Instead of exchanging gifts this year, Number One's brother and sister-in-law suggested that we cook fabulous meals for each other and our families during their visit to the ranch. This is an excellent idea; each couple will get a night off to relax, socialize and drink a little more wine, and we will all enjoy splendid meals together.
To that end, I decided to prepare a Mexican feast. We have wonderful memories of our trip to Mexico with Number One's brother and our niece, and we all enjoy authentic Mexican food. H-Bomb declared that he doesn't want my Famous Lamb Tacos, so I pulled out my trusty cookbook. There are several recipes I've been wanting to try in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, and this is one of them. I plan to follow Rick's menu suggestions:
Golden Squash Blossom Crema
Tomatillo-Braised Pork Country Ribs
Chocolate Pecan Pie, Frontera Grill style
In Spanish, El Menu:
Crema de Flores de Calabaza
Costillas de Puerco con Verdolagas
Pay de Nuez y Chocolate, estilo Frontera Grill
All three recipes sound like there will be some work involved, but not what I would call "labor-intensive." There is enough work that I am excited to tell you: all the dishes above can be made ahead of time! I will post the variations that I am preparing, due in part to an ingredient-deficient grocery store, as well as the original version. What are we waiting for? Let's get to it!
**I had planned to make this in advance. I had every intention of making this in advance. It did not happen. Dinner is in three hours, and I am preparing this dish now. **
squash soup, so I used my soup pot and browned the pork in batches. This greatly increased the time it took to prepare this recipe, and we ended up eating much later than anticipated. I also ran out of time and scrapped the dessert plans altogether. It didn't matter--the soup and the pork were so delicious that everyone ate plenty. Wine with dinner, and CG pulled out some store-bought truffles, and it was a perfect meal.
We will definitely make this again. Ahead of time.
Costillas de Puerco con Verdolagas Tomatillo-Braised Pork Country Ribs with Mexican Greens
Serves 4 to 6
FOR 2 1/4 cups Essential Simmered Tomatillo-Serrano Sauce Base:
1 1/2 pounds (15 to 18) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chile to taste (roughly 5 serranos), stemmed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
Salt, about 1 1/2 teaspoons, plus some for sprinkling on the meat
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
3 pounds (about 6 good-size pieces) pork country ribs (or 1-inch-thick pork blade chops)
2 small white onions, finely chopped, plus a couple of slices separated into rings, for garnish
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
8 medium boiling potatoes (like the red-skin ones), quartered
3 cups (about 12 ounces) fresh purslane (verdolagas), rinsed and thick bottom stems removed
OR 6 cups loosely packed, sliced (1/2-inch pieces) chard leaves (you'll need a 12-ounce bunch)
OR two 10-ounce packages frozen leaf spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and roughly chopped **this last "shortcut" variation is the one I have to go with.
1. Making 2 1/4 cups Essential Simmered Tomatillo-Serrano Sauce base. Lay the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. When they darken and soften, about 5 minutes, turn them over and broil the other side.
Roughly chop the chiles, then transfer them and the tomatillos (along with any liquid) to a food processor or blender. Puree, then add the chopped cilantro, 3/4 cup water, and salt.
2. The meat and potatoes. Over medium-high heat, heat the oil in a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela large enough to hold the meat in a single layer. Sprinkle the meat with salt, then brown on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Turn on the oven to 325 degrees. Pour off all but a thin coating of oil from the pan. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes; add the garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatillo sauce base, let come to a rolling boil, then return the meat to the pan. Cover and bake in the oven until the meat is just tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and skim off any fat that has risen to the top of the sauce.
Add the potatoes to the hot pot, push them down into the sauce, cover and continue baking until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
3. Finishing the dish. Stir the greens into the meat and potatoes, set the cover in place again, and bake 10 more minutes. Taste and season with a little more salt if necessary.
Transfer the ribs to a warm, deep serving platter. Arrange the potatoes around them, then spoon the sauce and greens over and around the meat. Strew the onion rings over the top, garnish with cilantro, and carry the impressive platter to the table.
ADVANCE PREPARATION--The dish may be prepared very successfully through step 2; cover and refrigerate. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove before continuing with step 3.
SHORTCUTS--Two 10-ounce packages frozen leaf spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and roughly chopped, can replace the fresh greens; add them just before serving.
VARIATIONS AND IMPROVISATIONS: The classic combination of purslane, potatoes and tomatillos can be made as a great vegetable dish or taco filling: Omit the meat, simply fry the onion and garlic, add the sauce base, then let reduce until thick; stir in 1 cup beef broth. Simmer until medium-thick, then add the potatoes, simmer 15 or 20 minutes, add the greens, simmer 5 to 10 minutes more, season, and serve (this is good with cubes of queso fresco as garnish).
An equal weight of chicken thighs or beef short ribs can replace the pork, as can thick tuna or swordfish steaks (thin the sauce base to a spoonable consistency with broth once it has come to a boil; add the potatoes-but not the browned fish-and bake 20 minutes, then nestle in the greens and fish and bake until both are as done as you like).