Food – more more more

Mole, mole mole…(mole-ay) is one of my favourite Mexican dishes not only because it is rich and flavourful but because one of the ingredients is chocolate.

Chicken breast marinated with purslane, cactus and sweet potato chips with black mole.
Chicken breast marinated with purslane, cactus and sweet potato chips with black mole.  El Restaurante Catedral.

These intricate sauces, made by toasting and grinding spices, seeds, and chiles, are truly the hallmark of the Oaxaca region and in fact was invented there. The wide variety of “mole” in Oaxaca is enough to satisfy the most demanding palates. The different types you won’t find anywhere else – they include black, red, yellow, green, “coloradito,” “chichilo,” and mole with almonds.

This is chicken wrapped in rice and red mole.
This is chicken wrapped in rice and red mole.

If you’re craving a burrito you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Cheesecake
Cheesecake

 If you’re a cheese lover you might miss certain varieties like sharp cheddar, creamy brie or blue but they have a cheese, known as “quesillo,” which whether alone, in quesadillas, or with snacks, is a Oaxacan specialty that you should certainly try.  Grasshoppers are another typical dish of Oaxaca.

Chapulines at the Benito Juárez Market  - goes well with honey.
Chapulines at the Benito Juárez Market – can be sweetened up with honey.

You can find them everywhere – even the top hotels and restaurants (so be aware the Spanish name is “Chapulines” otherwise you might think you’re getting some exotic sounding beef because when it’s covered in mole you can’t really tell).  These delicious (so they say) fried insects are eaten in tacos, and the tradition says that whoever eats grasshoppers, will return to Oaxaca.  Oh, oh…I didn’t know about this before now.  Where are the little buggers when you need them?  I don’t remember the last time I saw a grasshopper here in Vancouver – I think they all mistakenly moved to Mexico for the warmer weather.

After that a taste of something sweet.  The "best" coconut flan with dulce de leche & soaked in mexcal.
After that a taste of something sweet. The “best” coconut flan with dulce de leche & soaked in mexcal. Topped with pecans.  Zandunga.

Other typical dishes from Oaxaca are “Tamales” stuffed with “mole,” poblano chili strips, or beans, and wrapped in banana leaves. “Tlayudas” (tla-u-da) are another appetizer that you can find almost anywhere.  I shared one in a market which was topped with delicious Mexican chorizo (a cut above – with less grease or fat), avocado, tomato, beans & cheese and it tasted great on a crunchy tostada. Other traditional dishes are the beef called “tasajo,” jerky, and “chiles rellenos” or stuffed chile.

Fantastic Chilean salmon at "El Quinque" - a great little restaurant.
Fantastic Chilean salmon at “El Quinque” – a great little restaurant.

In short, everything we ordered tasted superb and the care of presentation was impressive.  Of course getting a tumbler of mexcal before your meal ensures everything will taste good.

A starter of gazpacho at "Les Danzantes" for the pre-fixe lunch.  Excellent!
A starter of gazpacho at “Les Danzantes” for the pre-fixe lunch. Excellent!

But honestly, I have nothing but rave reviews for the culinary skills of Oaxaca.  Squash blossom flower sauce anyone? During ten days my friend Judy introduced me to some of the finest places to eat so if you plan to go just let me know and I’ll be happy to recommend a few places to drink spots.

chili chocolate brownie
chili chocolate brownie

Next week I will post an authentic red mole recipe but I’ll forewarn you that it is time consuming and maybe 1% of you will actually make it.  It is however less expensive than travelling all the way to Oaxaca.

Photos: d. king  (click to enlarge)

 

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Simply Satisfying: a taste of Spain – Chicken Marbella

ChickenMarbellaIt should really be called “Simply Spectacular.”

My friend Natalia turned me on to this recipe years ago, and it never fails to turn out delicious each time I make it.  While prunes and capers might seem like an odd combination, when cooked together with chicken they create a delectable sweet and sour, savory flavor. The overnight marination is essential to the moistness of the finished product: The chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration; it travels well and makes excellent picnic fare. 20140404_135007

Ingredients:

The original recipe calls for 2 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs each, quartered, bone-in, skin-on.  Or, you can use an already cut-up chicken assortment of pieces like breast and thighs.

1 head of garlic, pureed

¼ cup dried oregano

Course salt and pepper to taste  ( I like to use kosher salt)

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup extra vigin olive oil

1 cup pitted prunes (I prefer to halve them)

½ cup pitted Spanish green olives

½ cup capers with a bit of juice

6 bay leaves

¾ cup brown sugar

1 cup white wine (if you can’t use wine, then use ½ cup of best quality chicken stock)

Fresh Italian parsley, chopped to taste

Combine Chicken with garlic, salt and pepper and all ingredients except brown sugar, wine and parsley.  Cover, and let marinate overnight to produce the best results.

Pre-heat oven to 350F.  Arrange chicken in a shallow baking pan in a single layer.  Sprinkle with white wine and brown sugar.

Bake for about an hour, or until juices from chicken run clear (and chicken is not pink).  Baste marinade every so often over chicken.

 Enjoy!

Tip: if the amount of oil and vinegar seems like too much – remember that amount is for about 5 lbs. so you can adjust it accordingly.  You might want to use the recipe “as is” because the juice is so flavourful and served over rice it works out perfectly.

 

 

food: Fantastic Frittata for Friends

For a perfect brunch try this sophisticated, no-frills recipe that can feed a few in no time.

Cast Iron is great for this
Cast Iron is perfect for making this

Courtesy of Sarabeth Levine, the jam-making pastry chef, and restauranteur behind N.Y.C.’s beloved Sarabeth’s Kitchen, who swears by this one.  “Always aim for a dish that’s easy to serve,” “Cold scrambled eggs are never acceptable, but a frittata can be warm or room temperature and still be delish.” I’ve tried her recipe which makes 4 to 6 servings and can attest that it is indeed a winner! It’s a bonus that Gruyère  & Goat happen to be two of my favorite cheeses.  A side salad will round out this meal beautifully.

Two-Cheese Frittata with Arugula

12 large eggs, beaten (this is why you want at least 4 people)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or olive oil, divided

1 cup packed arugula

3 oz. Gruyère  cheese, coarsely grated

3 oz. goat cheese, broken into small pieces.

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350F.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs.  In a 10-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat.  Add arugula; cook for 1 minute.  Add remaining butter and eggs; immediately reduce heat to medium-low.

Cook for 8-10 minutes until bottom sets and top is partially set.  Sprinkle on cheeses; let edges set (1-2 minutes).  It should look shiny and uncooked on top, with cheeses still unmelted.

like this
just like this

Bake in oven for 8 minutes, until cheeses melts and frittata puffs slightly.

Cut frittata into wedges, serve with side salad which we suggest sprinkling with toasted sunflower seeds. EAT.

Check back here Sunday to find out some interesting facts about Cheese in the “words” post. For instance, I found out that I’m a TUROPHILE.  It sounds like a bad thing but it’s really not.

simply satisfying – a Chinese dinner YOU CAN DO

Peppered Chicken & Steamed Halibut with Ginger serves four

Very seldom, if ever do we make Chinese food at home because…chinese1) we think it’s too much work and 2) it’s easier to go to a Chinese restaurant for the assortment.  Yes, you will get more selection from going out but you can experiment with a couple of delicious recipes at home that will be on par with any fine Chinese restaurant.  Aside from these two main dishes, you can add sides like fried rice and an easy broccoli (gai lan) with oyster sauce to round out the menu for variety.  The rice and vegetables for peppered chicken can be made in advance & easily re-heated.

steamed halibut
steamed halibut

Steamed Halibut with Ginger (fresh & lovely Asian dish)

Ingredients:

1 lb. halibut fillet – 1 tsp. coarse kosher or sea salt

1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger – 3 Tbsp. thinly sliced green onion

1 Tbsp. dark soy sauce – 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce

1 Tbsp. peanut oil – 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

¼ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs

Directions:

Pat halibut dry with paper towels.  Rub both sides of fillet with salt.  Scatter the ginger over the top of the fish and place onto heatproof ceramic dish.

Place into a bamboo steamer (widely available in Chinatown) set over several inches of gently boiling water, and cover.  Gently steam for 10 to 12 minutes.

Pour accumulated water out of the dish and sprinkle the fillet with green onion.  Pour both soy sauces over the surface of the fish.

Heat peanut oil and sesame oils in a small skillet over medium-high heat until they begin to smoke.  When the oil is hot, carefully pour on top of the halibut fillet.  The very hot oil will cause the green onions and water on top of the fish to pop and spatter all over – be careful.  Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve immediately.

Peppered Chicken

pepper chicken
pepper chicken

Ingredients:

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1 cup soup stock (chicken or vegetable)

1 hot pepper, diced

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 cup onion, diced

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

2-3 green peppers, diced

1 cucumber, diced

2 sweet red peppers, diced

1 lb. uncooked chicken meat, cut into ½ or 1 inch pieces

Marinate the chicken meat with 1 Tbsp. cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. soy sauce for ½ hour.  Fry in peanut or sesame oil until brown and tender.  *Saute all vegetables with remaining ingredients and stir constantly.  Combine meat and vegetables.  Serve hot.  *If vegetables were made in advance, just reheat with the chicken meat.

Gai Lan/Oyster Sauce
Gai Lan/Oyster Sauce

For the Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauceparboil 2 lbs. fresh gai lan (or you can even use broccolini) in boiling water for 3 minutes with a pinch of salt.  For sauce: 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sugar, 2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. sherry wine vinegar, 4 Tbsp. oyster sauce, 1 finely minced slice of ginger.

Heat saucepan with oil, sauté broccoli for about 2 minutes, remove and pour sauce ingredients over top with ½ tsp. cornstarch which will thicken it like gravy.  Pour a few drops of sesame oil over the broccoli and serve hot.

fried rice
fried rice

Fried rice is easy.  Make or use leftover cold rice (it can be plain, jasmine or basmati) and fry in peanut oil with two beaten eggs, cut-up green onion, fresh or frozen cut green beans, mushrooms, peas and a bit of soy sauce, Chinese five spice (optional) & salt to taste. Garnish with green onion.  You can also add shrimp, diced chicken meat or crab.  *Make sure to pour slowly the beaten eggs with a bit of salt over the rice so that they will coat it but not settle in lumps.

Have you tried making Chinese food?  It’s a lot easier than you think.

Simply Satisfying – dried limes

Yup, that’s it folks – one simple dried limes1ingredient….limes, but dried! 

Ha; did you think I ran out of recipes this week –  or am I just being lazy?  No, never! Actually I thought instead of sharing a new “IT” ingredient with you. That’s worth something isn’t it?

limes2I use freshly squeezed limes over so many things – fish, chicken, tortillas, ceviche, key lime pie of course & let’s not forget about margaritas (but that’s not really a food is it?).  I use lime zest over many things too. Now I want to try dried limes.  I’ll tell you why: the sourness of citrus with the tang of fermentation.

Not sure if this will surpass Kale, but in a quest to decipher what the new “IT” will be, about a zillion trendsetting chefs were consulted.  Among them, Boston’s Barbara Lynch (The Butcher Shop), NYC’s Amanda Cohen (DirtCandy), San Francisco’s Evan and Sarah Rich (Rich Table), and Austin’s Jodi Elliott (Foreign & Domestic).

Concensus was difficult (why be unanimous when you can be unique?), but there was one ingredient that popped out: dried limes, a classic Middle Eastern seasoning with a sour, aromatic tang and fermented undertones.

Pound them up and grind them, and you have a powder for a spice,” says Sara Jenkins of NYC’s Porsena.  “It brings a fresh brightness to anything,” adds Kim Alter of San Francisco’s Haven.

Though they look kind of like lumpy little rocks, dried limes actually have all kinds of uses as a flavoring. They are excellent used whole in soups and stews as well as lentil and bean dishes; when ground up, they’re great rubbed directly onto steaks or chops, or combined with other spices and a bit of oil to make a paste for rubbing on seafood.

First developed in Oman, dried limes are essential ingredients in the cooking of Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States. They also appear occasionally in northern Indian dishes. But unlike other once-exotic ingredients (preserved lemons and coconut milk come to mind), dried limes have remained well outside the mainstream pantry, even for more-adventurous American cooks. This is a shame. Dried limes turn out to be another one of those power ingredients that can transform a whole range of dishes with virtually no effort on your part.

The way they are produced could not be more straightforward: Small limes are boiled briefly in salt brine, and then they are laid out in the sun to dry over the course of several weeks.

In the Middle East, these limes are most often added whole to soups and stews. You simply wash them well, pierce them a couple of times with a sharp knife or a fork, and drop three of four of them into the pot. As the cooking liquid sluices through the limes, they add an evocative tang and a subtle complexity to the entire dish.  It definitely brings new life to whatever seafood you rub it on too.

In Vancouver you can buy them at South China Seas Trading Company – Granville Island.  This is where I buy my exotic spices & ingredients for Thai & Indian dishes.

both dkkkd
both whole & crushed are available in Middle Eastern shops or Online.