Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Long Green Mole

This wonderful cooking adventure began a couple of weeks ago. I was reading a beautiful post at Cream Puffs In Venice about a delicious Crepes Suzette recipe. Ivonne told the story of finding Mrs. B at Eating Suburbia who was editing a cookbook (The World is a Kitchen) to be released in August. Mrs. B had invited fellow bloggers to test the recipes from the upcoming book. This caught my interest. What does a teacher want when school is out? An assignment, of course! I contacted Mrs. B at her wonderful site and she sent me the names & descriptions of 4 recipes. The only recipe I eliminated was one which included snails, as I wasn't so sure I could find them. I told her I would be willing to do any of the others. My assignment--a 22 ingredient Mole Verde--one of the 7 Moles of Oaxaca. Mrs. B told me it would take "stamina" to complete this recipe and I gladly accepted what I viewed as a challenge. This was a cooking adventure that taught me to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

I quickly perused the list of ingredients and was pleased to discover that I actually had most of them. There were only a small number that I would search for at a store that I knew would have them if anyone would--epazote, yerba santa, chile de arbol. Visiting the market was a story in itself. Everyone was very helpful when I explained what I was doing. The produce manager directed me to the fresh epazote & chile de arbol. The bakery manager directed me to the store manager who directed me to the yerba santa leaves (turns out to be a type of "mint"). Couldn't resist the pastry while visiting with the bakery manager. I just felt compelled to buy something (you'll see why later). Brought home pumpkin & sweet potato filled empanadas, yoyos(strawberry & coconut), cherry & apple fritters, & a cute corn shaped pastry filled with raspberry! To top off an interesting trip (which I thought would be a short routine grocery run) the president of the entire 3 state grocery chain popped in for an unannounced visit & bagged my groceries! It was a great trip and I met a lot of nice people and came home with lots of good stuff. DH always says I'd talk to anyone (I don't mean that in a bad way--he says it out of concern). I think he thinks I must be related to the famous humorist from our home state (Oklahoma)--Will Rogers--never met a stranger. Anyway, I digress.

Ingredients assembled, the first thing was to clean & soak small white beans overnight. That part I knew I could do. I read & re-read the recipe & hoped it would turn out. I issued instructions that the morning belonged to me & the kitchen was "off limits", although I know we had breakfast and I seem to remember a turkey sandwich in there somewhere for DH. If we were to sit down and talk I would tell you every single detail of every step of the process. DH says I am long winded--he's right. I just don't want to leave any detail out that might be important. I would just like to say that this was a wonderful recipe & a wonderful experience from start to finish. Don't be stifled if you see a recipe with many ingredients or a "difficult" rating. Give it a try. It may not be perfect, but you will be richer for the experience of the journey & I still believe there are more successes than failures.

I will take this mole & make it mine next time. It was a wonderfully green tasting, light (yes, light) dish. Green, green everywhere. Layers of flavor--the green of the leafy ingredients, celery, peppers, tomatoes, & tomatillos. A few of the tomatoes, tomatillos & the bay leaf from my garden. That gave me a bit of satisfaction. The great corn flavor from the masa. Heat--but not burn your mouth down--from the peppers. Never made a pork stock and frankly, didn't even think it sounded good. The stock was absolutely wonderful & light. Seasoned with the fresh bay leaf, peppercorns and allspice. Didn't think it would be possible to make a dish with 9 big jalepenos and not be crying but when I make it again(I call it making it mine)I'll add more--even thought it was absolutely delicious the way it was. It really is true-when you remove the seeds & membrane from peppers you can taste the wonderful flavor & not just the heat. I'll never make any stock again without the addition of allspice. I'm a very meticulous & slow cook on any day. I am a fanatic about cleanliness in the kitchen. I scrub everything--maybe it is not necessary, but I do it. Just a few more notes & then the recipe. I think a mole is a very individual thing. If you make one, add & subtract as you like. It wll be like your stamp on it--on anything. Like your Dad's special chili or Grandma's fried chicken or Mom's apple pie. There are common ingredients but they all do something special that makes it theirs. A few days ago I read the magnificent Cooking Diva-Melissa's version of mole that I can't wait to try. I know it won't be as beautiful as hers, but I can enjoy the process--the journey--as well as the destination--wonderful food! Just for those who haven't tasted some of these things before--epazote is a leafy green with what I would describe as having a slightly medicinal but not bad taste. Yerba Santa leaves are fresh & minty & in fact I think next time I could substitute a bit of mint (maybe spearmint) from the garden. Italian flat leaf parsley is great but you could use curly leaf if that is what you have. Chile de arbol is in the pork stock & when tasted before cooking was not hot but after cooking it was hot. I cooked the pork longer than suggested just because it wasn't tender yet. When using ablender with hot ingredients--remember--it gets explosive in there! Vent it! Unless you have an unusually large blender bowl, you might want to blend in batches. I was true to the recipe but when I make it again I would probably use less garlic, more jalepenos, less epazote, more parsley & mint. I would make it in stages. Make the beans & pork the first day & assemble on the 2nd day.

Thank you to the fantastic Mrs. B for giving me the ticket to this experience. (Find Mrs. B at
http://eatingsuburbia.blogspot.com/ )I loved every minute! Even DH, who isn't crazy about this kind of cooking announced it was very good. Said it was like ham & beans! Well, I guess it is a form of pork with beans. Here is the recipe if you have stuck with me this long, you can make the Long Green Mole. Enjoy!

Mole Verde
Serves 8
"This mole, from Susana Trilling's Seasons of My Heart, is one of the seven legendary moles of Oaxaca. Unlike the dark moles with their voluttuous richness, this one tastes fresh & bright, vibrant &, somehow, green, even when you close your eyes." (Quote supplied by Mrs. B along with the recipe)

1 white onion, sliced
1 garlic bulb
1 carrot, peeled & thickly sliced
3 celery ribs, with leaves
1 bay leaf
1 whole allspice
1 chile de arbol
5 black peppercorns
Kosher salt
1 pound baby-back ribs, cut Chinese style
1 pound boneless pork shoulder, in 2-inch cubes
3/4 cup dried small white beans, soaked overnight & cooked in salted water until tender
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed
1 pound green tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium white onion, cut into chunks
1 garlic bulb, cloves separated & peeled
9 large fresh jalapenos, seeded
2 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
8 ounces prepared corn masa for tortillas or 1 cup masa harina for tortillas mixed with 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup epazote leaves
1/2 cup yerba santa leaves, ribs removed
Black pepper to taste

Pour 3 quarts of cold water into a large soup pot & add the sliced onion, whole garlic bulb, carrot, celery ribs, bay leaf, allspice, chile de arbol, whole peppercorns, baby-back ribs & pork shoulder. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and skim off any foam that forms on the surface of the liquid. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Use tongs to transfer the ribs & shoulder to a plate. Increase the heat to high & simmer 15 minutes more. Strain the stock into a clean container & discard the vegetables. Season the stock to taste with salt.

Put the tomatillos in a 2-quart saucepan & add enough water to just cover them. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low & simmer until they just change color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain & place in the container of a blender, along with the green tomatoes, chunks of onion, garlic cloves, jalapenos & 1 cup of the reserved pork stock. Puree until smooth. Pour the oil into a large soup pot set over high heat. When it smokes, add the pureed tomatillo mixture & stir continuously, until hot, about 10 minutes. Put the masa in a blender and add 2 cups of pork stock. Puree until smooth & stir into the tomatillo mixture. Simmer over medium heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.

Put the parsley, epazote & yerba santa in the blender & add enough pork stock to blend well. Pour the herb mixture into the tomatillo mixture & simmer over low heat for 15 minutes more. Add salt & pepper to taste. At this point, the mole should be thick enough to coat a spoon but no thicker; if it seems too thick, thin with a little of the reserved pork stock. Return the ribs & shoulder meat, along with the cooked white beans, to the stock & simmer gently to heat through.

Ladle the mole into soup plates, making sure each serving includes a rib & a piece of shoulder topped with lots of sauce & beans. Serve immediately, with hot corn tortillas alongside.

Some of the fresh mole ingredients--
Finished delicious Mole Verde--
Cooked beans & pork heating in pork stock--
Tasty pastry from the grocer's Mexican Bakery--
Souvenirs of a long ago trip to Mexico--

Hey, who drank my Mexican Coca-Cola ;-)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Porcupine Meatballs

Well, just to let you know there is no actual exotic meat in this dish, just plain freshly ground lean beef. I chose this as a retro food 1st because I know I have been making & actually enjoying them for more years than I care to admit. Before that, I was fed these meatballs or a version of them by the cooks in my family. When I first asked about the curious name, I was told it was because the rice grains resemble little porcupine quills! True? I don't know. It is a good story. I am not sure of the origin of the recipe (there are many variations--most more complicated than mine--one is found in my very retro 1967 edition of The Joy of Cooking-p.430). The story of the original recipe as I heard it was that it was devised when pressure cookers became popular way back when and the meatballs could be made quickly. Those of you who are older, probably remember all of the accompanying horror stories of pressure cookers. When I was growing up every kitchen had one, yet I never (fortunately) witnessed any of the awful accidents told by the cooks of the day. Probably a heartfelt warning to keep children away from the hot stove.

Please note the retro dish which contains the meatballs. This is the pattern I chose to live with back in the early 70's and keep them around for old time's sake. Yes, I am very sentimental. (I guess I am a retro relic myself). The recipe for this retro dish is easy and is still a regular on our menu. You can change it to your liking. Spice it up with hot sauce or pepper flakes or google a more complicated version, but this is something that always comes away with an A+ rating, especially served with (don't cringe) instant mashed potatoes, & Le Suere Baby Peas.

I Can Campbells Tomato Soup (10 3/4 ounce size)
2 Soup Cans of Water
1/4 Cup Uncooked Rice (does not need to be instant, but you can use it)
1 to 1 1/2 pounds good ground beef
Finely Chopped onion (about 1/3 Cup)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Mix meat, rice, onion, salt & pepper in a large bowl. Form ping pong ball sized meatballs (or larger if you are my DH and don't want to take the time to make smaller ones). This will make up to 2 dozen. In a large pan mix soup & water over low heat. Gently add meatballs to the soup. Keep the heat low & watch since the soup and any stray rice will want to stick to the bottom of the pan. When you stir, stir gently. The mixture will seem watery, but after about 1 1/2 hours of cooking it thickens nicely, the rice is cooked and you have a wonderful warm bunch of comfort food.

Thank you to Laura Rebecca's Kitchen for hosting this fun event. Can't wait to see & try the other contributions.
You can visit her site @ http://laurarebeccaskitchen.blogspot.com

Monday, June 05, 2006

Chocolate Tart

Did you ever have any ingredient in your kitchen that was just begging to be used? I did. Creme Fraiche. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. The clock had been ticking & I kept checking the "use by" date. I wanted to make a chocolate tart & if I was going to use this creme fraiche, now was the time. I had watched Giada make Chocolate Ricotta Pie and loved the look of it. Giada's crust used pine nuts and that sounded good. But alas, the filling used 4 eggs and if I was going to be able to eat the pie I would need to use a recipe with fewer eggs. (I don't have a good relationship with eggs.) What I finally decided upon was a crust which used pecans instead of pine nuts and a filling with creme fraiche and 1 egg.

Crust Ingredients******
(I will make this the day before next time.)
AP Flour 1 1/2 cups
Cornmeal 2 tablespoons
Pecans 3/4 cup
Sugar 1/4 cup
Butter 1 stick, melted & cooled slightly

Process the dry ingredients (including the pecans) in a food processor until fine. Add butter & process until dough forms. Press dough over the bottom & sides of tart pan. My tart pan is one piece and it works fine with this crust. At this point the original recipe called for the dough to be refrigerated for 30 minutes. I placed mine in the freezer for 15 minutes & all was well. Blind bake the crust in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until just set. Remove foil & weights from blind bake. (I lined my crust with aluminum foil and sat a pie plate on top for weight--next time I will spray the foil before it touches the dough, as I lost a bit of crust when removing the foil.) Bake the shell about 10 minutes more or until golden. Cool completely. I put my crust in front of a fan at this point to speed the process. Now you know why I will do it the day before next time.

Chocolate Filling Ingredients******
The creme fraiche I used was from Bellweather Farms (got it at Trader Joe's) and it was delicious. Very smooth & buttery tasting. The packaging has several recipes as does their website. I used their Chocolate Tart recipe as a starting point for my filling. Their recipe uses bittersweet chocolate and no sugar. I am a chocolate lover but knew that DH would not go for a dark chocolate pie that was not sweet. This is my version--

Half & Half --1/2 cup
EggYolk--1 large
Creme Fraiche--7.5 ounce
Powdered Sugar--6 tablespoons(This was another deviation from the original recipe.)
Vanilla-- a few drops(Another deviation, use the best you have.)
Chocolate--7 ounces, finely chopped (I used 3 rectangles of Dagoba Organic Eclipse 87% extra dark chocolate, 2 squares of Lindt 85% dark chocolate, and made up the difference with Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips.) Use what you like.

Lightly whip egg yolk with creme fraiche. Bring half & half to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Add vanilla and mix. Add powdered sugar a spoon at a time, stirring after each addition so that the mixture remains smooth. Slowly add egg/creme fraiche mixture & mix thoroughly. Pour chocolate mixture into tart shell and bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. At this point my tart was not set. I upped the temp to 350 and set it to be checked in 5 minute intervals. I removed my tart 13 minutes & 33 seconds later. Sounds rather unorthodox but I was panicking when it was not done at the appointed time. Next time I will try 35o degrees for 25 minutes.

For a little color and extra taste I added the strawberry puree with a ittle sugar and topped with a few chopped pecans.

The verdict--a thumbs up! Very rich, very chocolatey, needs the fruit (raspberry would be excellent). What we liked best--honestly as delicious as the filling was, we loved the crust and decided it would make great cookies!

Now I want a tart pan with a removeable ring so I can make
tarts with different (not as sturdy) crusts and have the nice shape hold together.