Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holy Mole!

One of my culinary loves is the mole. Spicy, sweet, rich. Despite this, I have never attempted to make it myself. A few months ago, we watched an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives that featured moles from the Red Iguana restaurant. One in particular – the Mole Negro -  required more than two dozen ingredients – needless-to-say, this is exactly the kind of cooking challenge I enjoy – but it was too complicated to write-down completely at the time. However, for Christmas, I received “More DD&D”, which contained this recipe (pp. 237-238). I hope you’re as inspired as I was.

The Method
Some recipes are really exercises in preparation and organization. This mole requires a well-stocked pantry. I had to make a few substitutions here – after researching the acceptable alternates. It contains almost 30 ingredients, but none needs any extensive prep.


In order of appearance, by column (L to R):

  • 7 pasilla negro chiles (guajillo as substitute)
  • 6 mulatto chiles (ancho as substitute)
  • 1 quart hot water
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • 1 flour tortilla, roughly torn
  • 1 overripe banana/plantain
  • 1 small poblano chile, stemmed/seeded/chopped
  • 5 cherry tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled/chopped
  • 1/4 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 C raisins
  • 6 whole sprigs of epazote (I used 1 TB dried)
  • 3 whole springs cilantro
  • 1/3 C walnuts, roasted/chopped
  • 1/3 C salted peanuts (I used peanut-only peanut butter)
  • 2 ounces Mexican chocolate (I used Ghirardelli semi-sweet)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 avocado leaf (Nope, couldn’t find one – maybe an avocado rind next time?)
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. anise seeds
  • 3/4 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 3/4 tsp. dried whole thyme
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 C sugar (I also added 2 TB dark brown sugar)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles (pasilla and mulatto).
  2. Soak the dried chiles in hot water for 20 minutes (keep the water).
  3. Heat 1/4 C oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat.
  4. Toast the tortilla in the oil until golden brown.
  5. Add the banana/plantain, poblano, tomatoes, garlic, onion, raisins, epazote, and cilantro.
  6. Sauté until poblano and onion are soft.P1010010
  7. Add the nuts, chiles and their soaking water, chocolate, bay leaf, avocado leaf, and all the spices (peppercorns through cinnamon stick).
  8. Simmer for 10 minutes.P1010012
  9. Remove the bay leaf and clove. (Finding the clove was a minor miracle, but doing so in under 20 seconds told me this sauce was preordained for gastronomical greatness.)
  10. Transfer the very hot mole to a blender and puree until smooth. You want it to be the consistency of tomato sauce. Add water if necessary.
  11. Heat 1/4 C oil in the deep pot over high heat.
  12. Carefully pour the mole into the pot. (This is very dangerous, as the sauce is thick and slurpy – it likes to pop and sputter.)
  13. Stir in the sugar and then salt to taste.
  14. Simmer for 15 minutes – partially covered to reduce splattering.P1010014 
The Results
Magnificent. I lightly seasoned and browned several chicken breasts then cooked them in the simmering mole for 15 minutes or so. We ate these sliced in homemade tortillas with a few refried beans, lettuce, and fresh avocado.

The sauce hits you with some initial sweetness and a little heat in the front of your mouth. After a few seconds, the heat travels back and becomes deeper, but the chocolate and toasted nuts suddenly appear, too. You could probably discern many of the primary ingredients, if you set your mind to it.

Moles are a treasure. This one seems especially forgiving because of the number and variety of ingredients. I’m dreaming of variations already…but for now, we have plenty of leftovers.


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

CSA Week 17

While you may believe in Santa Claus (and I hope you do), you cannot imagine my disappointment this morning when I realized that we’d forgotten to collect our CSA share this week. With family in town and everyone recovering from a long Christmas day of eating, talking, and – yes – more eating, it didn’t even occur to me to head to the market.

We have enough left0vers to feed ourselves for the next three weeks, but I am sadden to know my eggs and veggies had to be sent to another home.

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Radishes 3.0

Well, somehow I failed to report on a third way to prepare red radishes, which has further ensconced these as a family favorite. I stumbled upon this recipe in the the Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (p. 241).

The Method

  1. Prepare a marinade of the following:
    • 2 TB soy sauce
    • 2 TB white vinegar
    • 1 TB sugar
    • 2 TB sesame oil
  2. Add up to 4 C of thinly sliced radishes.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
The Results
IMG00694-20091207-1816 We ate these with homemade chili. They would be wonderful by themselves, too.

The sesame oil makes the difference. It has almost a creamy, nutty flavor and complements the crunch and spice of the radishes.

We have leftover radishes from Christmas Even hors d'oeuvres that I have marinating now in the fridge. Yum!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Just between Us

We’ve known each other long enough for me now to entrust you with my very favorite way to prepare chicken. I learned the general approach from my mom, and have developed my own version.

First, I recommend that you buy a whole chicken (hen, fryer, or roaster is fine) rather than pay the per-pound premium for pre-cut. With a sharp knife and a bit of patience, you can save yourself $1-$2 – plus relearn some high school biology.
Second, you need to inherit as I did (or buy) a large cast iron skillet for this recipe to work. I am fortunate to own three of various sizes. This dish uses the largest – a 13-14” behemoth weighting close to 10 pounds.

Third, it is best to use a charcoal grill – although I have made it in a gas grill and in the oven.

The Method

  • One whole chicken, cut into serving pieces (I would suggest halving the breasts width-wise.)
  • 4 limes
  • 1 head of garlic, separated into peeled cloves
  • Seasoning – I prefer Penzey’s Southwest or Northwoods Fire spice mixes, and have made my own versions of this. I use 3-4 TBs.
  1. Put the juice, garlic cloves, and seasoning in a gallon ziploc bag. Squish to blend. You can add the lime rinds, too.
  2. Add the chicken pieces.
  3. Shake and turn the bag to coat all of the pieces.
  4. Allow marinade to set for at least an hour – 3-4 if possible.
  5. Prepare the grill as you would normally – with a pile of ~30 briquettes.
  6. After the grill is hot and ready for cooking, remove the chicken to a deep cast iron skillet skin-side down.
  7. Place the garlic cloves (and limes) on top of the chicken.
  8. Set the skillet on the grill screen directly over the coals.
  9. Close the grill for 45 minutes.
  10. Open the grill and use tongs to reposition the chicken pieces. (Turn once the skin has browned.)
    • NOTE: the skillet will fill with juices from the chicken and marinade during the first hour of cooking. I’ve always left these to cook off, although you could remove them. They help to caramelize the skin and flavor the meat, however; so I would leave them.
  11. Cook for another 20-30 minutes after turning. (The chicken will be done before you flip it, but I like to have it brown on all sides.)
The Results
IMG00718-20091221-1936 We eat this 3-4 times per month. The chicken absorbs the marinade and develops an almost-chewy caramelized texture on the outside. The best portions, in my opinion, are the back and wings. These don’t have much meat, but do become especially flavorful.
We served this with brown rice and OPO greens (steamed with radishes). [You can see the brown crispies from the skillet to the right – these include chunks of now-roasted garlic. Heaven!]

I don’t recommend using a juice or marinade with much sugar in it, as these tend to burn over such a high heat and long cooking time. For example, I have had difficulties in substituting orange juice for the limes.

You owe me one.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Leaving nothing behind

Having lived abroad and traveled to many countries, I’m keenly aware of the almost-unique American' propensity to use only select portions of fruits and vegetables. For example, greens – now a favorite in our family thanks to Orchard Pond Organics – are widely seen as a Southern staple, but are less commonly eaten in the North. However, in many places – particularly those in less developed regions around the globe – so much effort is required to grow food plants that all edible portions are used. (You can extend the same argument to the eating of offal, use of plant roots/branches to make tea or medicine, and the inclusion of vermin and insects in the diet.)

This week we received a beautiful set of broccoli heads. Attached to each was a set of deep green leaves. If you consider store-bought broccoli, you’ll note that it generally comes without leaves.

Our neighbor brought over some pork and venison sausage, which he had prepared after a recent successful deer hunt. It was smoked, and therefore had a deep, rich flavor.  I decided to brown it over high, dry heat, and serve broccoli and fresh bread along side.
I cooked the broccoli, along with its leaves, in the microwave – steaming it for only two minutes. While I can’t promise that my neighbor will share his sausage with you, I can highly recommend enjoying all of your broccoli – and buying it fully adorned whenever possible!


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Roots of Happiness

I’m several days behind in blogging. We had the good fortune to host both families this past week. Nearly everyone joined us, and those who didn’t received plenty of food updates via text and email messages.
The week opened with the weather finally turning cooler and the holiday approaching, it was time for the quintessential winter dish: pot roast. Fortunately, there were plenty of root vegetables during the past two week’s OPO shares to add. And the general busyness of the season made this a perfect crock-pot dinner, which we shared with one set of parents who had driven down from Illinois.
The Method

  • One chuck/pot roast
  • Assorted root vegetables, roughly chopped (I used OPO carrots, rutabagas, and radishes, along with celery.)
  • Seasoned flour – I used salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne pepper.
roast veggies
  1. Bring the roast to approx. room temperature.
  2. Dredge the roast in seasoned flour.
  3. Heat 2 TB oil and 2 TB butter over a high burner.
  4. Brown the roast on all sides. Remove to a plate.
  5. Leaving the fat in the pan, lightly brown the vegetables.
  6. Add the vegetables to the crock-pot.
  7. Add 1/2 C red wine.
  8. Stick 4 cloves into a whole, small, peeled onion; place in the crock-pot.
  9. Add 2 bay leaves.
  10. Place the roast on top of the vegetables.
  11. Cook on low for 10-12 hours. (In all honesty, it wasn’t done after 6 hours on high, so we allow it to cook on low until the next evening – about 25 hours.)
The Results
This is a very low-commitment dish. It takes only 15-20 minutes to prepare; then you simply allow the crock-pot to do its magic. We served this with brown rice. A fine meal.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

CSA Week 16

Our friends at Orchard Pond Organics has struggled with the constant rain over the past few weeks. They haven't been able to get into the field with the tractor. But this week's harvest is beautiful:
  • Carrots
  • rutabagas
  • broccoli
  • purple kale
  • and ??? (Jennifer twice told me the name of the small bunch of greens, but I forgot.)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kale and cheese sandwich

I made this delicious sandwich for lunch today: kale, Lumberjack cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy, salami, and a little mustard. Crunchy, tangy, and a bit of spice.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

CSA Week 15

A cold, wet week and even more miserable Saturday morning, but the OPO folks were waiting for us at the farmers' market. The weather has kept them out of the field for the past several days. But, I learned, they did finally mow down the okra. (Hooray!)

This week's share offers some deeply-colored vegetables: perfect items for cooking warm dishes. Beautiful, aren't they?

  • collards
  • kale
  • carrots
  • turnip greens
  • radishes
  • broccoli leaves and heads
  • eggs

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Special spaghetti

Families give names to favorite dishes, often to designate their source or significance. My mom is a marvelous cook, so it would have been necessary to label almost everything "Mom's ____" when we were growing up. Instead, the identity of dishes by common-name alone was sufficient to evoke the desired response: craving. (Although a few dishes produce the opposite effect: Yorkshire pudding, for example. Sorry, Mom.)

Yet, even in such a food-positive family, some things stood apart. Special spaghetti is such a meal. Ridiculously easy, it holds a place among comfort foods in our family with few matches.

The Method

  1. Prepare 1# (box) of pasta. Spaghetti or linguini works well. Smaller diameter noodles do not. You can certainly use alternate varieties, such as farfalle, corkscrew, etc.
  2. Add 1 C frozen peas to the cooking water about halfway through. Alternately, you can heat these separately in the microwave.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, brown up to 1# of bacon. [Admittedly, I probably eat 3-4 slices before they can make it into the dish.]
  4. Roughly chop bacon slices. [You really only need 4-6 slices for the recipe. Keep the others for sandwiches...if there are leftovers.]
  5. In a bowl, combine:
    1. 3-4 eggs, beaten
    2. 1/2-1 C Parmesan cheese, freshly grated is best by far
    3. 1/4 C cream (optional)
  6. When the pasta is al dente, drain and return to the pot.
  7. Pour the egg mixture, bacon, and peas over the HOT pasta.
  8. Stir until the eggs are cooked - coating the pasta. You can place the pot over heat, if necessary. Do not overcook. Allow the eggs to remain a little creamy.
  9. Season with black pepper.

The Result

IMG00693-20091203-1934  Call this pasta carbonara. Call it Pasta Mama. We think special spaghetti is the perfect name.

Leftovers are wonderful for breakfast. Add a splash of milk or water when reheating, if the eggs seem dry.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

CSA Week 14

Our first CSA session is drawing to a close. Orchard Pond Organics is in its second year of operation, and is doing well I understand. They are looking ahead to the winter season. Mary reports they will have: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, kohlrabi, rutabagas, and lettuce. The March of the Greens will be unrelenting, but I may release myself from the "new recipe" requirement. We are very excited for the Brussels sprouts - a favorite here.

Registration is open. $400 for a full share, $224 for a half.

OPO's hens are now laying, so they are providing the eggs themselves. The partnerships with Red Bridge (beef) and Sweet Grass Dairy are continuing. Oh, and they have honey, bread, and preserves on offer, too.

Week 14 saw a nice mixture of root vegetables and greens.

  • Bok choy
  • Rutabagas
  • carrrots
  • arugula
  • radishes
  • other greens (I failed to take a picture)
  • We also bought Red Bridge ground beef and a ribeye, along with two cheeses from Sweet Grass: a gouda and "Lumberjack" (a salty-tangy  cheese, a bit like a really good feta).

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Breakfast burritos

Having one's own meat grinder is a wonderful thing - especially if you love sausage. I woke up dreaming of a breakfast burrito. Having just received our OPO eggs and with cheese and flour tortillas in the fridge,  most of the key ingredients were at hand. We also had prepared some breakfast sausage during our recent sliders meal. The stage was set...

The Method (Breakfast Sausage ala Alton Brown)
  • 2# pork butt, diced into 1/2" pieces 
  • 1/4# salt pork, diced
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground 
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves
  • 1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary leaves
  • 1 TB brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp allspice (or nutmeg - still out)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

  1. Combine the seasoning and meat. 
  2. Place in the freezer for 1/2 hour to allow the meat to become firm.
  3. Grind.
The Results

If you haven't ever made your own sausage, it's an entirely different eating experience than store-bought varieties. The flavor is more subtle and the texture less uniform. It is also much less salty and tastes - in my mind - fresher, with an almost sweet undertone.

I don't need to relate the construction of a breakfast burrito: scrambled eggs, cheese, sausage, a bit of sour cream and salsa on the side. But - oh, wait - hash browns!  You have to add hashbrowns, too. Delicious - through-and-through!

The Method (Hashbrowns)

It's tempting to use frozen hashbrowns, but they take only a few minutes longer to make from scratch.
  1. Grate 2-3 large yellow potatoes (a cheese grater works beautifully)
  2. Grate 1/2 onion
  3. Combine the potatoes and onion.
  4. Squeeze handfuls of the mixture mercilessly over the sink. Remove as much water as you can.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Cook in a little oil and butter over high heat until golden brown.

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    Kudya Bwino Bwino (Eating Well) © 2009