Tamales!

September 11, 2011

Aromatic Mole Rubbed Chicken Legs

I pulled out an old favorite cookbook and immersed myself in southwestern cuisine.  The book is, Cayote Cafe by Chef Mark Miller.   When I aquired this book, twenty some odd years ago, it was so edgy I didn’t know what most of the ingredients were, let alone where to get them.  For example, the book includes recipes for tomatillo salsa, ancho chile rubbed rabbit, poblano pesto and grilled nopales (cactus leaves).  Sounds pretty ordinary for these days, right?

Revisiting the book inspired me to create a mole rub for meat.  I mixed together; Hershey’s dark cocoa powder (unsweetened), instant espresso powder, cumin, ancho chile powder, dried oregano, salt and a bit of raw sugar.  I rubbed it on some skinless chicken legs and cooked them for my husband, David and I.  Wow!  We were both, completely blown away by these chicken legs!  The coffee acted as a meat tenderizer, the sugar created a crusty coating that sealed in all the juices and the chocolate and spices added flavor and aromas that knocked us over. I knew I had to make these chicken legs for company.

Tamales Tied With Corn Husk Ribbons

I was also inspired by a variety of tamale recipes in the cook book.  I had never made tamales before.  I think I had only eaten them once or twice before, but none the less, I ventured forth on a tamale quest.  There is a lot involved in making tamales and a variety of methods, wrappers and fillings.

In addition to the recipes in the Cayote Cafe cook book, I searched through three other Mexican cook books I have.  (I know what you’re thinking.  “Why does she have so many Mexican cook books?”  Ha!  Are you kidding me?  Name a cuisine and ask me if I have a book on it.)

I was a little frustrated with what I found on tamale making.  None of the books were very clear on the tamale process from start to finish.  I watched “you-tube” videos on tamale making and they weren’t very clear either.  The best instructions I found were in the Cayote Cafe book, so with a few minor adjustments, I forged ahead.

Tamales Stacked In The Steamer

You can’t make just a few tamales.  You have to make twenty or thirty at a time because you need to pack them, vertically in a steamer, and if the steamer isn’t packed full, the tamales fall over and the filling runs out.  So my next quandary was, if I make all these tamales, who can I get to eat them all?

I decided to add my newly created mole chicken legs to my tamale menu and I invited my friend Becky and her husband, Ed over for dinner.  Perfect!  They are both good sports about trying new things.  Becky brought the wine and an apple pie for dessert. Ed always brings good conversation with a dash of hilarity, always a great thing to have at a dinner party.

Plum Tomatoes Roasted With Cumin and Lime Juice

I paired the chicken and tamales with a batch of plum tomatoes roasted with cumin and a spritz of lime juice.  This simple side dish balanced the plate with freshness, flavor and color.   I adapted a recipe from Ina Garten that I have made often.  She slices fresh plum tomatoes and places them on a cookie sheet.  She drizzles them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkles them with salt and a bit of sugar to bring out the fresh tomato flavor.  She roasts them in a hot oven for 25 minutes.  They are super yummy and a synch to make.  I changed up her recipe to accommodate my Mexican menu.  Instead of using balsamic vinegar, I used fresh lime juice and I added a sprinkle of cumin.  The changes turned out to be subtle, but perfect for my menu.

The Menu:

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Pan Seared Tuna With Soba Noodles and Bok Choy

September 4, 2011

Mum was brave today!  I served a Japanese menu featuring seared ahi tuna, something, I’m sure, Mum has never had.  Her palate is decidedly English.  I imagine English menus as boiled, unseasoned plain food.   I suppose English food is sometimes dressed up with a bit of curry or some other spices rooted in their imperialist days, but generally, it has never sounded pleasant to me.  Kidney pie, kippers, clotted cream and all sorts of odd puddings – blech!

Seared Tuna with Soba Noodles and Bok Choy

Anyway, I digress.  For Mum’s big adventure, I served pan seared ahi tuna on a bed of wilted bok choy with a side of soba noodles sauteed with shiitake mushrooms and edamame.   I served a small cup of a sesame soy dipping sauce for the tuna.  I was so pleased with how it turned out.  Everything was super simple to make, but so delicious and very beautiful on the plate.

I marinated the tuna in soy, rice wine vinegar, sriracha sauce (sweet and hot Asian chili sauce), garlic, ginger and green onion.  And I added a bit of brown sugar to the marinade too.  I figured the sugar would help create a nice caramelization on the fish when I seared it.  It worked great!  I marinated the fish for about 2 hours.  I seared it on all sides in a pan of hot peanut oil.  Just a minute or two on each side.  I let it rest for 5 minutes before I sliced it.  While it was resting, I assembled the soba noodle side dish.

Soba noodles are a Japanese pasta made from buckwheat.  They taste sort of like whole wheat pasta, but a little more creamy.  While the soba noodles were boiling in salted water, I sauteed garlic, ginger, green onions, matchstick carrots and edamame.  Edamame are shelled soy beans.  They have a very delicate flavor and when cooked, their texture is somewhat like a sweet pea or a little like a lima bean.   I thought they added a nice touch of color and texture to the noodles.

I had washed and chopped the bok choy ahead of time.  I also sauteed the crunchy lower stems ahead of time.  At the last minute I reheated the pan and added the chopped leafy green portion of the bok choy.  It wilts in seconds, so a quick toss in the hot pan and it was ready to plate.

For the dipping sauce, I used the left over tuna marinade.  I heated it to a boil, added just a drop of sesame oil (no more than a drop, that stuff is potent!) and poured a little into some pretty sake cups I have.  They made the perfect vessel for the sauce.

Mum ate the noodles first and quite enjoyed them.  I could tell she was very leery about the tuna on her plate.  She pushed it around a bit, cut a few small pieces, pushed them around for a bit longer and then, finally took the plunge!  A quick dip in the sauce and into her mouth.  I so enjoyed the look on her face.  A combination of relief and pleasure.  She finished all the tuna and everything else on her plate.  She actually enjoyed all of it.  I was a little relieved myself.

I searched for Asian dessert recipes and fell a little short.  I ended up making a fruit compote of pineapple, mango and banana with dark rum and cinnamon.  I served it warm over vanilla ice cream.  It was delicious.  It seemed more tropical than Asian, but rather exotic, none the less.

I was inspired to prepare this menu by a Food Network show starring Anne Burrell.  I love her style and her quirky personality.  She is an amazing chef and she prepared a similar menu and made it look so easy.  As it turned out, it was very easy to make and it looked and tasted fantastic!


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