said that the first recipe for chili con carne was put on paper in the 17th century by a beautiful nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. She was mysteriously known to the Indians of the Southwest United States as “La Dama de Azul,” the lady in blue.  It is said that sister Mary wrote down the recipe for chili which called for venison or antelope meat, onions, tomatoes, and chile peppers.

On March 9, 1731, a group of sixteen families (56 persons) arrived from the Canary Islands at Bexar, the villa of San Fernando de Béxar (now know as the city of San Antonio). They had emigrated to Texas from the Spanish Canary Islands by order of King Philip V. of Spain. The King of Spain felt that colonization would help cement Spanish claims to the region and block France’s westward expansion from Louisiana.  These families founded San Antonio’s first civil government which became the first municipality in the Spanish province of Texas. According to historians, the women made a spicy “Spanish” stew that is similar to chili.

By the 19th Century, some Spanish priests were said to be wary of the passion inspired by chile peppers, assuming they were aphrodisiacs.  A few preached sermons against indulgence in a food which they said was almost as “hot as hell’s brimstone” and “Soup of the Devil.”  The priest’s warning probably contributed to the dish’s popularity.

In 1850, records were found by Everrette DeGolyer (1886-1956), a Dallas millionaire and a lover of chili, indicating that the first chili mix was concocted around 1850 by Texan adventurers and cowboys as a staple for hard times when traveling to and in the California gold fields and around Texas. Needing hot food, the trail cooks came up with a sort of stew. They pounded dried beef, fat, pepper, salt, and the chile peppers together into stackable rectangles which could be easily rehydrated with boiling water. This amounted to “brick chili” or “chili bricks” that could be boiled in pots along the trail. DeGolyer said that chili should be called “chili a la Americano” because the term chili is generic in Mexico and simply means a hot pepper. He believed that chili con carne began as the “pemmican of the Southwest.”

It is said that some trail cooks planted pepper seeds, oregano, and onions in mesquite patches (to protect them from foraging cattle) to use on future trail drives. It is thought that the chile peppers used in the earliest dishes were probably chilipiquín0, which grow wild on bushes in Texas, particularly the southern part of the state.

There was another group of Texans known as “Lavanderas,” or “Washerwoman,” that followed around the 19th-century armies of Texas making a stew of goat meat or venison, wild marjoram and chile peppers.

By 1860, residents of the Texas prisons in the mid to late 1800s also lay claim to the creation of chili. They say that the Texas version of bread and water (or gruel) was a stew of the cheapest available ingredients (tough beef that was hacked fine and chiles and spices that was boiled in water to an edible consistency). The “prisoner’s plight” became a status symbol of the Texas prisons and the inmates used to rate jails on the quality of their chili. The Texas prison system made such good chili that freed inmates often wrote for the recipe, saying what they missed most after leaving was a really good bowl of chili.

In 1893,  Texas chili went national when Texas set up a San Antonio Chili Stand at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

In 1895,  Lyman T. Davis of Corsicana, Texas made chili that he sold from the back of a wagon for five cents a bowl with all the crackers you wanted. He later opened a meat market where he sold his chili in brick form, using the brand name of Lyman’s Famous Home Made Chili. In 1921, he started to can chili in the back of his market and named it after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill and called it Wolf Brand Chili (a picture of the wolf is still used on the label today).

By the 1880’s, San Antonio was a wide-open cattle, army, and railroad town.  At the center of all the activity were the “Chili Queens” selling their wares on the Plaza, feeding the cowboys, soldiers, and railway workers.  Even the tourists enjoyed the novelty of the Chili Queens.  It was a delicious, slightly exotic, homemade, cheap meal served from colorful carts for a dime.  By 1937, however, the era of the Chili Queens was over when the San Antonio Department of Health decreed that outside food stands had to be held to the same sanitation standards as restaurants.  The Chili Queens disappeared overnight.

(All historical references come from Text by Linda Stradley.)

There are many chili cook-offs all over the country (  The oldest and biggest of these is held in Terlingua, Texas every first weekend of November.  This year will be 46th annual.  It’s a wonderful mix of carnival, party, and really good food.

They type of chili made in cook-offs are quite different from chilis made at home.  In competition, a chili has to make a quick and lasting impression on judges who might be tasting dozens of chilis in a sitting.  They tend to be more highly spiced, hotter, and saltier.  Chili made at home tends to be quite a bit milder.  Depending on the recipe and cook.

The main component in chili, besides meat, is chili powder.  Legend is that two different men, DeWitt Clinton Pendry in Fort Worth and William Gebhardt in San Antonio, invented spice blends to sell to restaurants, and later to consumers.  This was a way to make chiles available year-round by drying and grinding them as opposed to them being available only seasonally.  There are dozens of different types of blended chili powders on the market.  You can also find single-ingredient chile powders, like Ancho or Chipotle.

Also, chili as we know it is not known in Mexico.  The recipe may have originated with the Spanish and been brought to Texas by the Mexican people already living here, but it is a purely American dish.  In effect, one of the original Tex-Mex recipes. In Mexico, chili is defined as “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York”.


Now, to the recipe.

This is my own.  It came over many attempts of trial and error. It is a traditional Texas-style chili.  No beans.


Sahar’s Bowl of Red

3 lbs. beef chuck roast , cut into 1″ pieces -or- 3 lbs. beef chili grind

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 med. onions, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tbsp. tomato paste


2 tbsp. chili powder (My preference is for San Antonio blend. But, use any style you like)

1 tbsp. ancho chile powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. Mexican oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. salt (use kosher or sea salt)

2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 tbsp. paprika

2 tbsp. light brown sugar


Beef Broth, as needed

1 15-oz. can tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Tomatoes)


2 tbsp. masa mixed with 2 tbsp. broth or water to make a slurry


The ingredients


The spices: Left, clockwise - chile powder, paprika, oregano, cayenne, ancho powder, cumin; Right, clockwise - brown sugar, pepper, salt


My personal preference, beef chuck cut into 1" pieces.


1.  Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add the meat and cook, stirring frequently, until it is no longer pink.

Browning the meat


Add the onion & garlic and continue cooking until the onions are soft.

Cooking the meat with the onions and garlic


2.  Add the tomato paste and cook until it is well blended with the meat, onions and garlic.

3.  Add the spices and mix in with the meat, onions, and garlic.  Cook until the spices begin to have a scent, about 1 – 2 minutes.

Meat after the spices and tomato paste are added


4.  Mix in the can of tomatoes, with their juice, and just enough beef broth to cover the meat.  Cover and bring to a boil.

After the tomatoes and broth are added


5.  Once the chili comes to a boil, uncover the pot, turn the heat down to low and simmer, stirring occasionally.  Cook until the meat is tender, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

After 30 minutes


After 1 hour


6.  At the end if the cooking time, add the masa slurry to the chili and blend in thoroughly.  Cook for about 5 more minutes to let the chili thicken slightly.  Taste for seasoning.

After about 1-1/2 hours and mixing in the masa.


7.  Serve with cornbread or corn tortillas.  If you want to sprinkle a few onions on top, go ahead.  But, no cheese.  Also, to make this as authentic as possible, DO NOT serve this with beans or rice.  If you do, don’t tell me about it.

The finished recipe. Yummy.

Chili, like most other soups and stews, is always better the next day.  This freezes well, too.







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