Mole in 43 Steps

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If I told you one of the most traditional Mexican sauces took over roughly over 30 separate ingredients and over 43 steps to create would you make it? Probably not. And I knew I wouldn’t have made it either if I hadn’t found myself with a newly presented sense of adventure. And an extra Saturday to spend in the kitchen.

Mole is something I’ve always wanted to make myself. Yet every cook I’ve spoken to always proclaimed how laborious it is, how messy it can be, how involved the whole process really is. And you know what? They were right. And was it worth it? Absolutely.

Mole is a Mexican sauce that is flavored with nuts, chiles, spices, and sometimes chocolate (yes, chocolate) and cinnamon and served with chicken or turkey. The word comes from the Aztec world “Molli” which means stew or sauce, but to call Mole a “sauce” would be like calling the Mona Lisa simply a drawing. It’s so much greater than the sum of its parts. Deeply intriguing, intensely flavored with characteristics like no other sauce, mole is never the same and has been referred to as “a hundred dishes in a hundred homes.” There’s Mole Poblano, Mole Negro Oaxaqueno, Mole de Pasillas,  Mole Verde, with recipes as varied as the flavors themselves. There’s no one standard method of preparation, but the one thing everyone can agree is on that Mole is the national dish of Mexico, prepared throughout the country in different styles.

I grew up eating mole made by my grandmother, never realizing the work and dedication it took to create this rich, deep brown stew. In fact, I always thought it was a little funny tasting; it was sweet and savory yet bitter, with obvious flavors of chocolate and peanuts. Of course that didn’t stop me from devouring it every time she made it, a pile of fresh flour tortillas right next to my bowl of chicken mole.

Mole is made by cooking dried chiles into a sauce, adding ground nuts, herbs and other ingredients and then stewing slowly. Chicken or turkey is added and then the whole thing simmers, resulting in a rich, delicious, deep reddish brown dish. I wanted to take pictures of the process, but after the first few steps I realized that photography would have only made matters worse. The numerous steps and order required complete concentration, and I shudder to think what it would have been like to make mole by myself. An all day affair, making mole is neither quick nor easy–but worth every bit of effort.

It’s said that cooking and eating uses each of the five senses simultaneously. Perhaps this explained why I found myself on a flavor, aroma and emotional overload when we first began to fry the dried peppers. I was taken back, our kitchen was filled with smells that I hadn’t encountered since I was a child. It smelled like a real Mexican home–a combination of chiles, spices, seeds and herbs that is unmistakable. The only thing that was missing was my gracious and beautiful abuelita sneaking me pieces of food along the way.
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In the next few weeks I’ll be experimenting with different recipes and writing about the results here.  Tonight will be the second part of my first Mole endeavor when we add chicken to the stew–we only initially made the sauce to experience the numerous steps.

I need a nap.

Buen provecho!

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Puebla-style Fiesta Turkey in Mole Sauce

This recipe is from Bon Appetit, May 2003. It’s involved and takes some time but is a good mole recipe–it’s well balanced, not too bitter and not too sweet.

Turkey
13 cups water
1 4-pound whole boneless turkey breast with skin, halved lengthwise
1 large white onion, peeled, quartered
1 head of garlic, outer skin removed, cut crosswise in half
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Chiles
1 cup lard or canola oil
8 dried mulato chiles, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed
6 dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed
5 dried ancho chile, stemmed, seeds and membranes removed

Nuts and seeds
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup whole almonds
1/4 cup pecans
1 tablespoon unsalted roasted peanuts
1/4 cup shelled pepitas
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

Fruits
1/4 cup canola oil
1 large ripe dark-skinned plantain, peeled, thickly sliced
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, coarsely chopped
1 pound plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup raisins flavorings
1 large white onion, peeled, cut into 8 wedges
12 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 whole allspice berries
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon aniseed
1 1-inch piece canela* or cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Thickeners
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 3x2x1-inch bread slice from firm French roll
3 5- to 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
6 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup chopped piloncillo** or (packed) dark brown sugar
2 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth (if necessary)

For turkey:
Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until turkey is just cooked through, skimming foam, about 35 minutes. Transfer turkey to bowl; cover and chill. Strain and reserve broth in pot.

For chiles:
Heat 1/2 cup lard in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry all chiles until beginning to blister and change color, about 15 seconds per side (do not burn). Using tongs and shaking off excess lard, transfer chiles to another large pot. Add 4 cups reserved turkey broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered until chiles are very soft, about 35 minutes. Strain liquid into 4-cup measuring cup; add enough reserved turkey broth to measure 4 cups. Chop chiles. Working in batches, puree chiles and 4 cups chile broth in blender until smooth.

Heat remaining 1/2 cup lard in same pot over medium heat until almost smoking. Press chile puree through large mesh strainer into pot (mixture will sputter and bubble vigorously). Stir until puree thickens enough to form path on bottom of pot when wooden spoon is drawn across, about 15 minutes. Remove chile puree from heat.

For nuts and seeds:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add almonds and stir until color deepens, about 1 minute. Add pecans and peanuts; stir 1 minute. Add pepitas; stir 30 seconds. Transfer to blender. Add sesame seeds to skillet; stir 1 minute. Transfer 2 tablespoons sesame seeds to small bowl and reserve for garnish. Place remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds in blender with nuts. Add 1/2 cup reserved turkey broth and blend until thick puree forms. Add nut-and-seed puree to pot with chile puree. Cook over very low heat, stirring often, while preparing fruits.

For fruits:
Heat 1/4 cup oil in same skillet over high heat. Add plantain and sauté until golden, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels. Add tomatillos and tomatoes to skillet; sauté until slightly softened, mashing with fork. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until thickened, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Add raisins and plantain; simmer 10 minutes, stirring often. Cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree tomatillo mixture in blender with 2 cups reserved turkey broth. Strain mixture through sieve into chile-nut puree, pressing on solids to extract as much mixture as possible; discard solids in sieve. Continue cooking puree over very low heat while preparing flavorings, stirring often.

For flavorings:
Cook onion and garlic cloves in dry heavy medium skillet over medium heat until beginning to brown and soften, turning often, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Coarsely chop onion; peel garlic. Place in blender.

Stir cloves in same skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Transfer cloves to spice mill or coffee grinder; add peppercorns and next 7 ingredients. Grind finely. Add to blender. Add 1 cup reserved turkey broth; blend until smooth. Stir spice mixture into chile-nut puree. Simmer mole over very low heat 30 minutes to blend flavors while preparing thickeners, stirring often (mole will bubble thickly).

For thickeners:
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add bread slice; fry until golden, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to blender. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil and tortillas to skillet; sauté 2 minutes. Transfer to blender with bread. Add 2 cups reserved turkey broth; blend until smooth. Add to mole; simmer 10 minutes.

Add chocolate and piloncillo to mole; simmer over low heat 20 minutes, stirring often, scraping bottom of pot and adding more turkey broth (or chicken broth if necessary) by 1/2 cupfuls if mole is too thick (up to 2 cups more broth may be needed). Season with salt. Continue simmering over low heat until streaks of oil form on mole surface, about 10 minutes longer. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat, stirring and adding more broth if desired, before continuing.)

Cut turkey into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Add to hot mole; simmer until turkey is heated through, about 10 minutes. Arrange turkey slices on platter. Spoon mole over; sprinkle with sesame seeds.

*Mexican cinnamon sticks with a delicate, floral flavor.
**Mexican raw sugar shaped into hard cones. If neither is available, substitute an equal weight of packed dark brown sugar.

Asexual, Plain Figs

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Warning: Crankasaurus Rex Sighting Ahead.

I’ve been in a pretty cranky mood lately. I am going to continue to be cranky for a few minutes longer when I say that I am tired of people writing about figs as a sensual, sexual experience. Rhapsody, sex, sensual, luscious, aphrodisiac, juicy, passionate, exotic, long-sweet kiss, beautiful, fragile, enough! We get it people! It’s the one lil fruit that allows us to be all flowery, creating hyperbole after hyperbole, to wax poetic ad nauseum, and I think I’ve had enough!

And believe me, I’m just as guilty as charged.

Having gotten that off my chest, I’d like turn your attention to one of my favorite little snacks. And I’m writing about it because we won’t have figs for much longer. There are two seasons for figs and we are almost on the tail end of the second phase. Figs are so finicky, so delicate and so susceptible to weather and seasonal conditions. When you find them, buy them. How else are you going to talk about sex and fruit?

Please. No banana jokes.

This recipe is from Michael Chiarello of that TV station that I try to avoid at all costs. But I hear from friends that personally he’s a good guy, even if he does call a friend of mine “mama” as a term of endearment when she’s clearly only about 7 years older than he is. Ouch.

Figs and blue cheese go together perfectly, and when they are on top of freshly baked focaccia that’s drizzled with honey, well, you’re not going to get a serving in my house. I’ve stood over the stove and eaten half of it in 30 minutes, and polished off the entire dish in one day. It’s one of the things Adam makes for me and something I miss terribly around mid-March.

I promise to return to my bubbly, gay old self tomorrow.

Focaccia with Blue Cheese and Honey (we add figs)

Recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello

2 envelopes active dry yeast
2 cups whole milk, heated to lukewarm
1 teaspoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 1/2 cups blue cheese, crumbled, for topping
2 tablespoons honey to drizzle, for topping

fresh figs, quartered (the amount you add is up to you)

In a large bowl or the work bowl of an electric mixer dissolve yeast in the milk. Add sugar and 1 cup of the flour. Mix well and let stand in a warm place about 15 minutes for the yeast to activate.

Mix another 2 1/2 cups flour into the yeast mixture with the dough hook attachment until smooth. With the machine running, add 1 cup flour and knead for 6 minutes. Turn out onto a board and lightly knead in remaining 1/2 cup flour. The dough should remain rather wet to ensure a soft and light bread. Shape the dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk about 20 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press dough with finger to gently stretch dough to fit in pan, and then use a rolling pin to lightly flatten.

Oil an 11 by 17-inch baking sheet with 1/3 cup olive oil. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Using your fingertips, nudge the dough into a rectangle.

Cover and let rise again until doubled, 30 to 40 minutes.

To bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Make indentations all over the dough by pressing with your fingertips being careful not to puncture all the way through the dough. Brush olive oil over the top, filling in the wells. Sprinkle the salt and rosemary over the surface and add the quartered figs. Bake until crisp on the bottom and golden brown on top, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Cut into wedges, top with crumbled blue cheese and honey.

A Reader Writes…

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"just writing to set things straight.

You’ve obviously never eaten real barbecue
or for that matter traveled distances that require an overnight stay –
everyone knows, at least those of us who have discriminating pallets
know, the best barbecue is in NC and the only meat worth barbecuing is
pork. Cows make steaks and milk and that’s all.

interesting site even though it’s wholly misleading"

I guess me and my uneducated, non-professional and non-discriminatin’ pallet stand corrected! Now hand me a glass of milk and I’ll be on my way!

:)

All About My Mother

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Aside from kitchen projects as a kid that involved baking soda and vinegar, my science studies were woefully average. I remember taking part in a few dissections, pressing Texas native wildflowers into my own book and even making a pickle glow. Imagine that! But nothing could have prepared me for a lesson I learned late last year, an experience I have now come to call the Creature From The Black Lagoonish-Pantry Cabinet.

If you came over to my house you’d find more bottles of vinegars and oils than you could ever possibly need. Samples, remnants from photo shoots, and gorgeous vinegars made in small batches I’ve bought from all over all fight for space on two shelves, but in an effort to make space I decided to use up as much vinegar as I could. Reductions, sauces, dressings, drizzled on berries, even in martinis, if I could find a way to use it I tried.

Until that one bottle.

After cooking a casual dinner of a few steaks with a vinegar reduction and roasted fingerlings, I began to clean the kitchen and grabbed the almost empty bottle to toss out. 

And then I saw it.

Something moved from within. Something slithered around as I shook the bottle, and after I moved the opening closer  to my eyes I saw it. I was face to face with the blob.

The blob I ate.

Slimy, fleshy, and segmented with large, bloody lobes like a piece of organ meat, I felt suddenly clammy and afraid. Very afraid. I swore that there would be a small alien tearing its way out of my stomach in about 8 to 12 hours, only after it had taken over my thoughts and found my human body was no longer needed. After gestation it would rip itself out of me during my weekly advertising meeting, shaking and flailing its way across the room, spraying blood everywhere until it latched itself onto the face of one of my buyers. After that it would roll off, scurry across the floor and out the door and proceed to terrorize Los Angeles.

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I instantly served my guests more wine. I figured it would kill the invader living inside all of us. I kept glancing at the clock, waiting to die, but nothing.

I politely excused myself and went into my office. I updated my will online and googled “Death From Alien Blobs Inside Vinegar Bottles” but found nothing. I didn’t know what to do or who to call as it was a late Sunday evening, and then it hit me.

No, not the blob. Zingerman’s.

Zingerman’s, located in Ann Arbor, is one of my favorite delis in the world. I would use any excuse possible to make it there when I lived in Chicago, and if you’ve been there you know why. They know food. They know condiments and specialty cheeses, and if they couldn’t help me then I was surely a goner.

I dug up the email address of an old contact and immediately fired off the email.

“To: Zingerman’s
From: Matt
Subj:  My Impending Death, please respond ASAP”

I sent my email and cried myself to sleep. I left notes for my parents, picked out my favorite suit for the mortuary along with directions (light foundation and a kiss of gloss, please) and figured I had a pretty good run on this planet. I felt sorry for the crime scene investigators though, we’ve all seen what happens when aliens pop out of bellies.

To my surprise I woke up at 6am– intact and feelin’ mighty fine. So far so good. I ran to the computer to see if Zingerman’s could save me.

“Dear Matt,

Ah! I can imagine your surprise. It is rather gruesome if you don’t know what it is. But no, you won’t die and you won’t walk around like Donald Sutherland. What you found is called Mother of Vinegar, and you should actually consider yourself lucky to have it. It’s a harmless slime composed of yeast and acetic acid bacteria. It’s the starter for vinegar, much like starter for sourdough bread. Don’t toss her out. She’s good. You’ll be just fine.”

Well holy mother of vinegar, my blob is a good thing?

I clenched my chest, the sensation of relief passed over me as if I had been holding my breath for 24 hours. I was alive and I was going to be ok! At that point my brain ran through the process of making vinegar, and while I knew it took bacteria to transform the sugars in alcohol or juice into vinegar, I thought it was some happy little white powder that arrived on the wings of small flying pixies–not some gelatinous monster that caused me to freak out.

My mother of vinegar went back into a glass jar along with a small bit of high quality leftover wine from dinner (don’t ask me how that happened) and back into the cupboard. I actually forgot about her for the past 7 months until yesterday when I went to find some preserved lemons. There she was, as blobular as ever, quietly sitting resting on the bottom of the jar. I opened it up, but this time I was looking forward to seeing her again, remembering the kind words from Zingerman’s.  There she was, doing what she does best, turning my wine into sweet, aromatic vinegar. A quick taste told me everything was on track, and in a few months I’ll use her hard work in a few recipes and perhaps give her a new job with a whole new bottle of red wine. And next May not only will I be sending a Mother’s Day card to my mom in Texas, but I’ll be sure to slip a small note inside my cupboards to let my other Mother know how truly appreciated she is.

Even if she scared the shit out of me.

Weekend Bites

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Salt of the Earth: The American Medical Association is going after the food industry and the government  over  sodium levels in packaged food. I applaud this effort, even if it does force me to look at my salt consumption. As Salt Geek Numero Uno this is not fun but at least I tend to stay away from processed foods.  My problem is adding it afterwards, and with all the choices available today it’s hard to say no.  At least I have normal blood pressure – for now.

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Rolling up the sleeves: Did Tesco actually trade mark “wholefoods” in the UK as an effort to head them off at the pass? My inside Whole Foods source says “rubbish” and their megastore is still opening on time, but with organics being the business it is it surely wouldn’t surprise me.

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Speaking of too much sodium: I am sorry if I offend the unnamed PR company that sent this to me even though I really dig my contact there, but I do not suggest eating Hamburger Helper on a regular basis*. Having said that I felt inclined to mention a rather nice effort they have dreamed up called My Hometown Helper.com.  Write an essay and if selected they’ll help you and your group by donating computers , money for school trips, repair school equipment, fund clean up projects, etc. Just make sure you’re writing on behalf of a 501-c non-profit group.

*I do believe I need to post my mom’s homemade picadillo version of Hamburger Helper we ate growing up. It’s the one that’s not 2030mg of sodium per serving.

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Putting your money where, oh jeez, you know the rest: I am in the grocery biz, so it’s no surprise that I read a stack of trade publications and articles each week. This one in Business Week (registration required) surprised me, as it states the numbers at Safeway are swinging in the right direction after a multi-million dollar effort to remodel, rebrand, and re-advertise a healthier, cleaner image (known as the lifestyle concept).  I imagine the most difficult thing would be changing the corporate culture within– traditional grocery folks are not the most enlightened group of people, and I’m not afraid to say it. Besides, with Whole Foods all around the country, your template has already been created for you.

I’m sorry to say this, but I thought it was a cheap shot when I first saw some signage in the Safeway in San Francisco that used a font created specifically for Whole Foods. Yes, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but designers, c’mon! And I only say this because I created the graphic standards for Whole Foods years ago.

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Polaroids

Gracias a todos:  Thanks to everyone who emailed me with South America info. The trip isn’t until the beginning of next year but I always like to plan early. 

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I hate this part: I am extremely reticent about this ‘lil posting, but some events lately have made it so:  I am unable to help with your websites, to design something for free of charge, or to lend my photographs or graphics for free.  It’s a lesson that has been extremely painful for me to learn but at this point I am saying no. I just hate to come off sounding snippy, so please forgive me.

However, if you’d like to trade services I’m completely open, or if you are a part of any non-profit group, agency or start-up that directly benefits people through food education or assistance than I am your man!

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Appearantly: See me? I’m jumping up and down a little. Why? Pears. Fall pears. All sorts of gorgeous little pears are starting to show up. And in the next few weeks I’ll be going absolutely bonkers. And yes, I plan on sharing that with you, no matter how foolish I look. Hey, I’m used to it.

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Montevideo Bound

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Seeing that we clearly couldn’t get enough of South America, we will soon find ourselves back in Argentina for a few weeks. But we also wanted to check out Uruguay, which prompted this post: do you know of any good places to eat in Montevideo and Punta Del Este? From grand to small, cheap to expensive, I’d love to find some places to discover.

Let me know!

Orange Cookies

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Growing up we had traditions. Boy, did we have traditions. Growing up Latino in a Mexican American household doubled any single tradition under our roof. We sang “Happy Birthday” and “Las Mañanitas” during birthday celebrations, has piñatas as well as cake, and not only popped champagne during New Year’s Eve but snacked on my grandmother’s delicious Bunuelos. I never realized that many of the food and musical traditions we practiced weren’t related but came from two separate cultures, and I remember the surprise when I realized my other friends’ families didn’t spend days in the kitchen making tamales during Christmas.

As soon as I was able to recognize the distinction between the two cultures in my life I became interested in how others celebrated, specifically with music and food. I’ve been blessed to join the table of friends, tasting everything from amazing Passover Seders to traditional Ethiopian meals and so much in between.

(hint: if you invite me to dinner I’ll answer with a yes before you can even finish the question!)

When I met my partner Adam I was interested in finding out what food traditions his family had. I learned about their big elaborate French toast breakfasts on Christmas morning, Pizza Nights on Fridays, and also about Granny’s Orange Cookies that she had made for years. When we moved into her house after she passed away I discovered the actual handwritten recipe and was pleased to learn that not only did she make these cookies during the holidays, but so did her daughter and grandson. It only took my first bite of these orange cookies to realize why they were so loved–they’re moist, cake-like, topped with a slightly bitter orange frosting that has a slight sour zing. Of course, having a huge orange tree in the backyard always helps, too.

We’ll make these orange cookies a few times a year, giving out batches to family members or just eating them all ourselves. And with every bite I will always think about Granny Pat and wonder if she knows how much we still enjoy them.

Frosted Orange Cookies
Recipes for these orange frosted cookies can be found online, and I have yet to locate the exact origins. The original recipe calls for shortening which leads me to believe that it was created within the past 80 years or so. I’m not a fan of shortening (those pesky hydrogenated trans fats!) and this recipe can be made with butter if you wish. Makes 4 dozen

Cream together 1 1/4 cups sugar, 3/4 cup shortening and 2 unbeaten eggs. Add 3 cups of sifted flower and 1 teaspoon salt.

Juice 1 orange and grate the rind. Fill 1 cup with juice and rind and enough milk to make one cup. Add 2 teaspoons baking power to juice and then add to the flour mixture. Grease a cookie sheet or use parchment and bake 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes, depending on oven.

For the frosting, mix the zest of 1 orange, 2 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons melted butter and 3 cups of powered sugar. Mix until it is a spreadable consistency. Adam says it’s not an exact science so add more or less juice and sugar to get the desired consistency. Spread on cooled cookies and enjoy.

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Is It Fall Yet?

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I realize it’s not quite Fall yet here in the States, but you know it’s only around the corner. The days are getting shorter, the light hits things differently, and if you must know I’ve already celebrated Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, and Kwanzaa–all through work, of course. Forgive me if I jump the gun and tell myself Fall is already here; it’s only so I can dive into the rich, savory, hearty foods that autumn brings.

Like almost every other person I know, my introduction to pot pies was through the frozen foods section of the grocery store as a child. Thanks to Swanson, I always thought pot pies arrived pre-made in that light blue box, living in that petite aluminum bowl before making their way into the oven. In fact, I had never really given them much thought, and then it hit me: how on earth could I not go crazy over warm chicken, cream, and tender vegetables all hidden under a perfect, golden baked crust? Shame on me, I thought, and thus I began my exploration under the hood and into these glorious, little savory pies.

Like most good things, magic happens when a few things come together to create something greater than the sums of their parts. A few bites of roasted leftover chicken, some small bits of tender vegetables and some herbs and spices go a long way when baked together in butter and broth. And then there’s the crust. Oh that crust! It’s the absolute best part of a pot pie, and without it it’s just a plate of food living in the cramped quarters of a baking dish.

I’ve seen people get fancy with pot pies, and you’ll never hear me disagree. I love them in every shape and form. But mess with them too much and they become other baked pies; shepherd’s pie, steak and kidney pie, beef pie, etc. Right now I’m craving the pot pie in its most simplest form, created with chicken, stock, butter and vegetables. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t add anything your heart desires. My friend Cindie uses the pot pie as a vehicle to clean out her fridge, adding onions and herbs and anything else that fits. That sounds heavenly! But this week I’m going to stick to the pure and simple, opting for the chicken pot pie of my youth. Minus the small aluminum dish and box, if you don’t mind.

Easy Chicken Pot Pies
This recipe first appeared in the November 1995 issue of Bon Appétit. It’s so simple and foolproof and the perfect base to customize, if you wish. I cannot make a pastry or pie crust if my life depended on it, but you can easily forgo the premade stuff and do it  yourself. And if you crave the freshness of non-frozen veggies you can use those. Get chopping!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
8 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/3 cups canned chicken broth
1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables

Method
Preheat oven to 425°F. Place crust on work surface. Press out fold lines; pinch to seal any cracks. Cut out 2 pastry rounds to fit top of two 2-cup ramekins. Arrange crusts on baking sheet. Pierce with fork. Bake crusts until golden, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon sage in medium bowl. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to flour; toss to coat. Melt butter in heavy large skillet oven medium-high heat. Add chicken and any remaining flour to skillet and stir until chicken is brown, about 5 minutes. Mix in broth, vegetables and 1 teaspoon sage. Bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat, cover skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer filling to ramekins. Top with crusts and serve.

This makes 2 Servings but can easily be doubled for larger pies, hint hint.

Migas & My Dad

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At the end of October I will be traveling to Austin, Texas to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday. I still can’t believe the man is 70, as he is quite simply the hippest, grooviest and most loving man you could ever hope to meet. Seriously. By day he’s in finance and accounting, and by night he’s the grooviest bass player and guitarist you could ever hope to jam with. Yes, I’m talking about my own father. He’s been my role model for how to live my life, on how to do what’s right even when it’s not easy and how to be kind and gentle to everyone you meet. I’m talking about a man who will cry happy tears just talking about my mom after 46 years of marriage, a man who touches the hearts of anyone he meets, and a man that can rock and roll deep into the wee hours of the morning, long after his only son has gone to bed. He is a charismatic, gentle, funny and an amazing human being, and the best part is he’s my dad.

While spending some time at the computer this morning designing his party invitation I began to think about a dish called Migas that he always made for breakfast. My father is a fantastic cook and knows his way around the kitchen; add my mother to the mix and you can see why I love food as much as I do. Migas, sort of a Tex Mex scramble, has endless variations, and depending on where you are and who you talk to, it’s almost rarely ever made the same place twice. There are even passionate debates all over the internet over where migas end and where chilaquiles begin, but I never participate. To me, migas will always and only be “a la Ben.”

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Simply put, migas (meaning “crumbs” in Spanish) are eggs that are scrambled and cooked with tortillas or left over bread. In Spain they’re usually served with pimenton and garlic and on occasion you’ll see chorizo added.  In the world of Tex Mex, they are eggs that have been cooked with corn tortilla strips and topped with tomatoes, onions, sour cream, cheese, avocados, salsa or pico de gallo. The beauty of the dish is that it’s so adaptable to one’s personal tastes, but in its most simplest form I find it the most enjoyable. Eggs, tortilla chips, sea salt, a dash of hot sauce. That’s it. Nothing more and nothing else.

When I want a big hearty breakfast full of an abundance of Tex Mex flavors, I’ll go for chilaquiles. But when I want something quick, simple and perfect in its unadorned state, I go for my migas. You simply can’t go wrong.

My Dad’s Migas
A simple, hearty and easy breakfast that I’ve been known to eat at all hours, I don’t add anything else to the dish after cooking because I love the flavors as they are. There’s something so satisfying about a crunchy chip that’s been coated in egg and cooked, sort of a soft-on-the-first-bite-but-crunchy-underneath sensation. This is why they are fried first to make chips-other recipes call for heating up until they are warm. Sea salt adds texture and crunch and the hot sauce adds zing.

Serves 2
2 corn tortillas, cut into strips
1/2 cup oil, for frying
1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs, beaten lightly
sea salt, to taste
Tabasco sauce, to taste

Fry the tortilla strips in oil until crunchy, remove and drain on them on a paper towel. In a skillet, melt the butter and then add the cooked tortilla strips and then pour the beaten eggs over them. On medium heat stir the eggs, thoroughly coating all the tortilla chips. When the eggs are almost done to your liking remove from eat and continue to stir – the eggs will continue to cook just a bit more. Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with sea salt and add Tabasco sauce.

Remember, no two plates of migas will ever be the same. This recipe is just a guide and can be modified however you’d like.

Wedding

Weekend Bites

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Health Codes and Ethnic Delicacies: The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article today on many of the Asian delis and bakeries located throughout the Southland. Items like moon cakes and banh chung often sit unrefrigerated longer than state and health laws allow. To refrigerate them would ruin the texture and flavor, it’s said. Instead of a crackdown, the state Senate and Assembly have ordered state health officials to test items like pastries and Peking duck in order to see how long they can be kept at room temperature. If they pass the test then officials would set new standards.

I applaud the State of California for their sensitivity and attention in this matter. While food safety is of the utmost concern and should always be, I’m glad that our agencies are taking the time to properly investigate and do the right thing.

I’ve always been an hightly adventurous eater and would hate to see traditional foods altered in the name of a “one size fits all” approach, especially when they have been consumed in that manner for centuries. However, having suffered a rather severe case of Campylobacter jejuni from improper  temperatures a few years back that required a week of hospitalization, I’m just a tiny bit sensitive to the topic. Probably more than you care to know about me, I’m sure!

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Jeez, blogging about a commercial? But she’s so darn cute! Because I make a living tasting, marketing and talking about food from both ends of the food spectrum (natural & organic to mainstream & conventional) I usually hesitate to bite any hand that feeds me. But if you read between the lines you know that I’m personally not particularly fond of the big guys, the ones who over-package and over-process. I will happily leave it at that. So it’s with great surprise and amusement that I write about a commercial for Kraft salad dressings featuring Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater in US history.

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This spot has so many good things working for it. For starters, it’s casual, bright and lively, with an appearance that makes a break from standard American advertising. The type treatment is clean and elegant, and it features one of my favorite house tracks, a little number called “Otto’s Journey” by Milo. Plus there’s a little dog in there. If you want a quick way to my heart then serve me food and bring a little dog along. I’m such a sucker. And then there’s the salad, a simple combination of greens, potatoes and blueberries, tossed with Kraft dressing (of course). But hey, if it can get general America to see salads differently and experiment with a few non-standard ingredients, I’m all for it.

Whoever was the ad agency for this spot, you get a big bravo from me.

You can see it here. 

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Back to School for Matt: I once had a friend with an astonishing talent: he could read and write 8 languages fluently and 2 additional languages conversationally. He couldn’t remember where he parked his car on daily basis nor what day of the week it was, but he could stop and chat with almost anyone in Los Angeles, no matter where they were from.

I’d love to be able to read the actual interview I did with a Japanese publication a while back.  I promise never to poke fun of you again, Drew.

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Let’s Get Physical: Currently perturbed with my doughy waistline and shrinking wardrobe, I’ve cut back on dietary intake and have been running a few miles every morning before work. Thank god for iPods. However, I’m throwing all caution to the wind this weekend for the Long Beach Grecian Festival by the Sea, to be held at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church. Hey, here’s an assumption: I will indeed eat more Greek food this weekend than should be humanly allowed.  And please don’t try to stop me.

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Next to food, my other big love in my life are my dogs. My newest Dog Bindi had a few minor health scares in her short little happy life, but I’m pleased to report that she’s fine and healthy and growing like a bean sprout. I’m a proud papa, what can I say?

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I posted this just as I read about the beautiful Zoë at My Plate Or Yours. Do me a favor and read this touching post – I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

As dog lovers our hearts are with you and with Zoë.  She’ll be in our thoughts.