Real Life

I’m going to tell you a little about how things go down around these parts when the weekend rolls in. Don’t get too excited – it isn’t nearly as fascinating as I’m suggesting it is. But that doesn’t stop me from talking about it, so here goes.

We generally kick things off as soon as we get home on Friday. Chris has the luxury of getting to sneak out early which means we get home around the same time as one another. Whoever gets home first picks out a bottle of wine, opens it up, and gets to relaxing. Sometimes that also means I’m cooking something that signals it’s weekend time, which typically involves pasta. I’m not sure why, but pasta dishes always seem appropriate on Fridays. Last Friday was no different.

While eating said dinner and wine-ing, we proceed to catch up on a couple of tv shows or watch a movie. At approximately 10:00, 10:30 on a “late” night, I’m passed out on the couch, usually right in the middle of a show. Yup, real life.

This Saturday probably wasn’t the epitome of a typical Saturday, but it certainly was a good one. I started it off with a little run through Panhandle Park and after burning a few calories, I got down to bizness. I re-learned how to use my teeny tiny plastic sewing machine, and I proceeded to – wait for it – make seat cushions! Dang, I felt crafty as all get out. They aren’t finished yet, so I can’t quite call myself Martha Stewart, but even so I’m feeling the need to make sure a lot of people know that I made. a. freaking. seat. cushion. With my bare hands (sort of). Two of them. Hot damn!

Amidst the excitement of cushion-sewing, I broke out the lard and the butter as well as one of my favorite Rick Bayless cookbooks and went to town on making empanadas. I had some leftover fresh pumpkin from a pumpkin curry dish I made the other night and figured it would make a mighty fine filling for the rounds of doughy goodness, and I did not lead myself astray. The empanadas turned out to be pretty tasty, and perfect for a little Mexican-style get together later that night at Liz & Kevin’s place.

So all in all, it was a fun-filled Saturday, and I felt like I’d gotten a decent amount of stuff accomplished.

Meanwhile, as anyone I’m friends with on Facebook already knows, Chris spent his Saturday protecting the citizens of Arkham City, which essentially means he sat on the couch with a set of headphones on and a game controller in his hand. He kept on his typical Saturday attire (workout pants and either a Northwestern or NC State hoodie, depending on what’s clean) until I forced him away from Arkham City and into the shower. (I’m not complaining here, either, just poking fun. His free time is well-deserved, plus it gives me time to play with lard.)

We then headed over to Oakland where Liz & Kevin whipped up a ton of awesomeness, including guacamole and flank steak tacos. We made the mistake of suggesting a trivia game, and as a result we left their house feeling about 10 times dumber than when we’d arrived. My only saving grace was the fact that I brought the empanadas, so I was thankful for that and considered it time well-spent in the kitchen that day.

Sunday rolled around and we were rewarded with an extra hour of sleep, which we took full advantage of. We spent the morning walking over to the farmers’ market, grabbing brunch at Nopalito, and doing regular Sunday errands and such. We watched our regular Sunday night shows, The Walking Dead and The Next Iron Chef, and before we knew it, it was time to call it a night and get the whole week started, all over again.

See what I mean? Nothing earth-shattering over here, that’s for sure. But truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How was your weekend?

Pumpkin Empanadas
Adapted, barely, from Fiesta at Rick’s; makes 24 empanadas

time commitment: ~3 hours (1 hour, 45 minutes active time)

printable version

ingredients
pumpkin filling
2 c pumpkin puree (canned or fresh*)
1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 1/2 t g Mexican cinnamon
1/2 t salt

empanadas
2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c white spelt flour
1/2 t salt
2 t sugar
1/2 c chilled lard (yum!)**
1 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter
2/3 c ice water

glaze
1 egg beaten with 1 T water

instructions
combine all pumpkin filling ingredients into a 2-quart saucepan; cover and set to medium-high heat. stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved, then uncover and simmer until mixture is thick, about 15 minutes. move to small bowl and cool to room temperature.

while the filling cools, make the dough. add flour, salt, and sugar to a food processor and pulse to combine. cut lard and butter into small 1/2-inch pieces and scatter over the flour. cover and pulse about 8 times. uncover and pour half of water into processor. pulse 3 more times, then add in the remaining water and pulse a few more times. at this point, the dough should clump together, but if it doesn’t just add 1 T of water at a time, pulsing until it does come together. dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and bring into a ball. divide in half, wrap each half in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour. (you can also do this whole part with a pastry cutter or two forks, but that takes a long time and the processor is sooooo easy.)

take one of the halves of dough outta the fridge. flour a flat surface, and roll dough into a rectangle about 12×16 inches (or thin enough in any other shape to cut out 12 4″ round empanadas). using a 4-inch circle or cookie cutter, cut 12 circles out. working with one at a time, brush the outer edge lightly with water and place ~1 tablespoon of filling in the center. fold the dough over the filling and press the ends together to seal. you can crimp with the tines of a fork or make them into crinkly ends or twist the ends like I did (although I can’t really explain how I did that other than say that I pulled a tiny piece of one end out and constantly twisted the dough around itself until I got to the other end…. and that doesn’t help, does it?!).

transfer to baking sheet and place in fridge for at least 15 minutes. meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 F and repeat this process with the remaining half of the dough.

bake empanadas for about 15 minutes, then remove them and brush the lightly with the egg wash and bake another 5 minutes. cool and serve. (you can also freeze them; I froze half of them by putting the sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes then dumping the pre-frozen treats into a plastic ziploc bag. to bake frozen empanadas, add 5 minutes to the cook time and cook straight from the freezer – do not thaw.)

*to make fresh pumpkin puree, take about 4 cups of cubed fresh pumpkin and boil in a large pot for about 10 minutes, until soft. drain pot, and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth
**if you’re afraid of lard, Rick says you can also use shortening (same amount) OR I’m sure you could just omit and double the butter if you really want

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Holy Mole!

I’ve walked through my gramma’s house at least a thousand times. I could tell you about the newspaper clippings that were on her fridge, and the pictures of all her grandkids that sat atop the desk in the living room with the gold shaggy carpet. Of course, I remembered those pictures because there was one of every grandkid, but me – there were two! I could tell you, years ago, about every hair product in her bathroom, because as she used to say, I liked to “plunder”, and plunder I did, every time I visited. I loved gramma’s house, every corner of it.

Without fail, there was a pound cake on the edge of the counter every Sunday, unsliced, guarded by a heavy glass dome that I couldn’t reach without assistance, or a chair. There were oatmeal cakes in the cupboard, and there was a trashcan made of egg cartons in my dad’s old room. I can still see it all – as if looking at a snow globe, those details never changed. And while the sights were always so clear in my head, I also remember a distinct smell, a smell that emanated from the kitchen, for sure, but one that I could never identify. Until this weekend.

It was lard. That’s probably weird to at least some of you, right? Okay, most of you. And not just regular lard from a container, but hot, almost smoking lard. I’d be willing to bet that most people who cook with lard don’t enjoy that smell, but for me, it took me back like no other. Strangely enough, it was the first time I’d ever cooked with it, and I’m not quite sure why, really. But as is customary for a Sunday around here, I awoke with an idea in my head of what I wanted to make for dinner that night, with expectations of spending a decent amount of time in the kitchen.

I decided that I wanted to make a mole sauce.

So that’s what I did. And so, I consulted the first person that comes to mind when I think of authentic, time-consuming Mexican food, and that’s Rick. Rick Bayless, that is. Now, most authentic moles take days to make, I know that, but Rick said this one is a good start for only a few hours work. There are oodles of iterations of moles, but this one is loaded with chiles, and as a result is a mole rojo. Moles use a ton of ingredients, including lots of dried but rehydrated chiles, chocolate, nuts, and even raisins. Moles are complexity at its best – spicy, rich, chocolatey, vibrant – flavors that most certainly take some time to develop. The better your ingredients, the better your mole. And in that respect, I finally broke down and bought lard, because Rick said to.

The lard got hot, and immediately I recognized the smell as something that was really prevalent in my life, but this time I couldn’t remember right away where it was coming from. A couple of whiffs later, it was crystal clear. Yeah, you could say the Southern ladies in my family don’t mess around in the kitchen, and if the taste of their food has anything to do with the fact that they use lard in their cooking, well, now I’m sold. I can’t believe it took a cookbook from a Mexican-influenced chef to do the trick, but hey, you take it where you will, I reckon.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that, even though I cut this recipe in half (the book I used is for fiestas, not two-person dining, you see), there is plenty left over after generously using the other half to sop up some mole-painted chicken. I tweeted Rick and he said he’d make enchiladas with the leftovers, and I think he might be on to something. For now, there’s a container in the freezer, just waiting for enchilada inspiration. And hopefully, it won’t take nearly as long to get around to that as it did to use lard. I doubt it will.

Lacquered Chicken in Classic Red Mole
adapted from Fiesta at Rick’s; serves 4 with leftover mole

time commitment: long. 4 hours, most of which requires active attention, minus 30 minutes or so. but don’t let that deter you!

printable version

ingredients
mole
5 oz tomatillos, husked and rinsed (2 large)
3/4 c roasted sesame seeds
1/2 c pork lard (or vegetable oil)
5 medium dried mulato chiles (~3 oz)
3 medium dried ancho chiles (1.5 oz)
4 medium dried pasilla chiles (1.5 oz)
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 c almonds
1/2 c raisins
1/2 t ground Mexican cinnamon (canela)
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t ground anise
pinch of g cloves
1 slice toasted white bread, torn into pieces
1 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1.5 quarts lo-sodium chicken broth
salt
1/3 c sugar

chicken
1/4 c agave nectar
4 pieces of chicken (I used leg quarters)
cilantro, for garnish

instructions
turn broiler to high. broil tomatillos about 4 inches from flame until black and soft, about 5 minutes per side. put in a large bowl and set aside. add half of sesame seeds to bowl with tomatillos, and save the other half for garnishing at the end.

turn on your exhaust fan; it’s about to get smoky in here! using a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the lard over medium heat. meanwhile, seed and stem the chiles, and break into large pieces. once the lard is hot, fry the chiles in 3-4 batches, flipping them constantly until aromatic and the insides are lightened (20-30 seconds for each batch). be careful not to over-toast. put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water; seal the bowl with plastic wrap and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure all parts become submerged.

meanwhile, remove any chile seeds from the pot. add garlic and almonds to pot and fry, stirring regularly, until browned, about 5 minutes. remove and add to tomatillo bowl. add raisins to hot pot and fry until puffed and browned; add to tomatillos. set pan aside, away from heat.

to the tomatillo mixture, add spices, bread, and chocolate. add 1 cup of water and stir to combine.

pour the chiles, 2 cups of water from the bowl, and 1 cup of tap water into a blender, and blend to a smooth puree (you may want to do this in 2 batches, depending on the size of your blender). pour out the rest of the chile water. press puree through a medium sieve into the same large bowl and discard pieces that don’t make it through.

reheat the lard in the pot over medium heat. add more lard if there isn’t much in the pot. once the lard is very hot, pour the chile puree into the pot. the pot should simmer loudly, then die down some, but should continue to keep a low boil. continue to boil, stirring every couple of minutes until reduced to tomato paste consistency (~15-20 minutes). (If you have a splatter screen, use it, or you’ll be cleaning up a lot, like I did.)

meanwhile, puree the tomatillo mixture as smoothly as possible, adding a little water if needed. Strain back into the bowl. Once the chile puree has reduced, add tomatillo mixture and cook, stirring every few minutes until darker and thicker, about 10-15 minutes.

add broth to pot and simmer over medium to medium-low for about 1.5 hours. if the mole becomes thick (Rick says thicker than a cream soup), add some water. season with salt and the sugar.

heat oven to 350 F. place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. baked chicken for 25 minutes. meanwhile, mix together 1/2 c of mole and the agave nectar into a small saucepan, and heat until glossy and reduced to 1/2 c, about 15 minutes. once chicken is baked, remove from oven and increase oven temp to 400 F. brush chicken with mole/agave mixture and sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds. bake for 10 minutes. removed from oven and let sit ~7 minutes. serve each portion with extra mole and garnish with cilantro.