January 20th, 2014

Molé! Olé!

DSC_0028

You never know how or from what place cooking inspiration will come. Today’s dish arose from an unexpected find: a 10 pound box of loosely packed dried guajillo chiles in our food bank’s warehouse. Whatever entity had donated the box didn’t realize that it would be considered a reject. Dried chiles offer little in the way of real food to people who don’t have a viable kitchen or the means to prepare them. Unless anyone at Second Harvest wanted them, ten pounds of dried guajillos were destined for the dumpster.

Of course, we (meaning the staff and volunteers of Second Harvest’s Culinary Arts Center) wanted them. You can’t imagine how many peppers filled the box. Thousands, I’d say! We portioned them into ziplock bags and now have a seemingly inexhaustible supply.

It set me to thinking about molés, those rich complex sauces from Oaxaca, Mexico that have layers of flavor from chiles, fruits, nuts, spices and chocolate.

DSC_0002

With our potluck on the horizon, and a turkey breast in my freezer, I deemed it time to make Pavo con Molé—turkey mole. CAC Director Mark gave me a ziplock of chiles and wished me success.

All these many many years of cooking, and I had never made a molé. I’m not sure why. Likely I thought that it was too complicated. Likely I’ve never had a big bag of dried guajillos.

In either event, it’s a project long overdue.

DSC_0005

I didn’t have a recipe. Research on the ‘net and some of my cookbooks turned up scads of molé recipes. I cobbled together my own version, which was gleaned from the stellar likes of Diana Kennedy, Susana Palazuelos, and Rick Bayless, tempered by what I had in my pantry.

DSC_0007

The common threads:
–Pan-toasting the sesame seeds and spices, to bloom their flavors, before grinding. The same is true for the almonds.

–Steeping the guajillos in boiling water. I add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and dried currants to the batch. The resulting liquid is infused with intense tastes.

–Stirring in the unsweetened chocolate at the end of the cooking process–the final bass note of flavor to the molé.

DSC_0010

Don’t be daunted by the lengthy ingredient list. Believe me, there are molé recipes out there with lists twice as long. This one possesses wonderful fruity heat and complexity. Its texture is lush.

The method has a few steps, but it is not difficult to make. At all. In fact, it was a pleasurable process to undertake.

DSC_0014

In the time it takes for the turkey breast to braise in a Dutch oven, the sauce comes together, filling the kitchen with heady aromatics.

An immersion blender is a life-saver, making the puree a breeze. If you want the molé ultra-smooth, you may run it through a sieve, post-pureeing. I didn’t. I liked the minute bits of guajillo skin, which give the thick, mostly smooth sauce more character.

DSC_0018

This makes a lot of molé—plenty to cloak the turkey, with a few cups to spare. That extra will keep up to a week in the fridge, or three months in the freezer.

At potluck, we all were over the moon about this dish, which I served with corn tortillas. Sparks of clove and cinnamon, toasted nuts, fruit and heat, bitter depth of chocolate: The tastes revealed themselves from the front to the back of the tongue, slowly, leaving a mild, contained fire in the mouth. So satisfying to eat!

We were also psychically connected in our potluck preparations. We never assign dishes, or share ahead of time what we are going to bring. And yet, asparagus salsa, Mexican rice and lentils, and black bean-corn salad all turned up on the table–fabulous molé accompaniments.

DSC_0025

MOLE SAUCE FOR TURKEY
12-15 dried guajillo chiles
3 bay leaves
2 sticks cinnamon
1/3 cup currants or raisins
12 peppercorns
6 cloves
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 cup almonds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 bulb (about 10 cloves) garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can plum tomatoes in sauce
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped or broken into pieces

Place a kettle of water on to boil.
Break off the stems of the dried chiles and shake out the seeds. Break the chiles into pieces and place into a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and currants (or raisins.) Pour boiling water over the ingredients to cover. Allow the chiles to rehydrate for 30 minutes.

Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, and cloves. Add a teaspoon or two of the guajillo chile seeds. Toast the mixture, shaking it occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and place into a separate bowl. Add the almonds to the skillet and toast them in similar fashion, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place cooled almonds, sesame seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves into a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse an process nuts, spices and seeds into a fine grind.

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and continue the sauté.

Open the can of plum tomatoes and add the juice to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt.
Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them as well.
Discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks from the steeped guajillos. Pour the chiles, currants and liquid into the pot. Add the ground nuts, spices, and seeds. Stir in the 4 cups of stock.

Finally, stir in the unsweetened chocolate.

Reduce the heat to simmer and cook the mixture for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it is smooth and glossy. It will still have texture, and will be thick.

Makes 2 quarts molé

PREPARING THE PAVO (TURKEY)
1 turkey breast (6-8 pound)
juice from one lime
salt
black pepper

Rub the inside and exterior of the turkey breast with lime juice. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Brown the breast on both sides in a Dutch oven set on medium heat. This will take several minutes—6-8 minutes per side. Add a cup of water (or stock.) Cover and reduce the heat to low.
Braise the bird for about an hour. When done, remove the breast and let it sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and pull the breast meat, in lobes, from the carcass.

ASSEMBLY
Place a base of mole, like a thick blanket, over the surface of a serving platter.
Slice the turkey breast and place the pieces on to the blanket of sauce.
Add more sauce over the top.
Garnish with sesame seeds and slices of fresh lime, if you like.

Serves 10-12 generously

DSC_0028

Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Sauces | 17 Comments »




October 21st, 2013

Sage Praise

DSC_0039

Dear Friends,

Almost an entire month has past since I last visited with you here at Good Food Matters, but be assured that I’ve been busy-busy, hands-on: making good—and beautiful—-food for the cookbook. In addition to the book cover shoot, we’ve had 4 separate photo sessions, working to capture the bounty of produce in this transitional season and the waning light. We’ve garnered over 60 stunning images that I can’t wait to share with you. And the dishes! Passion fruit Pavlova, German-style Pretzels with stout mustard, figs in syrup, figs on flatbread, Cornbread Panzanella, gazpacho with spiced grilled shrimp, ricotta gnocchi with arugula-three herb pesto, lofty strawberry sponge cake…

Patience, patience. It shall happen, in due time.

DSC_0016

Meanwhile, what has transpired since I’ve been relegated to the kitchen and studio? I look up from my work and see that fall is upon us. The weather has shifted mightily. Days move apace, with dry, crisp chill in the air. Tomatoes have just about played out in our gardens, and the basil plants are looking rather ragged. No matter. Now the markets brim with all manner of greens, hardy squashes, leeks, onions, and peppers. Now I am ready to prepare dishes using them, aren’t you?

And now, I like to cook with sage.

DSC_0028

I should use it in my cooking all year long–but for whatever reason, the grey-green leaf with its musty, woodsy taste, (I think of a forest floor, slightly damp) its paradoxical tough-velvet touch, finds its way into my fall and winter recipes: Larded with garlic into juicy pork roast, scenting cornbread stuffing for turkey, sizzled in brown butter sauce napped over pumpkin ravioli.

There’s nothing faint about my praise for the herb and today’s recipe uses it with vigor. Chicken breasts cut and pounded into thin scallops pick up the sage leaves first in the dredging. (For a great description of how to easily pound the cutlets, check this on Cooking Light’s website.)

DSC_0031
DSC_0032

I saute the chicken in a meld of butter and olive oil–the best of both!—which gives the coating a golden burnish, as delectable brown bits form in the pan. To this, I add minced garlic and More sage, before I scrape and swirl in the white wine and light cream. The sage is distinct, assertive–for me, pleasingly so. If that concerns you, don’t let it. The wine-cream reduction muffles it, blanketing the chicken.

DSC_0018

Serve it with this orzo dish, which is more vegetable than it is pasta. Poblanos, leeks, and butternut squash make a harmony of fall colors, roasted to smoky sweetness. I think you’ll enjoy the undercurrent of mild heat imparted by the peppers.

DSC_0036

CHICKEN SCALLOPINE WITH SAGE CREAM SAUCE
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin pieces and pounded
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
12 sage leaves, finely chopped
3 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup half-and-half

Slice through the length of each chicken breast into halves or thirds. Using wax paper or plastic wrap, pound them to an even thinness, using a mallet or small skillet.
Mix the flour, salt, pepper, and finely chopped sage together.
Place a large skillet on medium heat. Melt the butter and olive oil together.
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture; dust off the excess, and place into the hot skillet. Brown the chicken, sauteing the pieces for 3-4 minutes on one side, before flipping. Remove the pieces from the skillet as they are finished, placing them into a baking dish. Keep them warm.
After you have browned and removed all the chicken, add the garlic and sage to the skillet. Saute for a minute, then pour in the white wine. Let it bubble and reduce by half as you stir it in the skillet, scraping up the browned bits. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the half-and-half. Stir well. The sauce should thicken nicely. Taste for seasonings. Pour hot sauce over warm chicken scallopine and serve.

Makes 6-8 servings

DSC_0025

ORZO WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH, LEEKS, AND POBLANOS
1 large butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and cut into bite-sized cubes
2 large leeks, carefully washed, dried and chopped (discard tough dark green leaves)
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
3+tablespoons olive oil
salt
black pepper
1/2 pound orzo

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the butternut squash cubes onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss well to coat all the pieces.
Place chopped leeks and poblanos onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and black pepper, and toss well to coat the vegetables.
Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast the butternuts for 15-18 minutes, roast the leeks and poblanos for 12-15 minutes. Rotate the pans about halfway through the cooking time.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil on medium high heat. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions (about 9-10 minutes.)
Drain the orzo and return it to the pot.
Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. Scrape the butternuts in their roasting oil, and the poblano-leeks in their oil into the pot with the orzo. Toss the mixture well.

Makes 6-8 servings

DSC_0041

Here’s a glimpse!

Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook cover

Posted in Meats/Poultry, Pastas, Recipes | 18 Comments »




October 12th, 2011

Butternut Squash-Heirloom Bean Chili, olive oil cornbread

DSC_0029

DSC_0030

How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly, I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has fallen in the horse’s mane.

I found this Robert Bly poem, “Watering the Horse” tucked in the back of a mottled recipe notebook, long untouched. It was on a sheet of mimeographed paper, that odd purplish ink, the public school printing method of long ago.

I still love this poem today, perhaps more than when I was a teen–the notion of ambition having altered with experience. At the other end of child-rearing and career building, I call it into question: what I embrace; what I give up; what has meaning.

And then I cook.

One clear ambition, I tell myself, is that each autumn, I seek out alternative ways to prepare butternut squash.

You may recall, in seasons past, that we’ve cooked up Butternut Lasagna layered with leek bechamel, swiss chard-butternut gratin, flan-like timbales with walnut pesto, and savory bread pudding , served with vegetable veloute, perfect for the holiday dinner table.

Each recipe, a tasty vehicle for this versatile gourd.

Now, that ambition could run wild: this being the first year that I tried my hand at growing our favored winter squash—and harvested a healthy basketful.

DSC_0004

All sizes and shapes!

DSC_0005

This morning, a cushy blanket of fog cloaked our neighborhood. Emerging colors of yellow, gold and burgundy fairly glowed as the fog gave way to an overcast day. I love how brilliant colors come forward in that kind of dull, diffuse light.

The air was cool, too. Chili weather! And then, it occurred to me that the meaty nature of the orange-hued squash would work well in a vegetarian chili.

DSC_0009

I decided to give it a go. With Rancho Gordo beans in my pantry, assorted peppers: poblano, banana, jalapenos along with a few stray tomatoes from the garden, garlic, onions, and spices, I had the foundation for a hearty batch.

DSC_0013

While the beans began their long simmer, I roasted the diced butternut pieces along with the poblanos. I let them get a little caramel crust, and set them aside to cool. Not wanting the squash to break down in the chili, I would add the chunks towards the end of the cooking cycle, to meld with the “pot liquor” the sauce made by the beans as they cook. I turned my attention to bread–cornbread.

DSC_0014

My go-to recipe uses 12 tablespoons of melted butter–an ingredient I lacked. My friend Maggie has a skillet cornbread recipe that uses canola oil–another ingredient missing at the moment in my pantry. What if I made the cornbread with olive oil?

DSC_0018

What if, indeed!

I hand whisked the batter. It came together quickly-easily, and went into the cast iron skillet, into the oven.

It baked into a firm but tender crumb, the olive oil imparting depth, an Old World sense to a New World dish.

DSC_0025

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the Rancho Gordo Beans (used in this recipe: “Good Mother Stallards” but other beans would also be delicious) are remarkable for their richness. Meaty beans make mighty good chili.

The butternuts proved their mettle in the mix, too. Slightly sweet, they latched on to the layers of peppery heat. A little allspice and cumin, perfect with this squash, added intrigue. It’s a worthy veggie chili, complex with minimal ingredients, hearty, full-bodied, aand satisfying on a gray autumn day.

And, not at all ambitious to make.

DSC_0002

DSC_0006

BUTTERNUT SQUASH-HEIRLOOM BEAN CHILI
3 cups chopped (large dice) Butternut Squash (I used 2 small butternuts for this)
1 large or 2 medium Poblano Peppers
Olive Oil
1 heaping cup of dry Beans ( I used Rancho Gordo’s Good Mother Stallards. But, use a good bean of your choice. This recipe would work with black beans, too.)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 medium Onion, chopped
2 Banana Peppers, chopped
1 Jalapeno, sliced thin
Salt
Black Pepper
2 t. Allspice
1 t. Cumin

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread diced butternut squash and halved poblano peppers on a baking sheet pan. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 20 minutes. The squash will roast and caramelize. Pepper skins will blister—peel, chop and set aside separately.

In a large saucepan on medium heat, saute diced onion, banana peppers, and garlic in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent. Add dry beans, and stir until they are coated with the olive oil-onion mix. Pour in water, covering the beans by at least 2 inches. Add roasted poblano pieces.

Simmer until beans are tender ( at least 2 hours), adding more liquid as necessary. When the beans are “soupy” and yield tender flesh, add the roasted butternut. Season with allspice and cumin. Taste for salt, and spicy heat.

Serve alone, or over rice. Dollop with sour cream, garnish with green onion, if you like. Enjoy with cornbread.

DSC_0031

OLIVE OIL CORNBREAD

1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 T. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
1/2 t. Salt
2 Eggs
12 T. Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the eggs, oil, and milk together lightly, then beat into the bowl of dry ingredients. Fold in corn kernels, shredded white cheddar.
Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet (or bread pan.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Test for doneness. Cool slightly, cut into wedges and serve right out of the skillet.

DSC_0023

DSC_0008

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 30 Comments »