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The Real Deal – Sort of, Anyway August 10, 2012

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, Food.
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Well, let’s just say that this molé is a realer deal than, say, my quick and dirty molé marinade (which, however, is still mighty tasty).

I fear that if you want a really real molé, you’re going to have to make Rick Bayless’s recipe.  I’m not about to do that.  NOBODY is going to do that.  And if you do, well, I’m coming over.

So. . . molé.  Molé is a Mexican sauce, or rather, it actually means sauce, and there are various types, apparently often named for their colors – red molé, green molé, black molé. . . it may not be imaginative, but at least you know which is which!

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So for our (black) molé, there are what seem like an awful lot of steps (and, actually, it is a lot of steps!), but they sort of flow together.  You do one thing, then move on to the next – it wasn’t hard, really – just a bit of a time commitment.  Starting with the shopping list – besides your  regular pantry items spices, nuts, onions, etc.) you’re also going to need two (TWO!) kinds of dried peppers – anchos and pasillas.

And sadly, neither of the two best-bet supermarkets near me carried both peppers – but one had one, and the other had the other, so that was okay.

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So we start by roasting the peppers in the oven, then soaking them in hot water for half an hour or so – and while that’s going on we also toast the spices in a big frying pan, then grind them.  We’ll come back to the spices.

While the peppers are soaking, we’re going to roast a coarsely chopped onion, a handful of garlic cloves, and a couple of tomatoes (bonus points if you ran out to the garden to pick them!).

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Once the peppers have soaked and gotten more leathery than crumbly, we took the stems off, de-seeded them, and tossed them in the blender with some chicken stock.

Dump that into a Dutch oven, then, when they’re done roasting, do the same for the vegetables – blender, chicken stock, Dutch oven.  (If you have a  heavy-duty Woot blender, you’re probably good; if not, you may want to strain the veggies.  Maybe.)

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Now, where were we?

Ah, lard.  (I would imagine, if you’re lard-squeamish, you could go with unsalted butter or even vegetable oil, but really, unless you have a moral objection to pork, I’d go with the lard for authenticity’s sake, but that may just be me.)

We’re going to brown the nuts (almonds, pecans and peanuts) in a good amount of lard, just until they’re browned, then add some raisins for the last minute or so.

Then guess what we’re going to do with them.   Go ahead – just guess!

Yup, into the blender (just the goodies, not the lard), along with some stock, then into the Dutch oven.

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THEN we’re going to take a plantain and some corn tortillas and whack them up a bit.

You could use a green banana, from what I understand, but since plantains are a dime a dozen around here (not really – they’re 3 for $1), well, obviously.

These, I think, are going to help thicken the sauce. The plantain is a bit starchier than your standard banana, and the tortillas, well, they’re ground corn, aren’t they?

PhotobucketThrow those in the lard-pan and brown them.

For what it’s worth, when you fry corn tortillas in lard, you get what could be considered “tortilla chips” – and they’re not bad at all!

Once these ingredients are browned, I’ll give you three guesses as to what to do with them.

Yeah, blender with chicken stock.

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At this point, we’ve got a Dutch oven full of . . .all sorts of interesting, exotic stuff, don’t we?

Let’s see, there’s a spice blend, there are a bunch of peppers, some vegetables, plantains, tortillas, plenty of chicken stock. . . .maybe a bit of salt at this point won’t hurt.

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And some chocolate – not a lot of chocolate, and not just any chocolate - Mexican chocolate.

I’m thinking you could substitute semi-sweet here if you can’t find the stuff with the subtitles, but it’s not going to be the same.

I wouldn’t use milk chocolate, because that’s just not the same at all – it’s creamy, and this Mexican chocolate is decidedly not creamy – it’s almost gritty.

So you’re going to want to toss the chocolate right into the sauce to melt – no blender!
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And they you just make sure the flame is on low and walk away.

I mean, check to make sure it’s not burning or anything, and give it an occasional stir, but basically, for the next couple of hours, this is nearly zero-maintenance.

And then, once the sauce is truly to a sauce-like consistency, you’re done.

We chose to stir some into some smoked pork (and yes, those are homemade tortillas), and I most definitely enjoyed a pork taco for breakfast a time or two the next week.

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And we even had a mess left over that got frozen into 1/2 cup increments – molé for another day!

If you’re interested, the recipe I used is right here – it may be an all-day project, but it’s well worth the investment of time!

What Else I Did on My Vacation August 8, 2012

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, random stuff.
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Remember how I said that I accomplished a couple of kitchen projects on my vacation last week?

(Was it really just last week?  I think it might have been the week before – I’m already ready for another vacation!)

So yeah, well, one thing I’ve been wanting to do, which I’ve been told is super-easy, was try making flour tortillas.  Not corn tortillas, which I’m told you need a tortilla press for, and which I’m not even a huge fan of anyway.

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I came across a recipe, and, apparently, I came across the same recipe again, because I had two copies printed and in my “need to try this” folder.

That’s a pretty big folder, sadly.

And so, I was making a Mexican-type dish, and rather than bread, we wanted tortillas.  Fresh, homemade tortillas.

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It seems that making tortillas is very similar to making pie crust, or even biscuits – you start out with your dry ingredients (3 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder (which, obviously, you don’t use in pie crust) and a good teaspoon of salt), and cut in your shortening – in this case, I used lard.

Oh, and I used the food processor.

You don’t have to use lard, but I wanted to.  It’s more authentic, and I”m not afraid of pork fat.  You can use unsalted butter if you must, or even vegetable shortening – it’s up to you.

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Just like with pie crust (or biscuits), I drizzled the water in just until it formed a ball – 3/4 – 1 cup.  I used the lesser amount, probably because of the humidity that day.

So yeah, you can use a pastry cutter (I finally bought one I actually liked, and now I never use it!) or even two forks – you know, it’s like any pie crust or biscuit dough.

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Once you’ve got a nice ball of dough, you’re going to want to divide it into 12 even-sized balls.

You can just eyeball it, if that’s really the way you want to go.

Or you can be all nerdy and weigh the dough ball, divide the weight by 12 (hint: grams are easier to divide) and weigh each individual ball.

Guess which way I went.

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Keep the balls of dough that are not in play covered loosely with a cloth, lest they dry out.

I can’t help thinking that dry tortilla dough is harder to roll out, right?

Plus you want to let them rest a few minutes.  Probably something to do with gluten and hydrating and stuff.

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Okay, I’m going to admit – it took me a while to get the hang of rolling the dough – mostly because I was working in a rather small area (those bowls of tomatoes and peaches take up room on the counter, you know!) and I think my rolling pin was too big.

I’ve since bought a smaller pin, but it’s one of those French-style tapered rolling pins.

I have no idea how to use it.  But I’ll figure it out, fear not!

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So we rolled the dough balls into about 8-inch circles.  (Or a reasonable facsimile of a circle.) (I should probably get one of those pie-rolling-out silicone mats with the graduated circles, shouldn’t I?)  (Next time.)

I’m going to be honest – this was probably the last  “circle” I rolled out – some of them looked like, well, what’s the opposite of a circle?

They looked like a pair of pants.

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So I tossed the tortilla “circle” onto a hot griddle (or a heated skillet) (but if you’ve got the griddle why not use it, you know?) and cook each side 10-20 seconds.

Think pancakes – put it on the griddle, and let it cook until you start to see bubbles – then it’s time to turn it.

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And you just turn it over and cook the other side.

Your little bubbles will start to brown and it’ll be just like real (store-bought) tortillas, only, well, tastier.  And probably healthier, since you’ll actually be able to pronounce everything that’s in there – even lard!

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And I know I made it sound like a pain, but really, it’s not bad at all.  The whole operation probably didn’t take more than half an hour, start to finish, and really, that’s not bad, is it, for a hand-crafted bread product?

Plus, it’s bound to get faster as I get better at it, right?  I mean, given enough experience, I ought to be able to cut that time nearly in half!  How’s that sound – a dozen homemade tortillas in the time it takes to cook a pot of rice?

Challenge accepted!

I’m Not Really a Buffalo Gal February 24, 2012

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, random stuff.
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A long time ago – a REALLY long time ago – I’m talking the Boy was barely a toddler – I cooked in a restaurant.  It was a tiny little local joint – basically, the diner had always been there, right on Main Street, and the then-owner bought the building next door, got a liquor license,  put in a connecting door, and turned it into a “dining and tap room.”

It was there that I learned about pizza & wings.

PhotobucketIn the Dining & Tap Room.

Classy joint, that.

I don’t understand the connection between pizza and chicken wings.  But then I don’t understand the connection between chicken wings and bleu cheese, either, so I guess you really can’t go by me.

However, I do know how to make wing sauce – I always kept a bucket of each hot, medium, and mild.  Once the wings were cooked (deep-fried, of course!) they got tipped into the sauce of choice, lidded up, and shaken, not stirred.

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So when said Boy started making noises about wanting “Buffalo wing pizza” I, if nothing else, knew where to start.

Like I said, I don’t understand the connection between chicken wings and pizza, but, since there apparently is one, I guess it only makes sense to combine the two, right?

I might as well be clueless all at once.

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So I started with a small package of “chicken fingers” and made a sauce for them.

Just between you and me, chickens don’t actually have fingers.

What I used was bits of chicken breast leftover from making chicken cutlets.

The sauce was pretty straightforward:

PhotobucketAbout half a cup of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (it has to be Frank’s – I don’t know why, but it always is), and half a teaspoon each of cayenne pepper and paprika.

After all, it’s one thing to use cayenne pepper sauce – it’s totally another to use actual cayenne.

And for the lightweights out there – medium wing sauce has the addition of liquid margarine (gack), and mild sauce?  That’s barbecue sauce.

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And so we marinated the chicken “fingers” in the hot sauce, then, Thursday afternoon, Peeps baked the bird, shredded the meat, and stashed it back in the fridge for pizza night.

Then, on Friday, he did his regular pizza crust thing – tossed and rolled and shaped and whatever, but, instead of pizza sauce, or even olive oil, he smeared some bleu cheese dressing on the crust.

PhotobucketExcept for mine – for my pie, I had ranch dressing.  I just can’t handle bleu cheese – it tastes moldy and gross to me.  I’ve tried, and I’ll probably try again, but at this point . . . blech.

From there, it’s basic pizza-making protocol – sprinkle the meat, in this case shreddy chicken, then top with cheese.

Bake in a REALLY hot oven for like 5 minutes, and let rest until the rest of the pies are done.

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Once the last pie comes out of the oven, it’s time to cut and enjoy the first three (and the Big Lug‘s Kong) – the last pizza is for the Boy, who works Friday evenings – he gets to enjoy his pizza cold, once he gets home.

Bottom line?  This Buffalo wing pizza definitely did not suck.

I’d eat it again – though I’ll never understand the bleu cheese thing.  But I can live with ranch.

Maybe because  I’ll always be a Rochester gal.

October’s Third Thursday: Stewed Beans – Not as Dull as it Sounds October 20, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to October’s Third Thursday!

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One of my goals for this monthly Third Thursday feature is to challenge myself to try new things and, hopefully, to encourage my tens of readers to do the same.  A challenge can come in many different forms, you know – it may be doing something you’ve never done before, or doing it in a new way, or eating something you’ve never tasted – everyone’s different, and we’re all challenged by something different, you know?

PhotobucketYou all know that in recent months, we’ve developed quite a fondness for dried beans.  Baked beans, bean soup, beans & greens, chili  – they’re cheap, they’re healthy, filling and, most especially, tasty.

However, I’ve never once had fresh beans.  I don’t mean green beans – I mean beans that are normally dried but just haven’t been.  Not-yet-dried, still moist beans.

So when I saw directions for cooking fresh borlotti beans on Kopiaste – a Greek cooking blog that I subscribe to – I bookmarked it.  I figured that, if worst came to worst, (you know me) I’d plant some borlotti beans in the garden next year.

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Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.

My last trip to the market, one of the farmers had baskets and baskets of fresh beans.  I asked him what kind they were (I had no idea!), and he said they were pinto beans.  BUT they looked just the borlotti beans on Ivy’s blog.  And I figured that, since Ivy wasn’t completely sure what her barbounofassoula actually were in English, well, pinto beans were just as good a match as cranberry beans.

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I had the option of shelled or unshelled – I spent the extra buck and bought the beans already shelled.  On market day, I have enough to do with all the other vegetables I drag home – the least thing I had time for was to spend an hour shelling beans!

And so, we sauteed our chopped garlic and onions, then added the borlotti/pinto beans along with the last of the garden tomatoes, some tomato paste (I used the stick blender to blend the tomatoes and the paste, along with a bit of homemade vegetable juice to punch up the flavor), some salt and pepper, and enough vegetable stock mixed with water to cover the beans by an inch or so.

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I know, that just breaks the rules, doesn’t it?  You’re not supposed to cook beans with acids like tomatoes, and you’re not supposed to cook them with salt.

Oh well.

We let it simmer (after bringing it to a good hearty boil first) for an hour or so, covered, until the beans were nicely tender.

Then, since one thing I’d forgotten at the market was scallions, we minced a mess of parsley and chives (scallions, chives, whatever, right?) and tossed that in with the cooked beans.

And, because of the way our schedules run, we then packed everything into a container until later in the week.  Then we reheated, cooked some rice, and crumbled some really good feta cheese over everything.

PhotobucketThe beans alone – they were fine.  They were significantly better after sitting for a couple of days, but, of course, we expected that.  Did they need the rice?  No.  But you know what really REALLY made the dish?  The feta cheese.  It was actually good French feta that I’d picked up at the cheese stall at the market – not that supermarket stuff.  It brought a punch of briny, pungent creaminess to the creamy, mellow beans, and, just, wow.

So here’s the bottom line – fresh beans are cool.  But I’m pretty sure this dish would be (almost) as good using soaked dried beans.

I guess we’ll have to try it and find out.  And maybe plant some beans in the garden next year!

If you’d like to play along, leave a comment with a link to (or a description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose (really loose!) guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here!

Pacing Ourselves September 16, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Cooking Challenge, random stuff.
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I’ve mentioned a time or two, I’m sure, that we have a plethora of fresh tomatoes.

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It’s really pretty much feast or famine around here when it comes to the ol’ love apple, isn’t it?

I’ve said it before – out-of-season tomatoes are just not worth eating.  We don’t eat fresh tomatoes after the first frost (well, that’s not exactly true – we pick the starting-to-turn ones and let them ripen indoors; it’s not as good as on-the-vine, but miles better than store-bought).

PhotobucketAnd while they’re in season, we have more tomatoes than we can possibly eat, which leads us to find ways to preserve them.  We’ve canned them and dried them, both with good results.  But. . . we’re starting to appreciate the idea of some processed foods too!

And one of Peeps’s favorite processed foods is jarred salsa.  It’s not overly processed, and it’s tasty, and, if you get the “hot” version, it’s quite flavorful.  He’s not a huge fan of fresh salsa – there’s something to be said for the cooked stuff.  It’s easy to get a consistent final product.

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Which is a good thing, if you’re happy with your final product.  And let me tell you, it’s taken a few years to find a recipe that we were happy with!

I mean, I like the idea of fresh salsa, but that just doesn’t work well if you want to preserve it, and it also doesn’t work well if you don’t have the fresh ingredients, all of which means it works for about 3 weeks out of the year.

That’s no good.

So we looked for a recipe for salsa that we could preserve, one that would be comparable to what Peeps prefers (he uses much more of the stuff than I do, so it only makes sense to find something he likes, right?).

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We tried a few that, while they seemed promising, were ultimately disappointing.  And we finally found a recipe for a knock-off picante sauce that was quite good – similar to what we’re used to and simple, to boot.

I started out with a mess of tomatoes – about 5 pounds – which I ran through the food processor, but not until they were smooth – just slightly chunky.  Add to that about a quart of water (more or less), a mess of jalapenos ( I used about a dozen, plus a couple of poblanos I had knocking around – you can use more or less depending on your personal heat index) and a couple of good-sized onions, diced as finely as you can manage without losing your mind.

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In addition to the tomatoes, we’re going to add some vinegar – about half a cup should do it.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – plain old distilled white vinegar is fine – we buy it by the gallon, because it’s handy for all sorts of things.

Additionally, we also want to add 3-4 Tablespoons of dried minced onions, a tablespoon of dried minced garlic (or half that of garlic powder), and a tablespoon, more or less, of chili powder.

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The addition of chili powder, really, is what got me. I mean, who’d have thunk?

But it works.  Really.  It just might be worthy of the title of “secret ingredient.”

So the whole mess gets stirred together and cooked.

And cooked, and cooked some more.

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We cooked it for nearly an hour – long enough to get the thickness we were looking for.

Once the tomatoes had cooked to salsa consistency, we ladled it into 6 pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, that is, the sealed jars were submerged in boiling water by about 2 inches, and the whole pot was covered and cooked, at a boil, until the time (which had been set for 15 minutes) went off.

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Then I did the math – 6 pint jars is the equivalent of 8 12-ounce jars of commercial salsa.    We’ve been paying $3 a jar for the store-bought stuff.

Next year, I may do a couple of batches of salsa, what do you think?

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