Friday, March 6, 2015

Easy Chicken Mole

Easy Chicken Mole
The first time I had mole (say moe-lay) it was at a small but very well-regarded Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, La Loteria.  I had heard of mole poblano before and decided to take a chance.  Que rico!  What a glorious taste!  It was rich, a tiny bit spicy, a little bitter, and a little fruity.  It was really a savory fiesta in my mouth.  However, when I went home with the intent to find out more about this magical dish and how to make it, all the recipes I saw were 40 ingredients long and took days to make.  No me gusta – I just didn’t have time to mess with that.  So after some more research, I came up with this recipe – my Easy Chicken Mole!
The two ingredients that most moles share to give them such depth of flavor are dried chiles and chocolate.  Really!  Buy the darkest chocolate you can find.  You can use baker’s unsweetened chocolate, but that will make it bitter, and you’ll probably want to bring it back around with some added honey or brown sugar.  I used bittersweet chocolate, 63% cacao.  I think it worked well, and next time I might even add a little more.
As far as the chiles go, it gets a little confusing.  Oftentimes a chile will have one name when it’s fresh and a different name when it’s dried (I guess kind of like grapes vs. raisins.)  To be honest, I think I bought ancho chiles, but I’m not sure – there were two kinds and neither were labeled!  You want chiles that are a very dark reddish-brown—like the color of dried blood—and about fist-sized.  I used two but I may use three or even four next time.  I removed the seeds, and that’s where the heat resides, so you only get the smoky, fruity flavor of the chiles and not the spiciness.
Try this recipe.  If you’ve never had mole, this is a great place to start.  If you are a mole aficionado, go ahead and tweak my recipe to get the taste you like.  Either way, I bet you’ll say, Que sabor!  (Or if you don’t habla espanol, ‘So tasty!’)
Easy Chicken Mole
  • 2-4 dried chiles (use ancho, pasilla, or guajillo)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (or use pepitas, peanuts, or almond butter)
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup brewed coffee
  • 2 slices bread
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or use breasts, up to you!)
  • diced avocado, cilantro, sesame seeds to serve
  • rice or tortillas to serve, optional
  1. Put the dried chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water.  Put a plate over the bowl and let the chiles soak for about 15 minutes.  When they have softened, remove the stem and seeds and roughly chop.  Discard the stem, keep some seeds if you want some heat.
  2. While the chiles are soaking, cook the onion in the butter in a very large pot or Dutch oven.  Stir to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Add the chopped chiles, minced garlic, and sesame seeds.  Stir and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the chocolate, raisins, cinnamon, salt, and oregano.  Stir to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken stock and coffee.  Crumble in the bread.  Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. CAREFULLY transfer sauce to a blender and blend until pretty smooth.  You could use an immersion blender, too.
  7. Return the sauce to the pot and add the chicken thighs.  Tuck them into the sauce and stir.  Make sure the chicken is covered in sauce, then cover with the lid.  Let simmer for about 25 minutes.
  8. The chicken is done when you can shred it with forks.  To serve, ladle the chicken and lots of mole into a bowl.  Garnish with lots of avocado, cilantro and sesame seeds.  You can also eat this in tortillas – just serve with less sauce if you are making tacos.  You can also serve it over rice to soak up the sauce.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sriracha Butter

Are you a griller?  Admittedly, I am not.  The two things I avoid, as far as cooking goes, are baking with yeast (it hates me and refuses to cooperate) and the grill.  I love it when my husband or my Dad grill up something, and I will prepare everything for the fire—as long as I am not the one doing it.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’ve never done it and I guess I’m intimidated.  So even though we live in sunny Southern California, we eat pan-fried steaks much more often than grilled.  Sound boring?  Not when you serve them with Sriracha Butter!
This is a Martha Stewart recipe I found in the back of her magazine this summer.  If you haven’t tried it yet, Sriracha is a brand of hot sauce that is beloved for it’s spicy, fruity bite.  If you don’t have Sriracha handy, try another hot sauce – just not something that’s got too much fire!  The other ingredient that makes this butter special is the anchovies.  I didn’t have any, but I always have a tube of anchovy paste in my fridge (for this Caesar salad recipe and this Green Goddess dressing).  HINT: Any time you see an anchovy fillet in a recipe, you can substitute one inch of anchovy paste.
We ate this on sirloin steaks that were very lean, so the added flavor and fat from the butter were a welcome addition.  My spice-shy daughter loved it and even put some on her steamed cauliflower!  Ready to try it?  Let’s go!
Sriracha Butter
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 anchovy fillets, minced (or use a 2-inch squeeze of anchovy paste)
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha or other chili sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste (I didn’t add any extra salt to mine)
  1. Mash the softened butter together with the anchovies, Sriracha, and garlic.  Taste to see if you want any more salt.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  Melt on steaks, cooked vegetables, or potatoes.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tarragon Green Bean Salad

Green beans – get ‘em while they’re hot!  Or cold.  They’re in season now, so green beans are cheap and plentiful.  My husband likes them best splashed with olive oil and roasted in the oven, but sometimes you don’t want to heat up the house.  For a yummy, summery green bean dish that’s delicious warm or cold, try this Tarragon Green Bean Salad!
Fresh herbs are a joy, and this recipe uses parsley, tarragon, and green onions.  Technically this may be a green goddess salad dressing, and it IS wonderful on a salad with fresh tomatoes.  You will have enough dressing left over to do just that!  Make the dressing while the beans are cooking and this recipe is ready in a snap.  Let’s go!
Tarragon Green Bean Salad
  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch squeeze of anchovy paste or one small anchovy fillet (you can sub soy sauce if you must)
  • 1 fist full of parsley
  • 1 fist full of tarragon leaves
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt (or sub sour cream)
  • juice of 1 lemon (or sub tarragon vinegar, if you’re fancy!)
  1. Prep the green beans:  cut off tops and tails and cut the beans into 1-inch pieces.  Put the beans in a covered dish with some water and cover.  Microwave for about six minutes.  You want the beans tender-crisp.
  2. While the beans are steaming, make the dressing:  Blend all the rest of the ingredients in a food processor.  It doesn’t have to be homogeneously smooth, but you don’t want to bite down on a big chunk of garlic!
  3. To serve:  Toss the beans in half of the dressing.  Serve warm, or refrigerate until ready to serve.  It’s great cold too, especially with grilled meats.  Serve the leftover dressing with salad and tomatoes, or use it as a dip for carrots and peppers.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fruity Energy Bars

I’ve got a lot of hoops to jump through when it comes to making snacks for my girls.  I try to eat Paleo myself, and while I do serve my girls grains and legumes, I am always searching for recipes that rely on Paleo ingredients first.  Next, my older daughter is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.  That eliminates a giant swath of choices in the Paleo category, which excludes grains in favor of nuts.  So for baking, that leaves me either coconut products (which we love and use often), or seeds, like pepitas or sunflower seeds.  I found a recipe that sounded good, reconfigured it for our needs, and now I proudly present:  Fruity Energy Bars!
In the grocery store, you’ll find half an aisle dedicated to energy and granola bars.  I love them and I love that, for the most part, they’re healthy and nutritious.  They are, however, kind of pricy – sometimes two or three dollars a bar!  And it seems like the ones with the fewer ingredients are even more expensive!  (I’m looking at you, Larabar!)  Now, these Fruity Energy Bars couldn’t be quicker – just three minutes in the food processor, and about half an hour to chill and firm up.  I think you could easily exchange the dried cranberries for another dried fruit – apples, apricots, raisins, prunes, or cherries would all work.  If you want to use nuts instead of sunflower seeds, try almonds or walnuts.  They do warm up very quickly and get soft, so keep them in the fridge until ready to eat.  Ready?  Get energized!

Fruity Energy Bars

  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds (I used roasted and salted)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  1. Pour all the ingredients into the bowl of  your food processor.  Pulse to blend, then mix for about 3 minutes.  You can blend it all the way together and it will form a ball, but I took mine out before that so I could still have a little texture to the bars – kind of like the consistency of sticky sand.
  2. Line an 8×8 pan with plastic wrap, or grease with a little coconut oil.  Press the mixture into the pan and press down with the back of a big spoon.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour.  Cut into 1″x4″ bars.  Get energized and go be productive!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Crockpot Pork Tacos

If your idea of Mexican food is based on the dollar menu at Taco Bell, you are in for a treat!  Authentic Mexican food is easy to make at home and is quite healthy for you.  This Monday was Cinco de Mayo, so I made these Crockpot Pork Tacos, and they were muy delicioso!
In Mexico, and in authentic Mexican restaurants here in California, there is no shredded lettuce or cheddar cheese.  Tacos are simple and small and are often eaten on-the-go, so they’re not all covered in sauces or messy vegetables.  Chopped onions and cilantro are usually the only thing you’ll see, with a squeeze of lime.  I added avocado to mine because it pairs great with the pork.  It’s a traditional accompaniment to tacos and adds a creamy note to balance out the sharpness of the raw onions.
As far as the pork goes, I usually use a big shoulder roast, but you can use whatever pork roast you like.  The seasoning is simple here, but you can spice it up as much as you want.  Try adding a can of chipotles in adobo sauce for a smoky flavor, or a jar of salsa verde to the crockpot.
Finally, tacos are kind of like sandwiches.  You can make a thousand different kinds of sandwiches and all are tasty.  But if you only ever eat a turkey sandwich, you may never know how much you’d love a Reuben.  So:  if taco night at your house always means ground beef and diced tomatoes, you owe it to yourself to try something new.  Ready?  Vamanos!
Crockpot Pork Tacos
  • 1 large pork roast, 2 or 3 pounds
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 avocados, sliced or diced
  • corn tortillas
  • lime or lemon wedges, to serve
  1. Combine the salt, garlic powder, and cumin, and rub all over the outside of the pork roast.  Place in your crockpot and cook for 8 hours on low.  When done, the pork should pull apart easily.
  2. Warm up your tortillas:  I wrap a few tortillas in a clean, damp dish towel and microwave for 20 seconds.  If you try to use them cold, they’ll crack!
  3. Shred your pork with two forks, or chop roughly.  To serve, put about 1/3 cup of shredded pork in the center of a tortilla.  Sprinkle with cilantro, onion, and avocado.  Squeeze lime over taco.  Eat several.  Don’t wipe your hands on your pants!
If you have leftovers, and I always do, I usually skip the tortilla and just eat the pork, reheated in the microwave, covered in cilantro, onions, and avocado.  Skip the carbs, and squeeze lots of lime!

Strawberry Overload Cake

Despite my tomboy nature, both my daughters are girly-girls.  Princesses, fairies, dress-up, and everything pink rules their world.  This year we ended up celebrating my three year-old’s birthday on Mother’s Day, so I had a lot going on and didn’t want to spend too much time planning and decorating an elaborate cake.  Instead, I found a recipe online for a strawberry cake, created a strawberry frosting for it, and filled it with even more fresh strawberries.  The result isStrawberry Overload Cake!
The strawberry flavor comes from three sources:  fresh berries, frozen berries, and strawberry Jell-O.  Be sure to keep the cake in the fridge until time to serve.  The original recipe called for two 9-inch round cake pans, but I used a rectangular 9×13 pan and cut that in half to make two layers.  Your girly-girl will delight in the layers of pink in this sweet treat!
Strawberry Overload Cake resize
Strawberry Overload Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 three-ounce package of strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 2 3/4 cups sifted cake flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup pureed frozen strawberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Grease and flour your pans (two 9-inch round, or one 9×13 rectangular.)
  2. Cream together the sugar, Jell-O and butter.  Blend in the eggs, one at a time.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
  4. Add the flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture, alternating flour and milk, and blend well.  Mix in the pureed strawberries.
  5. Pour batter into pans and bake.  Check the cakes at 25 minutes.  I took mine out at about 35 minutes, because I was using a bigger pan.  Do a toothpick test to make sure the cake is not wet inside.
  6. Cool for ten minutes in the pan, then turn out on a rack to continue cooling.
For the frosting and filling:
Strawberry Frosting
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup whipped cream (or try Cool Whip)
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries for layering
  1. In a pot with a lid, simmer the frozen strawberries and break them up with a wooden spoon, smashing them.  When they are all cooked and smashed, add the cream cheese, butter, and lemon juice and beat with a hand mixer.
  2. Add in the powdered sugar, beating well.  Beat in the whipped cream.  Taste.  It should be sweet tart – the cake is very sweet, so I wanted the icing to be a little different.  You can add a squeeze more lemon if you like, or  take it the other direction and add more sugar if you like.  It’s pretty flexible and you can change it to suit your taste.
To assemble:
  1. Cut the large cake in half, width-wise, so you have two 9×6 rectangles (or just put one of the round cakes on a plate.)  On a large serving platter, place the cake on the bottom, and frost the top of it with about half a cup of the frosting.  Slice the fresh strawberries and layer them over the frosting.  Carefully add another layer of frosting on top of the fresh berries.  Then place the next layer on top and frost the whole thing, top and sides.  Garnish with more fresh strawberries.
  2. This cake is kind of dense and rich, so small pieces are a good thing.

Shrimp with Cilantro Pesto

One thing that will bum me out, without fail, is seeing a wilted, mushy bunch of herbs that I didn’t get to in time.  Just makes me feel terrible.  So I had this nearly full bunch of cilantro in my produce drawer and no clue what to make with it.  Aha!  How about try it in pesto?  This recipe forShrimp with Cilantro Pesto was a big hit at dinner last night!
You can cook the shrimp however you like.  Here, we just pan-fried them quickly with salt and pepper, and let the pesto do the heavy lifting in the flavor category.  This comes together so quick it’s laughable.  Make the pesto whenever you like – even the day before – and keep in the fridge until you are ready to eat.  We ate this with roasted baby potatoes and roasted broccoli.  The pesto was especially delicious on the potatoes.  Try it and see!
Shrimp with Cilantro Pesto
  • 1 large bunch cilantro
  • 1/3 cup toasted pepitas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Wash and shake the cilantro and trim about half an inch off the bottom of the stems.  Place them in the bowl of a food processor.  Blend with the pepitas, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil.  Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.  Pour into a bowl and store in the fridge until ready to use.
  2. Prepare the shrimp: peel the shell off, remove the tail, and de-vein.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  Heat a pan on medium-high, and quickly sauté the shrimp.  They will only take about 2 minutes per side – don’t let them get tough and overdone!  Remove shrimp from pan to a plate and serve with the cilantro pesto (and a squeeze of lemon if you like.)