Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Yucatecan Adventure Supreme

I've been a woman on a mission.  Couldn't stop thinking about the mole.  I just couldn't leave well enough alone.  So off to the fantastic Food Lion filled with hispanic delights.  (I love Durham.)  On the list: 15 dried pasilla and ancho chiles, copious amounts of onions for pickling, pico de gallo, and general awesome purposes.  Lots of limes for garnish and ingredients, a bunch of cilantro, and some cotija cheese (kind of like Feta, but a smaller crumble).

After a most enjoyable and exciting trip, I got down to business.  While I waited for my chiles to rehydrate in their bowling water so I could turn them from dried raisiny looking things into creamy, smoky, stain-my-hands-ochre-goodness, I made my pickled onions. 

Not so hasty, there Hater.  No need to go hating on all things pickled that are not cucumbers.  I am allowed to say this because I was once like you.  Until I had some nice little hot pink onions on top of my cochinita pibil in Xocen, Mexico.  It was then I began to appreciate the rich contrast of flavors and textures that a pickled condiment can offer.  Now make these:

Combine 1 very thinly sliced large red onion with
1 c. water
1 c. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
salt to taste
generous dash hot sauce (Valentina is my favorite, and a very economic option)

Let this mixture sit at least 5 hours.  Overnight would be even better.  These will keep up to two weeks in the fridge.  Use them to top refried beans, tacos, chili, eggs with mole or salsa, or other endless possibilites!  Don't spill them in your car like Jeremy did.  It's not a smell you want lingering in the upholstery.

After that adventure, I was ready to drain my chiles, cook down some onions, tomatoes and raisins, toast some spices, dump everthing in a pot with a little chicken stock and bust out my trusty immersion blender.  I'm not going to post this recipe for two reasons.  1) Laziness:  this recipe calls for a million spices (of which I was astonished I actually had on hand) and is quite involved.  2) Moles of any variety are always full of very strong flavors.  It's not like your typical sauce, and for some including me, it's an acquired taste.  It's homey, comforting, rich and complex, but it's not velveeta.
That being said, if you want to try this mole, I will very happily post or send the recipe if I get the feedback.  While that continued to simmer, I whipped up a batch of pico de gallo, or salsa cruda.  This is a staple.  It is something very useful to learn how to make, yet it is very simple and delicious.  Now make this:

5 ripe roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium spanish or red onion, diced
Juice of two whole limes
large handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and deveined (or keep the veins in if you like it hot)
Large pinch of salt
black pepper to taste
pinch of sugar (optional)

Mix well and allow the flavors to come together for a couple of hours for optimal results.  Tweak this however you want to make it spicier, or try substituting fruit like mango, pineapple or peaches for the tomatoes.  Even better!

Now it's time to head to Mom and Dad's where the eats are serious and the chicken and pork are coming off the grill.  If you've never had Bob's pork, it's high time you weaseled your way into his circle of friends and get some.  All smoky crunchy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.  I decided the mole would be best suited for topping a chicken leg and trying a la carte.  We'll start this party with a large corn tortilla hot of the skillet.  For the inside of my taco, I had to cook up some Mexican chorizo.  It's just too good to pass up when you can find it, and it's so cheap!!  (Don't read the ingredients unless you're particularly brave or adventurous with the parts of animals you ingest.)  To top: a little black beans, some fat free greek yogurt, cilantro, pico de gallo, pickled onions.  BLISS!  So the mole was good, but come on, a taco complete with pickled onions tasting like you're eating it in the jungle of the Yucatan after a hot day in the milpa????  It just doesn't get better than that. 

Tune in next time for what I did with my leftover mole.  Oh, it's good...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Casserole Comfort with a Kick!

My good friends Jonna and Jeff just had a baby!  Needless to say, I am over-the-top excited about this recent development named Carolina Grace.  I mean, everything else aside, her name is Carolina, for crying out loud! 

So I have been working for FOREVER on this baby blanket for her, which is the first anything I've ever knitted that is not a scarf.  And by the looks of it, unfortunately, I'm afraid you can tell.  But the important thing is that it was knitted with love.  And hand dyed yarn from the mountains of Chile.

So I managed to snap a picture of this creation, but I failed to snap a picture of the better and more consumable creation I made for her (and me the night before!).  Check out this recipe I created for the dinner I took to Carolina's proud parents.  I find that I lot of my favorite creations come from the creativity that arises from cooking with what you have on hand.  I gotta say, this one is pretty tasty and comforting on a February night.  It's even better if you have leftover chicken already on hand to save you a step.

I hesitate to make posts when I have forgotten to take a picture of my creation, but I had to make an exception with this one because I thought it was pretty fab if I do say so myself.

Southwest Chicken Verde Casserole

For the salsa verde:

In a blender combine-

1 can whole tomatillos

2 large cloves garlic, peeled

1 handful cilantro leaves

Juice of two limes

1 seeded and deveined jalapeno, chopped into large pieces

For the casserole:

1 c. cooked rice

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 c. frozen corn kernels (roasted, if available)

2 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed

1 large onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

2 Tbsp olive oil



1 ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese

Blue corn tortilla chips, crushed

Make the salsa verde and mix with the first four casserole ingredients. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Saute the onions and peppers in the olive oil until softened. Add to casserole combination, seasoning with the salt and pepper to taste. Spread mixture evenly into a 9” x 13” greased casserole dish. If you want yours even spicier like I do, sprinkle some Mexican hot sauce like Valentina or El Tapatío over the casserole. Top with crushed tortilla chips in an even layer (about two or three handfuls worth before crushing). Top with shredded cheese. Bake casserole for 20 minutes, or until ingredients are heated through and cheese has melted. Cover with foil to prevent overbrowning if necessary.  Garnish with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt, extra hot sauce, and chopped fresh cilantro. 

I ate like half the casserole.  Don't judge me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What a Weekend!

So this weekend I really strapped on the ol' feed bag as my dad likes to say.  With my mom's birthday on Saturday and Valentines Day on Sunday, there was plenty of indulgence going on.  We get together every year with my mom's side of the family to celebrate the six birthdays that occur in February.  I included a photo of the lovely birthday women (Mom, Aunt Hannah and Maw-Maw), and the stunningly handsome birthday boys (Jeremy, Henry and Hank) for your viewing pleasure.  Thanks in advance to my beautiful cousin Ashley for letting me rip these off your Facebook page.

This year my dad researched where we should go and picked the Green Valley Grill in the O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro.  I have to say, it was spectacular.  I ordered pan seared sea scallops in a blood orange buerre blanc served over a butternut squash gratin with vintage gruyere.  Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds.  Going for lunch instead of dinner was a great choice, as my entree was only $14!  The service was impeccable, and the atmosphere is impressive.  They have an open kitchen where you can watch ducks, chickens, and pork loins rotate over the oak burning oven.  I really lament that I did not take a photo of my meal, as the presentation was terrific.  I guess I just couldn't stand the pain of not diving right in!

For Valentines Day, Jeremy presented me with the most gorgeous bouquet of two dozen longstemmed red roses and really pulled out all the stops.  We went to Whole Foods where I got to pick out all kinds of deluxe items.  After cooking dinner together, we relaxed with some red wine and watched The Time Traveler's Wife.  Check out these amazing ribeyes!

Each one got treated to a rubdown with a thinly sliced clove of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, course ground black pepper, hawaiian pink salt, and some chopped fresh rosemary before Jeremy grilled them to medium rare perfection.  Confession: my favorite part of having steak for dinner is waiting until I am alone in the kitchen with the plate of cooked and cut meat, tipping the plate full of juices up and slurping it down.  Please tell me I am not alone in this probably repulsive desire.  Regardless, it's heavenly.

For our side, I braised some swiss chard with caramelized onions.  I had done this before with rainbow chard, but this was wayyy better for whatever reason.  I will allow that butter might have been that reason.  Try this:

Get your saute pan going on medium heat.  Add one tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon olive oil.  Toss in one very thinly sliced onion (I used a Spanish onion).  Separate the rings, and then walk a way a minute or two to give it a chance to get those sugars hot.  Add another tablespoon of butter. Continue to cook on medium heat until the onions are golden brown.  Reduce heat to low while you coursely chop up one bunch of swiss chard.  This stuff is beautiful!  Cram it in your pan, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cover with a lid or large plate so that it wilts a bit.

  Five minutes should be plenty of time.  Uncover, and continue to cook on low until the juices thicken and your meat is ready to come off the grill.  That's it!  So easy, so delicious, and so good for you.  (Really, adding the fat from the butter helps your body absorb all those fat soluble vitamins and nutrients!!)

Serve some good crusty bread (we used my favorite, Pane Paisano,  spread with some Herbs de Provence goat cheese) alongside your steak and greens to sop up the awesome juices.  Not your most elegant or visually stunning meal, but the flavor is totally going to seduce you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

In Praise of Focaccia

Jeremy's birthday was this weekend.  Unlike me, he was not cursed with a sweet tooth, so in lieu of cake he opted for some fresh baked focaccia.  This time with some thinly sliced tomatoes and rosemary from the hearty plant out front.  There are many good things about making focaccia from scratch.

The yeasty and warm smell of dough rising

The aroma of fresh baked bread permeating your house for the whole day

and most importantly,

The totally kicked up creations you can make with the leftovers.

My favorite recipe I've found so far comes from the Nordstrom Friends and Family Cookbook:

2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 Tbsp sugar
5 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper

In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the yeast, water, sugar and 2 Tbsp of the flour.  Let stand until foamy, about ten minutes.  In a large bowl, stir together 5 cups of the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, then form a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the well along with two Tbsp of the olive oil.  Stir with a wooden spoon, incorporating the ingredients until a soft dough forms.  Use floured hands to mix the dough when it becomes too stiff to work with a spoon.
Dust a work surface with the remaining flour (about 1 1/2 Tbsp).  Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead ten minutes, adding the flour if the dough becomes too sticky.  When the dough is smooth and elastic, shape it into a ball and place it back into the bowl with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.  Turn the dough once to coat.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Punch it down, cover, and allow to rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes longer.
Use 1 Tbsp of the oil to grease an 11 x 15 inch rimmed baking sheet.  On a lightly floured work surface, spread and press the dough flat until it is about the same size as the baking sheet.  Place in the prepared pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one last time until doubled in bulk, about 15 minutes.  Poke a pattern in the dough with your fingertips.  Position your oven rack in the middle to upper two thirds of your oven and preheat to 425.
Sprinkle dough with the rosemary, remaining teaspoon of salt, and pepper.  Drizzle evenly with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve hot.

This recipe looks long.  It might look complicated.  It isn't!!  Even if you are a novice baker, you've got a great shot at impressing even your most skeptical relatives with this one.  A few changes I've made to the recipe:
Mix an additional teaspoon of chopped rosemary and one thinly sliced clove of garlic into the dough.
When dough has been formed and pressed into the baking sheet, additionally top it with thinly sliced tomatoes, a sprinkling of grated parmesan or a white/yellow cheese of your choice.  Also, do you want this to be even easier?  Good.  Me too.  That's why I do ALL the mixing and ALL the kneading in my stand mixer.  If you have one, please use it.  Unless of course you need to unleash some stress and make that dough pay with your hands and you just dare someone to try to stop you...

Here to our left you will notice maybe the most superb methods of transforming your leftover day or two-day-old focaccia into pure bliss.  It's also super easy.  After you've had enough morning coffee to avoid cutting yourself, split a square piece of focaccia about the size of your hand into two thin layers.  One top and one bottom.  We're making a sandwich- not a rocket.
Toss a piece of breakfast meat into a skillet on medium.  Country ham is about as quick, easy and delicious as it gets.  Canadian bacon is a tasty and more calorie-conscious choice, but man would some bacon be sublime!
Cook until it's done (a matter of a minute and a half for country ham!) and put it on your bottom layer.  Cut the cheese.  I know I am juvenile, but I get my smiles where I can, okay?  Use a sharp cheese that is full fat for optimum results.  Top the bread and meat with the cheese and put in your toaster oven or oven just until the cheese melts.  Take it out carefully.  While it gets toasty, fry up one egg.  I like my whites firm and my yolks runny and saucy!  Egg goes on top of ham and cheese, sliced tomato goes on top of egg, fresh ground pepper, top with focaccia half, WHAMMO.  You'll love me for this, I promise.

Still have a little leftover bread the next day?  Me too.  So I have a pot of soup on that I plan on topping with these little beauties before polishing off a nice big bowl.
Homemade croutons take almost no effort and the flavor payoff is fantastic.  Avoid buying croutons if you can.  They're even delicious made from stale store bought bread.  Cut into cubes, toss in a Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, season to taste, bake at 450 for ten minutes or until golden brown.  Shake the pan once during cooking to ensure even browning.

If you have read all the way down to this point, I congratulate you!  Thanks for staying tuned.  I can't wait to hear how your bread turns out!


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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moles (Not the kind on your face)

So a sled was indeed procured.  I really was convinced my dad's old Radio Flyer sled was still hanging in my parents' barn, but like many other things I have been searching for lately, it appears that it too fell victim to Yard Sale Purging Syndrome.  Turns out Jeremy's dad's old Flexible Flyer was still hanging around his mom's house.  So the dashing young lad went dashing very carefully to his mom's house to fetch it so we could do some Serious Sunday Sledding.

The trick is, you wait until after dark when everything refreezes and you find a road conveniently located across the street that is covered in one solid, gleaming sheet of ice.  You double up on the rickety sled and shove off until you reach a very unsafe speed.  You ride skillfully on one rail for several seconds before riding very unskillfully on your bare behind on ice covered asphalt for several seconds too long.  And then you do it all over again and take several ibuprofin in the morning.  Shame on you for not acting your age!

Anyway, what was it I said about moles?  That's pronounced mo-lays, mind you!  The delicious Mexican and Central American sauce so full of spice, smoke, and sultry richness it's sure to make you swoon.  I have been eyeing a recipe for Pistachio Mole in the Whole Foods Cookbook for quite some time, but I must admit I am mightily intimidated.  You should check out the list of ingredients on one of these sauces!  Not to mention the fact that there are thousands of variations on the theme since each family in some parts has their own traditional version using different seeds, nuts, or spices.  It was much too large a project to embark upon while in sledding recovery mode, so I headed out into the Great White Winter with my parents and sister to Torero's for some awesome pollo en mole. 

Mom is a sucker for fajitas, Lori got a grilled shrimp salad, and Dad made sure to point out to all of us that he had made the worst choice possible and gotten the worst taco salad ever.
Check out Mom's sassy tortilla chip eating ways.

Has anyone reading this actually made their own mole?  I mean roasted your own chiles, ground your own seeds, the whole enchilada, so to speak?  If you have, please for the love of mole speak up and tell me how you did it, how it turned out, and was it worth it.  As for Torero's, it was very good.  Not as good as the Enchiladas poblanas en mole at La Vaquita on Hillsborough Road, mind you, but good.

Oh yeahhh.