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.
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.
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.
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.
- Home made baked corn chips
- Roasted tomatillo guacamole
- Mole rubbed chicken legs
- Tamales stuffed with roasted poblano chiles and Queso Fresco (fresh white Mexican cheese)
- Roasted plum tomatoes with cumin and lime juice
- Apple Pie