Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Ugly: Pork Mole Tacos

It didn't start off ugly.  I browned the country style pork ribs,

Added 2 T jarred mole (La Casita, but I've never used a kind I didn't like), salt, pinch of sugar, and chicken broth to come halfway up the ribs.  I covered the pan and put the heat on low until those ribs were fork tender.  This technique is formally called a braise.  It took about 1 1/2 hours.

Then I turned the heat off and went downstairs to do a quick yoga tape.

I thought I turned the heat off...

Whoa, that's ugly.  The sauce has all boiled away, it's starting to scorch on the bottom where it's stuck to the pan, and all the fat is seperated out.  Yuk.

But wait- I can fix this.  Ribs- out of the pan.  Fat- poured out (you want to get the fat off anyway).  Then I deglazed the pan by adding more liquid and scraping that browm stuff off the bottom.  Fortunately, I got to it before it actually crossed the line to burned.

The right tool for the job:  a whisk, to incorporate the coagulated bits o' flavor into the added broth.  I did end up having to strain some unredeemable black chunks out of the sauce.  

But all's well that ends well.  The meat shredded up beautifully and was reintroduced to the rich mole sauce.
Tortillas heated up right on the burner to give a fresh charred flavor, and to make them warm and pliable....

And here it is.  I like mine with (leftover) slaw, my husband prefers queso fresco and red onion.  Another day I might use avocado slices with cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  Something sharp and fresh tasting to cut the richness of the moist, flavorful meat is called for.

Try this with Turkey thigh instead of pork, if your market caries them.

Incidentally- Rick Bayless has a great recipe for real mole in his excellent book "Mexican Kitchen."  You'll have to make a trip to a Latin food store, use multiple pans, blenders, strainers, grills, etc.  You'll probably have to steel wool your stove after it simmers for the requisite several hours too.  It's worth it.  But not for a Monday night.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Vegging Out

You can almost smell it, right?  The aroma of curry is so enticing- the saffron, cumin, ginger and garlic....if your curry powder is old, though, it will smell like old lady house dust and taste bitter.  Toss it and get yourself down to Penzeys for some fresh.  I like the Maharaja blend.  Did you know curry powder is a blend of spices?  Turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, pepper...and probably many others.  Each spice house makes their own unique blend.  Most are not at all spicy- it's up to you to add heat.

To make this basic vegetable curry, you first sweat onions, garlic, fresh ginger, carrots (I like the shreds for ease), and bell pepper in a little butter.  Add a generous dose of curry powder- there's about 2 t in the pot above- and stir to coat and cook the spices a little.  Some of the flavors in curry only reach their full potential when heated in oil- that's why you should always add it before any liquidy ingredients.  Then add some chopped tomato, cauliflower florets, and green beans, about a cup of water or chicken broth, salt, cover, and cook until the veggies are tender (above photo).  To finish this curry off, thicken the sauce by stirring in about 2T flour dissolved in a bit more broth, bring back to a boil, then add about 1/2 cup of coconut milk (freeze the leftover milk).  I added some cilantro and chopped cashews, too.   

This is a great use for little bits of unused vegetables- you really can't go too far wrong.  At the grocery store my little one grabbed a spaghetti squash and threw it on the floor, so I had to buy it and I cooked it last night as well:
I served the curry on this:
It's a blend of brown and red rice, rye berries, and barley. Compared to white rice it is slightly higher in fiber and protein.  It took 50 minutes to cook, but it had a nice nutty flavor- not overly assertive, and a pleasantly chewey texture without requiring mandibles of steel like some whole grain products.

So will your kids eat vegetable curry?  1 out of 2 kids surveyed preferred it to hot dogs-

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Linguini Clam and Asparagus Mush

Linguini with white clam sauce:  I actually have 2 basic versions.  The other one has a chowdery profile with some kind of cured pork- bacon or pancetta- sauteed onions, and a touch of cream.  This is the summery, traditional one.  Clams, garlic, olive oil, white wine, parsley.  I also use lemon zest, tomato, and mount it with butter (sounds dirty, eh?) for unctuousness.  I know you want to say it out loud: Unctuousness.

There was a time I wouldn't dream of using canned clams for anything.  It's really not that much harder to cook with fresh, but you have to make sure they're really fresh, and scrubbing them is a drag, not to mention clam shells in the garbage are raccoon bait.
I'm not really a fan of discernable bivalve guts, so I really love the little cockles that are the size of a quarter.  Hard to find, though.  

In any case, it's canned clams these days.  The dish couldn't be simpler.  The most important thing with liquidy brothy sauces, though- salt that pasta water well.  It really makes a difference and if you've ever had unsalted bread, you know what I mean.  Also dip out a little of the cooking water once the pasta is done.  You may need it if the sauce needs more juice.  The pasta water is the preferred extra liquid because it's already hot, it's salty, and the starch from the pasta gives it a little body.

Heat the garlic with a good bit of oil, then add some wine and boil the alcohol off.  Add the clams, tomatoes, and cooked pasta.  Allow to absorb for a minute or two, then add as much butter as you dare and work it into the sauce.  Add some parsley and zest right before serving.  This bowl is topped with some garlicky toasted bread crumbs, too.  Yum.

I try to serve some vegetables every night.  Tonight it was roasted asparagus and cremini mushrooms with those garlic bread crumbs and parmesan.  Notice I didn't say "freshly grated paragiano reggiano"- though that truly would have elevated the dish. 

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sharp Tools and Red Wine

In professional kitchens, the cooks bring their own knife kits to the job.  Most line cooks have a Japanese Mandoline, or Benriner slicer in their roll, even though any good kitchen will have a stainless steel French mandoline (about a $300 item) for general use.  The French mandolines have slightly more uses- they can cut waffle weave chips, for example-  but they are difficult to sharpen and clean.   Benriners are hard to sharpen too, but they stay sharp a long time and cost about $20.  At home, you might be able to use your food processor to slice vegetables for slaw, chips, or stir fry, but you won't be able to get them as thin as with a Benriner.  If you see one in an Asian food store,  you might want to pick it up.  But beware- these things are incredibly sharp!  I've seen a lot of accidents when cooks were not paying attention to their fingertips.
This is my Benriner and a mound of cabbage for slaw.  The slicer has attatchments for cutting julienne (matchsticks) as well.

Well, I broke my diet and had a burger form the grill last night.  My husband's request for a last taste of summer.  I did make a nice slaw, though.  Plain old coleslaw- savoy cabbage, red onion (TIP: rinse the sliced onion under cold water for a few seconds to tone down the harshness), yellow pepper and carrots, all sliced paper thin.  
Basic Slaw Dressing:
1/4 c mayo
1/4 c buttermilk
1 t sugar
1 T mild vinegar such as Cider
salt, pepper, Mrs Dash if you keep it in the house.
 This slaw dressing is very basic and can be customized as you like- with lime juice and zest and cilantro for a Southwest jicima slaw,  or used in a Waldorf type salad- its all about the balance of sweet, tangy, and creamy.
Use red wine vinegar and add blue cheese to make a dip/dressing.
Sub sour cream for buttermilk for a richer texture.
Use rice vinegar and a splash of sesame oil for an Asian flavor.

Red Wine:  AFTER sharp tools!  This is a mixed varietal red from Stone's Throw, which is a vintner in Door County WI that uses CA grapes.  I am usually a fan of Stone's Throw wines.  This bottle was about $8 at Sendiks.  I'm holding it against the mac to show the color.    The bottle does not tell the types of grapes they used- from the color, flavor and mouthfeel I'm guessing there's Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and possibly some Zinfandel.  See how it is a brick red instead of a purple red?  And you can see through it?  The Bordeaux grapes- Cab S, Merlot...and Syrah for that matter-they tend to be more opaque in a young wine like this, and have a more purple hue.  The first taste was thin, with a flavor of nearly ripe plums that had been sitting on aluminum foil.  It opened up to some oak, strawberry, geranium, and rain on dry ground aromas.  Very light tannins (the puckery mouth flavor) and decent acidity though it is fairly thin and one dimensional with a short finish, meaning the flavors do not linger in your mouth.  Not a bad wine, it would pair well with pizza, chicken cacciatori, or pasta with cream sauces for those who prefer a red.  

Friday, September 26, 2008

Leftover Wars part II: Frittata

Here's news you can use:  the Frittata.  If you like quiche, or omelettes, you definately want to have fritatta in your repertoire.  All you need are eggs, a nonstick saute pan, something for filling, and about 10 minutes.

When I last posted I was wading through an unappealing sea of insipid leftovers.  Pizza made a dent, but I was left with this cast of less than appetizing characters for Thursday night's dinner:

That's corn and black bean salad, fresh salsa, grilled chorizo pieces, and a baked potato (I managed to wedge the tortillas in the freezer).  Now might be a good time to mention that I am back on the diet wagon, determined to lose that damn 5 pounds I gained back this summer.  That plays a big role in what I make for dinner, since calories count, Ladies and Gents.  So something like a gooey, cheese quesadilla was out.  I considered a chili/stew type dish, but if there's one thing I hate more than leftovers, it's when the leftovers have leftovers, and chili definately runs that risk.

 I decided to grab some eggs and an onion out of the fridge and make frittata and green salads for dinner. Frittata is a great use for leftovers.  It's also known (in some places such as Tapas bars) as Tortilla Espagnole.  Its similar to a quiche filling but without all the cream- and no crust either which makes it much faster, easier, and healthier. Some good filling suggestions are spinach, cheeses, broccoli, smoked or leftover salmon, mushrooms, bacon or Italian sausage- basically little bits and pieces of anything!

  The corn salad and fresh salsa were dumped into a saucepan and simmered until they coalesced into a chunky fresh tasting sauce.  The onion, potato, and chorizo were browned with a bit of olive oil in my trusty nonstick saute pan:
Then you just add 6 lightly beaten eggs, scramble them until they start to solidify,  throw the whole thing under the broiler just until firm- about 4 minutes cooking time total once you add the eggs.
Sliced and topped with the sauce, it wasn't the best thing I've ever eaten but it was a satisfying, reasonably healthy,  light dinner.  The kids ate it, too.

That plate was about 350 calories, freeing me up for some wine.  One of my favorite websites for figuring calories is www.calorie-count.com

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Leftovers: How do I hate thee?

We are innundated by leftovers here.  I really hate leftovers.  They're boring and never taste as good.  Who wants to eat the same thing twice?  Not me.  And yet, right now I really have to use some of the leftovers we have from my 5 year old's family and kid party.  Here's why:

And that's just the upstairs fridge!  For the kid party, we had make your own pizzas.  For the grownup party:  Cheese enchiladas, flank stak soft tacos, corn and black bean salad with roasted peppers, and avocado tomato salad.  Here's a steak taco:

Last night I had kickboxing, so dinner had to be ready fast when I got home.  
Fast+leftovers=pizza.  It was ready to go into the oven as soon as the oven was hot, and while it cooked I made salads and cleaned off the table.  You don't need me to tell you how to turn leftovers into a pizza!

Pizza with (leftover) marinara sauce, roasted peppers, black olives, fresh mozzarella, and turkey pepperoni.  It is what it is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Special Breakfast: Crepes with Nutella

Special Breakfast:  Crepes with Nutella

I guess I loaded the photos in backwards.  So the finished product is above, and the crepes coking in the nonstick skillet is below, and the little one "helping" is last although chronologically  first.  This blog is going tohave to  be a crash course (self taught) on computer skills, or it must perish.  There's got to be a better way than what I just did.

In any case.  Crepes are a favorite breakfast around here.  In a pyrex measure, mix 1/4 cup flour with a bit of milk to form a smooth paste.  Add one egg, then enough milk to get the consistency of paint.  Melt 1 T  butter in a nonstick 9" saute pan and mix it into the batter.  Now your pan is also greased and ready.  Pour in just enough batter to swirl around and coat the bottom of the pan- cook until firm- flip- cook another few seconds.  This makes me 5 crepes and takes about 5 minutes.  Each crepe cooks maybe 30 seconds?
Fill with jelly, nutella, cottage cheese, berries....or just roll up and serve with syrup (we call them Swedish Pancakes if we go that route).

Above is the 1.5 year old with the batter.  I actually named the blog after I saw these pictures and noticed the mess in the background.  If I have to make sure my kitchen is tidy before I can take pictures, I might as well not even try.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Keeping it real in the kitchen

I'm "cleo"- a former professional chef turned suburban stay at home mom.  I still love to cook but my priorities have changed.  Gone are the weeknights of drinking  a bottle of wine while spending 3 hours cooking dinner using 8 pans and 2 sticks of butter,  and eating at 9:30.   Now, I'm "keeping it real."  That means less labor, kid-acceptable, and reasonably healthy.  Inexpensive doesn't hurt, either.  

This is my blog of what I'm serving my family for dinner- the good, the bad, and the ugly.  If something is good- I'll post the recipe.  If it's bad, let it serve as a warning.  And if it's ugly, you can just snicker at the picture.