Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken mole

After Lisa at the Wei of Chocolate saw my Fair Trade Chocolate Cake to Stop Traffik, she advised me that her chocolate also made wonderful mole (rhymes with olé, pero sin la accento sobre la "e"). I told her that I'd always wanted to attempt mole, and she very kindly and generously donated chocolate to the cause. The results ... were nothing short of wonderful. I served it to five guests at a dinner party, and they all enjoyed it. I used an amalgamation of Rick Bayless' recipe and someone else's recipe they made to simplify it. In the end, though, it wast about 90% Bayless and 10% knockoff because I couldn't find all the different peppers Bayless used. In this dish, it can be difficult to dissect the sauce to figure out what ingredients compose the final wonderfully complex flavors, but you can guess at least some if you use the power of your mind to levitate each scent deep into the recesses of your brain, drawing from the ancestral place from where mole originated almost 300 years ago. Or you can stop analyzing it and forge on! Another good thing is it didn't take the hours and hours I was afraid it would. My first Mexican theme night took much longer ... way longer ...

Plated mole, with brown rice and chicken instead of the traditional turkey
Mole night

Mole ingredients, starring tomatillos. Moles can also use tomatoes or a combination of the two.
mole ingredients

All the ingredients
mole ingredients

Ancho chili pepper, canela, cloves
Mole night

Made sure my guests had something to much on while I cooked--salsa verde
Mole night

The salsa verde was really tasty with the fried carrot chips. Use caution when frying, lest you accidentally dip a couple digits into the hot oil. *sigh*
Mole night

Smoke detector with a gas mask, origami-style, as developed by Hun. I must do this whenever I roast or broil anything, and I did both with this recipe.
Mole night

Roasted and rehydrated. Warning--when roasting, step away from the pan lest you are blinded and suffocated by the chili cloud that rises.
Mole night

Blended in chili juice and pushed through a strainer. My strainer is one of my most dependable kitchen troupers.
Mole night

Roast the garlic the same way I roasted the peppers--in my iron skillet.
Mole night

I broiled the tomatillos under the broiler and toasted the sesame seeds in a frying pan. The almonds and raisins were fried up in the same frying pan.
Mole night

Raisins fried up in the pan--funny how they puffed up, aspiring to be grapes again.
Mole night

Toasted bread and Sensual Love Wei of Chocolate
Mole night

All that stuff goes into the blender: tomatillos, sesame seeds, garlic, raisins, almonds, toast, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, then some water
Mole night

Abusing my strainer with a whisk to push the puree through
Mole night

Chili puree into the pot! I sauted the chicken in the pot, then scraped up the fond (tasty brown bits) to start the sauce. I added the chili puree and cooked it down to a paste, to which the tomatillo mixture is added, and then some water. Then the sauce is cooked for 45 minutes (though I went longer, trying to thicken it up).
Mole night

I served it in a deep, narrow dish to keep it warm and make it easier to ladle out
Mole night

Clockwise, from the mole at the top: brown rice, cubed chicken, pepino (cucumber salad with vinegar and cayenne), roasted veggies (red and yellow pepper, zucchini, yellow squash, onion, with fresh oregano, salt, and olive oil), and sesame seeds for self-garnishing in the middle
Mole night

Plate--note that I followed the good-nutrition rule to fill half the plate with veggies
Mole night

Dessert! Chris brought chocolate cupcakes with cinnamon frosting, and they were delicious. The dish on the left holds persimmons, and on the right, papaya. The Mexican wedding cookies I made are in the blue bowl, and apricots are in the little ramekin (they were not so good)
Mole night

I sent as much home as I could, and there was still just enough for leftovers for a few days. Two containers with chicken mole, and one with roasted veggie mole ... mmmmm ...
Mole night

Adapted from Fiesta at Rick's by Rick Bayless.


1/2 cup rich-tasting pork lard or vegetable oil, plus a little more if necessary
6 medium (about 3 ounces total) dried mulato chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
3 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
5 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces total) dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) whole almonds—with or without skins
1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) raisins
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1/4 teaspoon anise, preferably freshly ground (optional)
A scant 1/8 teaspoon cloves, preferably freshly ground
1 ounce (about 1/4 of a 3.3 ounce tablet) Mexican chocolate, roughly chopped
1 slice firm white bread, darkly toasted and broken into several pieces
1/4 cup sugar (plus a little more if needed)
About 2 quarts chicken broth
12 good-size pieces of chicken—bone-in breast halves or leg-and-thigh pieces—trimmed of excess fat
1/3 cup sesame seeds


1. Prepare the mole base: If your slow cooker has a removable cooking crock that can be placed directly on the heat, measure in the lard or oil and set it over medium heat. Otherwise, heat the lard or oil in a very large (7- to 8-quart) pot or Dutch oven. When hot, add the chiles, garlic, almonds and raisins. Stir slowly and continually until the chiles are thoroughly toasted (the interior of each piece will become lighter in color) and the almonds have taken on a creamy color and toasty aroma—about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (with their juice), spices, chocolate and bread. Cook until the tomato juices are reduced and quite thick, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water, the sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine. When the liquid comes to a simmer, transfer the crock to the slow cooker (or scrape the mixture into your slow-cooker). Cook on low for 6 hours. After 6 hours most of the liquid will be reduced to a glaze. The mixture can hold for several hours on the slow cooker's "warm" setting.

2. Finish the mole: Scrape every bit of the mole base into a bowl, then scoop half of it into a blender jar. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, cover and blend until as smooth as possible—for most household blenders this will take 4 to 5 minutes. Set a medium-mesh strainer over the slow-cooker's cooking crock and press the mole base through it. Repeat with the remainder of the mole base. Stir in 3 cups more chicken broth. Simmer in the slow-cooker for 2 hours or so on high. If the sauce has thickened past the consistency of a cream soup, stir in a little more of the broth. Taste and season with additional salt (usually about 1 teaspoon) and sugar (usually 2 to 3 tablespoons).

3. Grill the chicken: Light a gas grill, setting the temperature at medium on the sides, off in the center; or light a charcoal fire, letting the coals burn until they're covered with white ash and medium hot, then banking them to the sides. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces liberally with salt, then lay them, skin side up, in the center of the grill. Cover and cook until the chicken is done (160°F on an instant-read thermometer or a small knife inserted into the thickest part of the thigh draws clear—not rosy—juices), 35 to 45 minutes. With this method of chicken grilling, there's no need to turn the chicken, only to move pieces on the edge around if they are browning more quickly than those in the middle. The internal temperature of the grill should stay at about 325°F.

4. Serve: In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds, stirring nearly constantly, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 4 minutes.

Lay a piece of grilled chicken on each dinner plate. Pour a generous 1/2 cup of sauce on and around the chicken, then sprinkle with a generous shower of sesame seeds. Serve right away.

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Mexican wedding cookies

On cookie day in Commercial Baking class, Chef brought in a dozen classic cookie recipes and had each lab team bake up a large batch. I remember making dozens and dozens of these in class, pinching the tops gently, like Chef taught us, then bamming them with powdered sugar as soon as they left the oven so they've have a sort of sugary glaze over the top. They were pretty tasty! I've since seen several versions of this recipe, and when I decided to have a Mexican mole (mo-lay) night, I decided to make these for dessert, using almonds as the base nut. Who am I kidding, I'm the only base nut around here. *woohoo, woo hoo hoo*

Toasted, slivered almonds
mexican wedding cookies, almonds

Balls in a row
mexican wedding cookies

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
mexican wedding cookies

Mexican wedding cookies closeup
mexican wedding cookies Read more!

Daring Bakers, October: Bostini Cream Pie

At the beginning of every month, a group of blogging bakers of all ability levels called the Daring Bakers are issued a challenge by the month's host. At the end of the month, on the same day, all of the participating Daring Bakers post their results. This month's challenge was my first, and I had an incredibly great time participating!


I was nervous and excited when I finally decided to ask to become a Daring Baker, and the same feelings just intensified when I found out that my first challenge would be the Bostini Cream Pie featured at San Francisco’s Scala’s Bistro, as created by Dana Scala and Kurtis L. Baguley. It's a cold bed of vanilla bean custard under a delicate, fluffy, orange chiffon cake, topped off with a healthy drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. Egads! This month’s host, Mary of Alpineberry, a long-time fan of the dessert, chose a fabulous recipe!

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

My biggest worry about being a Daring Baker is becoming a Daring Eater, too. I love baked goods, way too much, in fact, and I can’t keep sugary and carby sweets in the house. Thus, I decided to fatten up my friends, instead; to celebrate my first Daring Bakers challenge, I hosted the first monthly Salads and Sweets Party (which may become the Soups and Sweets Party in the winter months). With party plans in mind, I had to be careful about planning and time management.

I was totally enamored with the sticky buns challenge that the DBers had done the previous month, so I decided to serve those at my party, as well. I made the dough for that the day before and retarded the buns in the fridge so all I’d have to do for them the next morning was let them warm and proof. The salads were either too simple to fuss over or also prepared the previous day. That left the entire morning open to work on the Bostini.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

The cake came together really well, though my whites didn't want to peak for awhile. I think it would've been worse if they hadn’t been room temperature. In my early morning paranoia, I crept out of bed and brought the eggs I’d need out so they could warm, then went back to bed. I regretted that the eggs were mostly from a new carton. I seem to have better luck whipping older eggs to peaks than fresh ones. I think the cake was the only thing I could've made ahead of time as long as I covered it well, since I was afraid that custard made too early would get too firm. I didn’t think of it until it was too late into the night, though, and I didn’t have the nerve to stay up, bake, cool, then wrap the cake. Although the recipe directed to cook the batter in custard cups or large muffin liners, I’d read that the dessert was large, and I didn’t want to overload my guests. I also knew that there’d be enough for seconds if they wanted them. I cooked most of the batter in cupcake liners, some in the cupcake pan without liners, and the rest in a jelly roll pan. I had a lot of cake leftover, so I cocooned the leftover cupcakes and the jelly roll cake in saran wrap and foil, and froze them for later projects. I’ve since had one of the cupcakes, warmed to room temperature, and it’s just about as good as the day I made it.

I had a hiccup with the custard when I realized I didn't buy enough cream, but I knew I didn't want to top off my custard cups, so that was fine. I was going to try to keep the dessert self-contained, served just in the ramekins, so I wanted some gutter room for the chocolate sauce I’d poor on top to finish the dessert.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

Back to the custard, though--I had an anxious moment when I was trying to take a picture of the custard at nape stage and it almost got too thick on me. I don’t know why capturing the nape the moment it stepped in the door was so important. I just remember all the times in cooking school when we’d all sit around the stoves, staring at the backs of spoons, drawing our fingers across them over and over while our crème anglais, then turned to custard, then turned to vanilla bean frittatas. Thank goodness for strainers, then and now! I caught a few sad lumps while straining. I was nervous when I served the dessert to one of my friends who hates custard when it tastes like eggs, which often happens when it's overcooked, but she said it tasted great. Whew! I need to remember to "stare and stir" once I add the egg mixture.

I was afraid that the chocolate would drown out the cake, so I tried to go light on the sauce, but I needn’t have worried. The cake stood out well. Personally, I was happy with my proportions.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie
Thanks for taking pictures, Chris!

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

I noticed that it's not a dessert that waits for anyone. I think the temperature ranges help make it fabulous--cold custard, room temp. cake, and warm chocolate. I tried a plated dessert an hour later, and it was an entirely different dessert, and not all that impressive. I was bummed out because I'd plated one for my brother, who’d be hours late. Since it's a custard dessert, I couldn't leave it out. I was sure it would be sad after coming out of the fridge. Then, I had a taste of one from the fridge, and it wasn’t bad at all! It reminded me of the cold Ho-Ho snack cake a friend once gave me as a kid (my mom didn't buy that stuff), only a hundred times better. =) The chocolate glaze hardened up into a nice shell, the cake didn't dry out, I guess because I had the whole dessert covered, and the custard was cold, as it should be. Even my candied orange peel stayed nice and crispy!

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie
Another Chris picture.

While the desserts I served my guests looked just as the recipe directed, once my guests went home, I played with some cutouts from the jelly roll sheet. I didn’t want a huge cylinder full of custard, but something that more resembled a ... well, a tiny pie, I guess.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

It’s like a custard pot. =)

Then I gave my custard pot a lid. The chocolate had cooled a bit by then, so it was more spreadable than pourable, which was fine by me—more to lick off the spoon! Just kidding. Okay, not, I’m lying. But I didn’t double dip the spoon, okay?

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

And then I gave my lid a handle, or a chapeau couture. Something yummy, in any case.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

I also tried a more direct approach, which quickly became the Leaning Tower of Bostini.

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

In the end, everyone enjoyed the Bostinis, especially me! And I enjoyed a cook’s reward the next day. ;) What could it be—a tiny bowl filled with solid chocolate?

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

*ker-rack!* No! It’s some nice, cold, Ho-Ho-Ding-Dong dessert!

DB Oct07-Bostini cream pie

Who’s a lucky Daring Baker? This lady, that’s who. Visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll to see more, because you know you have room for more!


The Custard
3/4 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 whole egg, beaten
9 egg yolks, beaten
3 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
The Orange Chiffon
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup extra-fine sugar
11/3 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup beaten egg yolks (3 to 4 yolks)
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup egg whites (about 8 large)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
The Chocolate Glaze
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter
INSTRUCTIONS: To prepare the custard: Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.
To prepare the chiffons: Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray 8 molds with nonstick cooking spray. You may use 7-ounce custard cups, ovenproof wide mugs or even large foil cups. Whatever you use should be the same size as the custard cups.
Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.
Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.
To prepare the glaze: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.
To assemble: Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.
Serves 8
Per serving: 1,170 calories, 15 g protein, 75 g carbohydrate, 93 g fat (50 g saturated), 561 mg cholesterol, 275 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.
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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Farmer's cheese ravioli

During my first visit to the Public Market, I was instantly drawn to the Rainbow Valley Nursery table. I mean, they had lithops--the intriguing and wonderful "living stones," with their pair of fleshy leaves and fantastic single daisy-like flower. I always thought they looked like bums farting a flower. Really, though, I guess they're just leaves that evolved into a form that would decrease water loss. My fantasy is so much more entertaining.

Lithop budding
public market

Anyway, I walked up to the lithop, and all the other beautiful desert succulents on display and for sale, gave them longing looks, then went on my way. Later, my friend Mario gave me a proper tour of the market and pointed out that the Rainbow Valley Nursery also sold farmer's cheese!

This artisan cheese is wonderful. It's hormone- and gluten-free and doesn't use rennet or preservatives, so it suits all sorts of different diets. They even offer a fat-free cheese! As for quality, it's everything you could want in a cheese--soft, gently flavored (unless it's one of their flavored cheeses, like Kalamata, Sun Dried Tomato, Dill & Red Onion, etc.), clean, and (almost) most importantly, versatile. It can be use in virtual any dish calling for a soft cheese. I daydreamed about it. I bought a little tub of Kalamata, and as I munched it on Wasa bread, over eggs, in salad, straight from the tub with a spoon, I thought about ravioli. Ravioli ravioli ravioli. It was actually more like "ravioliravioliravioli."

Farmer's cheese
farmer's cheese

The filling: spinach, toasted pine nuts, and the farmer's cheese. I wanted to use as few seasonings as possible so I could taste all the herbs in the cheese, so I just salted the water in the pot, and went with that.
farmer's cheese ravioli

I like square ravioli just fine. The big, mattress-sized ones are great, and the regular-sized are great, and the itty bitty ones that are hard to make by hand unless you have the kind of time an old Italian grandmother might have are great. But I wanted something smaller, though--bite sized and lovely. Sometimes the ravioli with crimped edges remind me of Chef Boyardee ("Children everywhere will thank-a me!"--one of my favorite commercials ever).

Here's the filling on wonton ravioli wrapper, with a bowl of water and brush nearby.
farmer's cheese ravioli

I made an Italian wonton!
farmer's cheese ravioli

I made a unbuttoned, casual tortellini pretty ravioli!
farmer's cheese ravioli

The squadron, in formation
farmer's cheese ravioli

I brought a big pot of water to the boil, salted it like the sea(if you salt it before it's boiling, you risk ruining your pot), and cooked them for three of four minutes. Then I drizzled them with olive oil and a brief grating of fresh Parmigiana Reggiano.
farmer's cheese ravioli

Ravioli inside
farmer's cheese ravioli

As many of my savory dishes go, I cooked it Jedi style--"There is no recipe, there is only do."* Add what you want in the quantities that seem right, taste as you go, and when it can't possibly seem to get tastier, then it's good to go.

I wanted a dessert just as decadent, so I turned the brownies that I didn't want into the dessert that I did want. I had milk that was about to turn, and I really didn't feel like chugging it. As expensive as milk is these days, I really wanted to use it, so I revisited the yummy peanut butter pudding.

I made a peanut butter brownie trifle.
peanut butter pudding and brownie

peanut butter pudding and brownie

The hovering spoon trick. WoooOOOooo.
peanut butter pudding and brownie

*Yes, my fellow Star Wars nerds, I know that the actual quote is "Do, or do not. There is only try." It's probably one of the most misquoted lines from the flick, and I thought I'd misquote to my advantage. =) Read more!