Empanada.

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As you may have read, I didn’t make any crazy New Year’s resolutions. I’ve found that, despite my best efforts, any resolution is well-intentioned in January and February, but come March, they sorta become forgotten. So because of that, I’m just going to resolve to make more reasonable goals throughout the year. It’s just more manageable that way.

That said, I’m sure you also indulged a little more than usual in December, right? We always go back East, to North Carolina, over the holidays to visit family and friends and as much as I like to feel in control, I really can’t be bothered to think too hard about all that I’m eating, and of course, all that I’m not (like salads and veggies). Bless their hearts, my family loves to eat. We had a pig pickin’, and if that wasn’t enough, we also had chicken pastry and fried chicken “on the side”. hahahaha.

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The week after Christmas should have been a week to clear out all the badness, but we were still in NC, and even though Chris’ side of the family follows a more balanced eating lifestyle, there are still sweets galore, and man I do love the sweets. So when it came time to finish off the year, I really didn’t see a need to start all healthy and fresh right away. We figured we’d go ahead and load up on a little more meat, and like everyone else, take it a little easier after midnight. Okay, who am I kidding, not after midnight, but when we woke up the next morning. There are still treats to have after midnight.

So I made an Argentinian feast for six (that probably would have fed 12). MEAT!! We started out with a lighter ceviche (they do eat fish down in South America, by the way), then went straight into the meat with these tasty empanadas. Crunchy, flaky, and filled with beef, I could have eaten more than 2 but I stopped because I knew the third course was ready to be grilled and served. And that, my friends, was a huge plate of lamb spare ribs with chimichurri.  Very tasty.

As for dessert, I have a lovely Argentinian cookie recipe to share, but that will be later. If you like chocolate and caramel, stay tuned!

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Flaky Beef Empanadas with Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Food & Wine, January 2013; makes at least 16

other than the fact that these are awesome, the other best part is that you can easily make these in advance, refrigerate them, and reheat them in a 350 F oven for a little bit. you can also freeze them, unbaked and cook them straight from the freezer (obviously, you have to add more time). you can use whatever sauce you like, but I made another batch of crema from the tamale recipe.

time commitment: about 1.5 hours of active time, but include up to 8 hours total for refrigeration, baking, etc.

printable version

ingredients
filling
6 T unsalted butter
1/4 c plus 2 T lard
1 1/4 lb beef chuck, cut into 1/4-inch dice
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large white onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3/4 c finely chopped scallions
2 t ground cumin
2 t crushed red pepper

dough
1 c water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 T kosher salt
3 1/4 c all-purpose flour
Oil, for greasing

crema
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T no-salt-added chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1/4 t salt
1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced

instructions
make the filling: In a very large skillet, melt 4 T of the butter in 1/4 cup of the lard. Add the diced beef, season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and any liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, pouring any fat in the skillet over the beef.

In the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 T of butter in the remaining 2 T of lard. Add the onion, bay leaves and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is soft and golden, 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Scrape the onion and any fat over the meat and let cool slightly. Stir in the scallions, cumin and red pepper; season with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate overnight or at least for a few hours to let the flavors meld.

make the dough: In a small saucepan, bring the water, butter and salt to a simmer. When the butter is melted, pour the mixture into a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Add the flour and stir until the dough comes together. On a lightly floured work surface, gently knead the dough until almost smooth but still slightly tacky with some streaks of butter. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap them in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.

Meanwhile, prepare crema by combining all crema ingredients; chill.

Preheat the oven to 400 F and oil/spray 2 large baking sheets. Work with 1 piece of dough at a time: On a generously floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Using a 5-inch round plate or cookie cutter, cut out 8 rounds of dough. Moisten the edge of the dough rounds with water. Mound 1 1/2 packed T of the beef filling on one half of each round and fold the dough over to form half moons; press the edges to seal. Pinch the edges at intervals to make pleats or crimp with the tines of a fork. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough to form 8 more empanadas.

Place the empanadas on the baking sheets and bake in the upper and lower thirds of the oven for 35 minutes, shifting the pans once halfway through, until browned. Serve the empanadas warm or at room temperature.

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Tamale.

tamales!

In case you haven’t noticed, the holidays are upon us. Sure, we celebrate all sorts of holidays throughout the year, but these few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Those are the “real” holidays. These are the days where we all eat too many cookies, mounds of fudge, and every other goodie you could possibly imagine. Every day at work begins with something brought in, lunch ends with a sweet treat, and the few hours after lunch before you leave for the day? Man, those are the hours where we really, and I mean really, need some chocolate.

I have to admit here, that Chris and I aren’t full of holiday traditions. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years; since we are never home on Christmas we’ve never felt the need. I have a box of decorations that I’ve collected over the years, and they remained in the back of the storage closet once again this year. I don’t have a tried and true cookie recipe, or a special offering that just always works at the holiday parties. Just tonight, I started burning a candle that smells exactly like Christmas, and it made me realize that we need to make some of our own traditions.

pulled pork

Of course, this is all starting next year. We head out east soon, and by the time we’re back, it’ll almost be New Years Eve. That means two more years have gone by without me finally doing Christmas cards. Whoops.

On the flip side, and without knowing it, I think we did start one tradition this year. I clipped a recipe for tamales years ago. I kept flipping past it, thinking it was just way too much work (the one in my stack that I keep flipping past now is a yeasted donut recipe. But I can’t give up yet!). I finally, after a couple of years, got rid of the tamale recipe, figuring I’d just eat store-bought tamales instead of slaving in the kitchen to make my own. But then I recently found another tamale recipe, and right around Christmastime, when folks seem to make tamales over big gatherings of family members.

masa-ancho dough

Chris and I had a recent lazy weekend, the type where well-intentioned hikes (which we’ve not done in months, it seems!) are ruined by rain, and suddenly Saturday night was right around the corner and we had nowhere to be – not even a Christmas party on a December weekend! We’d run a few errands, driven around in horrible downtown San Francisco traffic, and decided that we were most definitely staying in that night. Meanwhile, we neared a Mexican market that had every little ingredient I needed, so I decided it was meant to be. Much to Chris’ chagrin, it ended up being a project for the two of us, although I have to admit I really didn’t put him to work until it was actually time to make the tamales. After a few iterations, we finally had a good system down – he spread the masa onto the husk and portioned the pork on top, and I rolled the husks, folding the dough over the pork, and then tied the ends with strings of corn husk.

I’m not sure who got the shittiest end of that deal. The husk strings kept breaking, and sometimes the husks themselves weren’t the right size, but on Chris’ end he was dealing with my constant critique-ing of his portioning, and I’m not sure how many times I told him, but dang, he really wanted to LOAD those things down with pork, and there just wasn’t room! At the end of the night, literally around 9:30, we were able to taste our efforts, and I promise, it was worth it. We had leftovers for a couple more meals, and we froze the rest, knowing there are always nights when cooking just doesn’t happen. Tamales are perfect for that.

But most importantly, we (at least, I) really appreciated how and why this tamale-making festivity has become a yearly tradition in so many families around the holidays. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of time, but a lot of yield, and a few hours of spending quality time with the ones you love is the most special result of it all (even if the tamales are outta this world). It’s something to look forward to every year, and since 2013 is just around the corner, I’m already thinking about tamale night next December. Tamale night, a tree, some decorations, and maybe, just maybe, some Christmas cards.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

tamale-makin'

 

Chipotle Pork Tamales w/ Cilantro-Lime Crema
adapted from Cooking Light, December 2012; serves 14 (2 tamales each)

time commitment: forever. just kidding. sorta. a good 5 hours total, but about 2-3 of active time (lots of pork-cooking and tamale-steaming).

printable version

ingredients
filling
1 T olive oil
1 (3-pound) Boston butt (pork shoulder roast), trimmed
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c chopped onion
9 crushed garlic cloves
1 t cumin seeds, toasted
6 chipotles chiles, canned in adobo sauce, chopped
1 c no-salt-added chicken stock
1 t grated orange rind
1 t unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 t ground espresso

crema
3 T chopped fresh cilantro
2 T no-salt-added chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1/4 t salt
1 (8-ounce) container light sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced

masa
2 1/2 c no-salt-added chicken stock
2 ancho chiles
1 c corn kernels
4 c instant masa harina
1 1/4 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 c chilled lard

other
Dried corn husks

instructions
Preheat oven to 300 F.

To prepare filling, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil, and swirl to coat. Sprinkle pork evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add pork to pan; sauté 10 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove pork from pan. Add onion and garlic to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cumin and chipotle chiles; sauté for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup stock and the next 3 ingredients (through espresso); bring to a boil. Return pork to pan; cover. Bake at 300 F for 3 hours or until pork is fork-tender. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 10 minutes. Shred pork. Return pork to sauce.

Meanwhile, prepare crema by combining all crema ingredients; chill.

To prepare tamales, immerse corn husks in water; weight with a plate. Soak 30 minutes; drain.

To prepare masa, combine 2 1/2 cups stock and ancho chiles in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until chiles are tender; cool slightly. Remove stems from chiles. Combine hot stock, chiles, and corn in a blender; process until smooth. Combine masa harina, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, and baking powder, stirring well with a whisk. Cut in lard with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ancho mixture to masa mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead dough until smooth and pliable. (If dough is crumbly, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until moist.)

Working with one husk at a time (or overlap 2 small husks), place about 3 tablespoons masa mixture in the center of husk, about 1 inch from top of husk; press dough into a 4-inch-long by 3-inch-wide rectangle. Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon pork mixture down one side of dough. Using the corn husk as your guide, fold husk over tamale, being sure to cover filling with dough. Use husk to seal masa around filling. Tear 3 or 4 corn husks lengthwise into strips; tie ends of tamale with strips.

Steam tamales according to whatever method works best for you. My smoke alarm goes off constantly if I turn the oven on too high, so this method in this recipe doesn’t work well for me. I put them tamales in a bamboo steamer on the stovetop, and steam for about 1 hour. It takes longer, but I don’t have to constantly open windows and wait for the fire truck to show up… [This recipe says: preheat the oven to 450 F, then place tamale, seam side down, on the rack of a broiler pan lined with a damp towel. Repeat procedure with remaining husks, masa mixture, and pork mixture. Cover tamales with a damp towel. Pour 2 cups hot water in the bottom of a broiler pan; top with rack. Steam tamales at 450° for 25 minutes. Remove and rewet top towel, and add 1 cup water to pan. Turn tamales over; top with cloth. Bake for 20 minutes or until set. Let tamales stand 10 minutes.]

Once ready, serve tamales with crema. You can also freeze them after steaming. Reheat by resteaming for a shorter time, or by heating in the microwave.

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

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.