Friday, April 23, 2010

up the coast, part 3

Before making our way back home on the last day of our trip up the coast, we decided to stop into a local dining establishment for breakfast.

Big Sky Cafe has been a local favorite in San Luis Obispo as well as food critics from around the world, since 1994. It has had stellar reviews from such noted publications as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet Magazine (back in ’08), and even Rachel Ray.

They specialize in using produce from local farms. A quote from the chef/owner Charles Myers was quoted in Gourmet Magazine as saying “Every year our local farm resources deepen and improve…we have an ever expanding palate of organic fruits and vegetables, farmstead cheeses, olive oils, and vintage vinegars to create our fresh market dishes daily.”

The décor of the restaurant is interesting. In that it seems to have this hippie/southwest motif. There are tie-dyed tapestries, a lot of wood paneling, with a bit of odd statuary thrown in for good measure. The desert landscape paintings that are placed around the dining room are lovely, my favorite being the one adjacent to the long hardwood bar.

When looking at the menu I knew I wanted to go beyond the typical omelet or bowl of fruit. This led me to three options the Red Flannel Turkey Hash with Basil-Parmesan glazed eggs, the Devil’s mess, or the Traditional New Mexican Pozole. Decisions, decisions.

I landed on the pozole. A spicy hominy stew with peppers, tomatillos, pumpkins seeds, cumin & cilantro with a poached egg on cornbread with queso fresco.

It was a good choice. So good in fact that since I’ve been home I have been trying to make my own version of pozole that might come somewhat close to theirs. I believe I have succeeded. The earthy dark pasilla chile, along with the fire roasted tomatoes and chicken stock make a soul satisfying broth. The creamy rich avocado and cheese add richness, and the crunch of the toasted pepitas rounds the soup beautifully.

If you want to make the Big Sky version the owner has a blog in which he posted the recipe (just love when they do that!) but it is pretty involved and a little time consuming. My version is much simpler and has its own merits. With or without the cornbread and poached egg this is a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.


Pozole my way
serves 4 to 6

3 large dried pasilla (negro) chile, stemmed and seeded
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ quarts chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 Tbsp. dried epazote or Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp. cumin
3 15- ounce cans hominy, drained
8 ounces shredded cooked chicken or pork
½ cup toasted pepitas seeds
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into ½ cubes
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
½ cup Mexican crema, sour cream or crème faîche for garnish
Cilantro leaves for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving

Quickly toast the chile by turning it an inch or two above an open flame for a few seconds until its aroma fills the kitchen. (Lacking an open flame, toast it in a dry pan over medium heat, pressing it flat for a few seconds, then flipping it over and pressing it again.) Break the chile into pieces and put in a blender jar along with the tomatoes with their juice. (A food processor will work, though it won’t completely puree the chile.)

Heat the oil in a medium (4-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic with a slotted spoon, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, and transfer to the blender with the tomato mixture. Process until smooth.

Return the pan to medium-high heat. When quite hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly, until thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Add the broth and epazote, if using or Mexican oregano and cumin. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about a generous teaspoon (depending on the saltiness of the broth).

Just before serving, add the hominy, and chicken to the simmering broth. Divide the pepitas, avocado, cheese and cilantro between the serving bowls. When the hominy and chicken have warmed through, usually about 5 minutes, ladle the soup into the bowls. Garnish with crema. Pass the lime separately

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