Saturday, December 28, 2013

In Honor of National Chocolate Day, Try Some Mole

Today, December 28, is national chocolate day. That is great for chocoholics everywhere. But what if you don't have a sweet tooth? Well, there is at least one way that I know of to enjoy chocolate on this day that is not sweet. I'm talking about mole. Mole is a traditional Mexican savory sauce that can be used with just about anything. Mole, like Mexican cuisine itself, has a considerable number of variations dependent on region, custom, family tradition, even an individual cook's style. The most "typical" mole people think of is a thick rich dark brown to brick red concoction made of dried chiles, peanuts, other spices, and unsweetened chocolate.

To make truly authentic Mexican mole is a long arduous process involving multiple steps as well as a plethora of ingredients. For this reason mole sauce bases are the easiest way to prepare it. Even in Mexico it is not uncommon to use a premade base. However, those are usually available at the local market and usually prepared by the person selling it. Here in the US, there are many brands you can find at your local supermarket. El Mexicano, Doña Maria, and La Costeña come to mind. They are typically concentrated so you will have to add liquid to it.

If you are willing to and brave enough, you can always try making your own. The internet is filled with recipes for all levels of cooking acumen. In fact, here are some good ones:

Authentic Mole Recipe

Quick Chicken Mole Recipe

Mole Sauce Recipe

Rick Bayless Red Mole Sauce

So there you have it. Mole sauce works well on everything from chicken to shrimp to even eggs. On this national day of chocolate go out and enjoy some chocolate, even without a sweet tooth.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in the Rio Grande Valley

This year's Christmas has been a harrowing one for reasons I'm not really ready or willing to discuss in such a public space. However, this Christmas season still allowed me to cook a little. Originally my mother and I had planned on preparing two dishes: a roasted pork leg and bacalao (salt cod). We were going to prepare the pork leg adobada and the bacalao Spanish style, but like I said, circumstances got in the way of that. Instead, I ended up making the pork leg with a mustard, garlic, and herb rub and slow roasting it in the oven. I also made a mushroom risotto as a side. The rest of the sides were made by my mother-in-law.

I knew the pork leg would take all day to cook. The thing was HUGE! It was easily 20 to 25 lbs. Most people have no idea how big pigs truly are. The first thing I prepared was the rub for the pork leg. Originally I was going to use fresh garlic and herbs. However, when I went to the grocery store the fresh herbs were insanely expensive. Instead I opted for dried herbs. Even those were a bit overpriced. I decided in the end to just use what my mother-in-law had on hand. I did manage to acquire fresh garlic, parsley and some spicy brown mustard. To make the rub I combined the entire 16 OZ bottle of mustard, one bunch of chopped parsley, an entire head of garlic, about a cup of oil, salt and pepper and a garlic and rosemary seasoning blend I found in the cupboard. As a chef you learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. When the rub was completed, I placed the leg on a roasting pan large enough to hold it lined with foil (for easy clean up). I completely rubbed the pork and whatever leftover rub I had I placed on the bottom of the pan with about a half cup of water. I then covered it with foil and then placed the leg in a 275° F oven. The pork leg went in about 10:30am.

The leg cooked all day. About 12:30 or 1pm I kicked the oven up to 300°. Approximately an hour after that I had my wife remove the foil. It was at 4pm, an hour before I anticipated the pork would be done, that I started to make the risotto. Now a lot of people consider risotto to be difficult to make. While it does require a bit of patience, it is no more difficult to make than a regular pot of rice. The first step was to heat my fat in the pan I was making the risotto in. I used a combination of butter and olive oil(about 3 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp oil) . While the fat was heating up, I also was heating up my liquid. I used a combination of chicken and beef broth. When making risotto it is important to use hot liquid. Once the fat was hot I started to sauté the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were soft, I added the rice (about 3cups). For risotto you want to use Arborio rice. I stirred the rice allowing all the grains to be coated in fat. After that I added about a cup of dry white wine. I stirred the mixture allowing the rice to absorb the wine. When the wine had been mostly absorbed, I started to slowly add my hot broth. Now the key to making risotto is to keep stirring as you add your liquid and to add the liquid slowly. You have to give the rice time to absorb the liquid. The risotto is done when it is creamy and the rice is tender. After you reach this step season the risotto with salt and pepper. You can also add parmesan cheese if you'd like. Since I did not have any, I left it out.

Once the risotto was done I pulled the pork leg out of the oven. It looked and smelled wonderful. The pork leg still had the skin on it so it had a nice layer of fat to keep the meat moist. The flavor of the rub had penetrated the meat. I will admit that if I had had a chance to let the rub sit for longer it would have had a deeper flavor. The meat around the bone of the leg was also a little under done, but I was not worried about that since I was carving the outside first. After dinner I put the leg back in the oven to allow it to cook some more. The risotto also turned really well. It was creamy and rich with the flavor of mushrooms.

As stated earlier my mother-in-law made some other things. She made a pot of pinto beans and some chicken in gravy as well as a side of green beans. As you can see we had a veritable smorgasbord for Christmas dinner.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dilled Potato & Apple Salad

This is a recipe I made at work recently.  At first I was unsure of how the potatoes and apples would play off each other.  But after making it, the salad combine sweet and savory elements in a nice light and refreshing dish.

2 cups fat free plain yogurt
2 tbsp honey
1/8 cup lemon juice, fresh is preferable
Black pepper to taste
3-4 tbsp fresh dill weed or 2 tbsp dried
4-5 medium  or 6-8 small red potatoes
2-3 apples (use a mix of sweet and tart for best results)
1 cucumber peeled and seeded
1-2 carrots shredded (if using preshredded  carrots this is about a cup to a cup and a half)
1 med. to large red onion sliced

In a mixing bowl, combine first 5 ingredients until blended and smooth.  The mixture should have a nice balance between tangy, cream, with a hint of sweetness

The potatoes should be quartered or cut into bite size pieces.  Boil or steam the potatoes until they are fork tender, but not falling apart.  Cool them down.

Core and slice your apples.  If you are not going to prepare the salad immediately, you can store your apples in water with a little lemon juice to avoid them turning brown.

After you peel and seed your cucumber you can dice it, or cut it into half moons

After you have prepared all your fruits and vegetables, mix them  together in a large mixing bowl.  Add your already mixed dressing and toss lightly to incorporate.