April 12, 2006
Quick & Dirty Mole

Dinner: April 11, 2006
Originally uploaded by Jenblossom.

I've been wanting for a very long time to make mole from scratch. Mole dishes are something I love, though my Mexican grandma did not really make them when I was growing up - I've only really had them in restaurants.

I recently got my hands on an ancient copy of Diana Kennedy's The Cuisines of Mexico, and while the mole recipes in it are inspiring, and something I definitely plan to tackle in the future, I just didn't have the time or energy to deal with that yesterday. So I decided to just go ahead and do a "quick & dirty" version - not using a recipe, just putting in the things that typically go into a mole sauce, adding layers of flavor, just to see what I could do with a few hours of prep and cooking time. The result was pretty darn tasty, and I've got a bunch of mole "base" left over for future use.

Quick & Dirty Mole

4 dried arbol chiles
2 dried pasilla chiles
3 dried ancho chiles
4 cups water
4 plum tomatoes, halved
3 large tomatilloes, husks removed, halved
1/2 can chipotles in adobo
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 cup almonds
1 tbsp. each coriander and cumin seeds
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 stick cinnamon
1-2 tbsp. each ground cinnamon, cumin, dried oregano
2 cups chicken stock (plus additional if needed)
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp. Sherry vinegar
3 tbsp. best-quality Dutch-process cocoa powder
Kosher salt
Canola or other neutral oil

Soak dried chiles in 4 cups water 2-3 hours until softened. Remove from water, and reserve about 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Remove stems and seeds from chiles.

Toss tomato and tomatillo halves with salt and a little canola, and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees until skins are charred and fruits are softened.

Place tomatoes/tomatillos and all juices into a blender. Add the softened dried chiles, chipotles and adobo, and dried apricots to blender and puree.

Toast pepitas, almonds, coriander and cumin seeds in a dry skillet. Add to blender and puree, adding the reserved chile soaking liquid 1/2 cup at a time.

Cook onion and garlic with a little salt and oil in a heavy bottomed pot until softened. Add the puree from the blender, then add ground spices and two cups of chicken stock. Cook at a low simmer, covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding a little more chicken broth if the mixture gets too stiff (it should be thick, but not paste-like). Add lime juice and sherry vinegar, cocoa powder and adjust salt and other seasonings as needed. Continue cooking at a low simmer for another 30 minutes.

You will end up with probably 5-6 cups of this "base" - for our meal, I dredged 1 lb. of chicken thighs in flour seasoned with pinches of salt, cumin and cinnamon, and removed the excess. I browned them in canola until golden, drained off a bit of the excess oil from the skillet, then added about 1.5 cups of mole base and 1 cup of chicken stock. I let this cook, covered, until the chicken was tender and nearly falling off the bone.

Posted by jenblossom on April 12, 2006
April 03, 2006
Aspargessuppe (Danish-style asparagus soup)

The boy and I spent two months of a Danish winter living in an uninsulated unheatable summer cottage. Consequently, I developed a great appreciation for Danish soups. Asparagus soup is a Danish menu staple. In winter, they make with with canned white asparagus; in summer, they use fresh green stalks.

At the Monterey Market today, Cui was trimming asparagus bunches to make them pretty. This left him with a box full of asparagus trimmings. My eyes got very big -- he gave me as much as I wanted. Free asparagus soup!

I wrote a lot of detail, but this is really unfussy and quick to make.

2 lbs fresh asparagus
5 c. broth
1 oz. butter, softened
3 tbsp. flour
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp. cream (optional)
salt and pepper

Rinse asparagus and cut into bite-sized pieces. If you are using a bunch of asparagus, separate the tips from the stalks and reserve the tips. Put the asparagus stalks in a pot wth the broth and cook until the asparagus is soft, about 10-15 minutes (if you have tips, add them for the last 5 minutes). If you're not into measuring, just make sure you have enough broth to float the asparagus without crowding too much.

Remove the asparagus pieces from the broth and set them aside. Cream the butter and the flour together. Whisk the butter and flour into the hot broth and boil for 5 minutes. Taste the soup -- it should not taste like raw flour.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the cream. Whisk in a little hot broth. Reduce the heat under the soup and return the egg-broth mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. It's important not to boil the soup now, or the yolk will curdle.

Return the asparagus pieces to the soup and gently reheat. Season with salt and pepper. (My Danish cookbook also thinks sherry or white wine would be tasty additions. The boy wants me to simmer in some mushrooms.)

Posted by naomi on April 03, 2006
April 02, 2006
Vegetarian Jambalaya

Inspired by my recent move - and the first week of real hot weather down here - I wanted to make something wonderfully Southern for dinner last night. I road-tested the recipe for veggie jambalaya from the latest issue of Bust magazine (Apr/May 06, pg 32). Who knew the Bust ladies could sling such mean Cajun fare? My vegetarian husband pronounced it "a keeper" and my toddler ate quite a bit before mashing it into the carpet, which is a picky 20 month-olds equivilent of a thumbs up!

Vegetarian Jambalaya
1 stick sweet cream butter
2 onions, chopped
1/2-1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/2 cup baby peas
1 cup red beans, cooked
1 small zucchini or squash, diced or sliced
1/2 cup broccoli (optional)
4 cups cooked white rice
dried or fresh herbs: oregeno, thyme, parsley
seasonings: salt, pepper, cayenne

Melt butter in a pot. Add oinions and saute until soft. Add celery, garlic, and bell pepper. Saute 3-5 minutes before adding the can of tomatoes. Season with pinches of oregano, thyme and parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste. Simmer for a few minutes before adding baby peas, red beans, zucchini (and broccoli, optional). Simmer 3-5 minutes before adding rice.

Pour into baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with biscuits or fresh sourdough bread and some ice-cold beer. Will feed a couple vegetarians, with leftovers.

Posted by rebecca on April 02, 2006