Friday, January 28, 2011

Before the Sounds of Chirping Crickets Drives You Crazy...

I'm sorry that I have gone silent. I haven't been reading your blogs much or posting any of my own. I actually had a blog prepared over the weekend, but fate intervened.

After ruining having fun with a blogger recipe and making a delicious chocolate hazelnut tart between Thursday and Friday last week, I was intendding to finish writing and posting photos the blog entry and post it over the weekend.

Sunday afternoon fate intervened in the form of a slightly nervous pony. I was riding my young pony Riddle in a crowded indoor ring, trying to help her remember the concept of a canter (she's young and she forgets).

Just as she was picking it up, she passed by the entrance of the ring where she glimpsed the movement of someone coming in out of the corner of her eye. For a brief moment she thought it was a monster, as young horses often do, and ducked out of the way. Ducking sideways while suspended in an initial canter stride is not good for a horse's balance - or a rider's. I was unceremoniously flung to the ground, wrenching my back in the process. Riddle, never having had a rider fall off of her before, was pretty terrified and attempted to get herself out of the way. She tried to jump over my crumpled heap of a body, but there was some hoof contact.

I preach a lot on my blogs about the importance of helmet use and make a fuss when FN personalities show up on horseback bareheaded. Well, this was one of those times when I can really say I'm right to be so crazy. There was a very distinct hoofprint on the back of my helmet. Had I not been wearing it, I'm sure I would not be sitting her typing this blog two days later. What happened to me (a horse spooking) could happen to anyone regardless of age, experience or riding discipline, so please accept this public service announcement to always wear your protective headgear when on a horse.

I was, however, crumpled up with a nasty pain in my back and hips. Although I swore I'd be fine and begged everyone to just let me stand up, they insisted on calling an ambulence and shuttling me off to the ER. Really all I wanted were some pain meds. I suppose it wasn't a bad idea for me to be in a place where my vital signs could be monitored. I remember being freezing for my first couple of hours in the hospital. They must have given me four blankets and even then I was constantly trying to warm my feet. I suppose I was probably at risk for shock. Other than that, there was nothing wrong with me. X-rays and CAT scans showed no broken bones. I was just badly bruised and I was going to have to put up with pain for a while. Just before I left I finally got the drugs I had been begging for. I was grateful for the constant presence of my mother, husband, and good friend Lynne.

So this week isn't one for cooking. I'm not too comfortable hobbling around the kitchen. Percoset and icy roads don't make for ideal conditions to drive to the store to buy ingredients either. Thank goodness my wonderful husband is so good at fetching takeout. I do at least have my unposted blog below for your enjoyment. Hope to get myself at least reading your blogs again and maybe next week I can go back to doing my own cooking.

I love it when I stumble on new blogs. Sometimes I find them when someone new comes here to visit TERP. Sometimes I will randomly click on the blog of someone posting comments on blogs I already read. Every once in a while a random Google search will help me find a new blog.

That happened to me this week. I was looking for a recipe when I came across My NYC Food blog. Although the blog didn't have the exact recipe I was looking for, it had enough interesting stuff on it for me to keep reading anyway. It's always nice to find another local* blogger too. It was filled with simple, nutritious recipes with an Asian flare. I can't even hate Nika for being such a gorgeous skinny model.

I didn't find the recipe I was looking for, but I did find a great idea for a weeknight meal.

Sweet soy pork chops with ginger scallion noodles and pickled daikon sounded great to me.

I had to make some adjustments though.

First I had to use chicken rather than pork chops if I didn't want to have to make my husband a separate dinner. I wanted to use thighs, but the horrible local A&P where I was forced to shop didn't have them. I settled for the breastacles. The marinade contained 2 spoonfuls of agave nectar instead of sugar.

I also skipped the pickled daikon. Just a little too risky to try to serve that to the husband.

Instead of cabbage (which he doesn't like) and shitakes (which I don't like) I used bok choy.

The noodle recipe I pretty much followed to the letter. The ingredient list doesn't include shallots, but the instructions did, so I used 3 of them. I also separated the white parts of the scallions from the green and cooked the white parts with the shallots and and tossed the greens with the ginger and cooked noodles.

The plateful. Yum. Husband just loved this. Chicken was tender and flavorful and husband wants me to make this again soon. The flavors in the marinade were so simple, but they hit all the right notes.

I also made a chocolate tart to soothe my soul after seeing all of the snow this week. It was made with a basic tart crust and then some basic ganache went inside.

I doctored the ganache a bit. I made hazelnut praline by melting 1 cup of sugar and mixing it with 1 cup of chopped, toasted hazelnuts. Then I pulverized it in the food processor and mixed it with the ganache along with a touch of Frangelico.

Good stuff!

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart


1 Rich Tart Pastry Shell, partially baked
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken in small pieces
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbl Frangelico

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place your toasted nuts in a single layer on the sheet.

In a small saucepan, cook sugar over medium high heat, swirling occasionally for even melting and also occasionally washing any crystals off the side of the pot with a brush dipped in cold water. Take the sugar to a deep amber. Pour sugar over nuts and let cool till set.

When the praline is set, whirl into a fine powder in a food processor. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place chocolate pieces in a large bowl and bring cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate. Allow to stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile beat eggs and vanilla in a small bowl.

Stir the melted chocolate and cream together to combine. Carefully mix in eggs and praline powder. Pour into tart shell.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until edges are set. Allow to cool for an hour.

*I consider that a local blogger. I have to wonder if the city folk would consider us suburbanite bumpkins as local though. :-D

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Stuff and Some Duck Pasta

I've been back in the kitchen a bit more this week. My brains haven't exactly been working overtime with new recipes, so I have been going through the mental Rolodex of blogger recipes I have wanted to ruin try cooking. Earlier this week it was Cathy's Margarita Chicken. I didn't even deviate from the recipe with the exception of using breasts instead of thighs (free range breasts were available at the store so I thought it was better to use them). I realize how much I like tequilia. I must find other ways to use it in recipes.

Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a friend, maybe in an area you don't know, and you just go along and don't even pay much attention to what the restaurant was or where it was, and then you eat something divine, but you can't really return to the place again because you don't remember the name or how to find it again?

No? Okay, so I guess it's just me.

Many many moons ago I was on a trip to D.C. with an ex boyfriend and we stayed in some seedy hotel in Vienna, VA. The morning we left we had a late breakfast in a diner down the street. The diner was heavily advertising a chocolate cake that had won a prize at a local chocolate festival. XBF and I decided to order it. (Hey, I said it was a LATE breakfast.) The base was a brownie studded with PB and butterscotch chips. It was topped with layers of white and dark chocolate mousse. Then it was enrobed in more dark chocolate crisscrossed with white chocolate ribbons to make the cake look like a wrapped package.

I don't remember the name of the diner. I only remember the cake. I know I will never go back there. I don't ever have reasons to go to D.C. with the hubby and I am sure that he would not want to stay in that hotel if we did. I'm sure he'd love the cake though. I wish I could find that diner and see if the deliver.

Let's spring forward about 3 years. I befriended a guy named John on an internet forum. He was really in love with Chinatown. After chatting via email and on the forum he got me really interested in the area. He suggested we try having lunch. He would introduce me to his favorite dim sum place.

The day we met we met up on a corner kind of on the edge of where Chinatown starts. He led me through the streets - all unfamiliar to me - to a bridge. There was a mall attached to that bridge. It wasn't a particularly glamorous mall. There were more stalls than stores. It was sort of like a flea market. At one end we came to a grand staircase that looked almost out of place. At the top was a beautiful Chinese restaurant.

This was my first dim sum experience. The carts came by and the servers pushing them spoke little English. John advised me to "just point to whatever looks good." Plenty looked good! We must have sampled everything. It was a great meal and very reasonably priced. We were charged by the piece, so we could have made the meal as cheap or expensive as we wanted. After lunch, he took me to another place where I tried bubble tea for the first time.

John and I fell out of touch after a while after he left the forum we were both part of. We never had dim sum together again. Since that day I have only had it one other time.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about that place. Top Chef did that dim sum episode that really had me craving dim sum and it jarred memories of that weird restaurant. What was it? What was the name? Where was it? Thanks to Google Maps I could certainly find it again if I had the address.

I looked up John on Facebook. I figured it would be nice to talk to him again anyway and see how he's doing. He doesn't appear to have an account. I decided that the best thing to do was to ask people in the know. I put a posting on Chowhound (although doing stuff like that makes me nervous because you never know how people will respond).

Within minutes I had an answer. The restaurant is called 88 Palace. Chowhounders were able to recognize the place just from my description, although of course I had to deal with those snooty foodies who needed to tell me how bad it was and all of the "good" places I need to try instead. I could find it on a Google map easily.

Of course now that I know where it is doesn't mean I'll go back. I can't really see my husband shlepping all of the way down to Chinatown (he's not a below 14th street kind of guy) just for dim sum. My thought is that it would be a great place if friends wanted to meet in the city, or if I had out-of-town guests looking for an adventure. I'm lucky that I do get one or two of those now and then.

Always great to find a "lost" place. If only I could find more of that chocolate cake!

So what's on tap for orginal recipes lately?

It seems that this is the week when I take most of my inspiration from other bloggers, although in this case, the inspiration led me pretty far away from the original recipe.

After reading about this recipe on We Are Never Full I found myself covered in drool and wish for some foie gras ravioli.

I can't say I was terribly motivated to replicate that recipe though. I just don't hvae the time or patience to be filling ravioli (even though they have a new baby and have way more of an excuse not to do such a thing). Besides my wallet and waistline are both saying that pate and foie gras are not something they would like to go up against.

Still, I could not get the idea of a nice, hearty winter pasta dish, just a little rich, a little luxurious, and containing at least some duck fat, out of my head. How could I make a duck pasta?

I did a bit of googling around and came up with this recipe.

Duck foie gras may be out of my league, but how about some duck confit legs? Duck confit is another thing I'm not likely to make myself. It's not just because of the time factor, but also because I'd go broke trying to procure the amount of duck fat necessary to make it.

Caramelize some onions in duck fat. Add some carrots for sweetness.

This looks good enough to stick your face in with just the duck...

...but some red wine is necessary along with sweet spices.

Serve with a hearty pasta. I used spirals here although I would have preferred penne or rigatoni. They only had shells, spaghetti, or spirals at the store in the gluten-free varieties. I think my gluten-free experiment may be coming to an end. We just can't seem to commit. I try to be gluten-free in my own kitchen (although I will often use regular flour in baked goods when I'm baking for people outside my family), but when we're out all bets seem to be off. I manage to stay off sandwiches much of the time, but not all of it, while Kevin eats them regularly on weekends. Gluten free bread tends to crumble to dust when you bite it making sandwiches hard to eat when you use it. If Kevin truly has intolerances, he's managed to live with whatever issues they cause and I get the impression he'd rather live with it than give up gluten entirely. We have certainly cut back on a lot of refined grain products thanks to this experiment and I think we got that much out of it, so I will certainly continue to think about these things going forward.

Don't forget to top it with some pecorino. This dish was amazing. It made the house smell wonderful and it tasted even better. It's definitely a keeper for cold winter night.

Pasta with Duck Confit Ragu

2 onions, thinly sliced
2 Tbl duck fat
2 carrots cut into small pieces
2 duck confit legs torn into pieces
1 cup red wine
2 cups low-sodium beef stock
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound pasta (use a macaroni type rather than spaghetti type)
Grated pecorino to serve

Melt duck fat over low heat in a large skillet. Add onions and cook slowly until they turn golden and soft (about 30-40 minutes). Add carrots to the pan and cook until they begin to soften.

Add the duck confit to the pan and stir to incorporate them into the mixture. Add the wine, cinnamon, and stock and scrape up any brown bits.

Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Season with salt and pepper. You really won't need much salt.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions for time. Drain and serve with sauce.

Top with pecorino.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Born Round by Frank Bruni

Once again I'm sorry for the lack of blogs lately. I've been in a whirlwind of activity lately with theater and concerts and parties and such. I eat on the run way too often. I'm hardly home to cook these days. (I'm not following Emily's advice and writing a few blogs per week it seems.)

While I don't have much time to cook, I do spend much of my time on trains these days and therefore I have plenty of time to read. I recently finished Born Round, by former NY Times food critic, Frank Bruni. I picked it up at the bookstore thinking that it would be a fun read and that it would be nice to review it for TERP. I always say I need to review more food-related books here.

The back cover gives very little detail about what you will find inside. You start reading knowing one thing: the book will talk about how hard it is to be a food critic when you struggle with your weight. I think I was expecting something along the lines of Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. What I got was an intensely personal memoir not just of the life of a restaurant critic, but about food, weight, and love.

Bruni starts out with a humorous look at his childhood. Right from boyhood he was a person who loved eating. As a toddler he would demand second and third helpings, and if his mother didn't deliver, he would throw up, as if to prove he could make more room for more food. His family was a typical Italian-American family where large meals are a way of life and how much you're willing to cook (and how much you're willing to eat others' cooking) is the ultimate expression of love. Bruni indulged openly.

It's interesting to see how food can be such a central part of family life. Yes, my family is Italian too (at least partially) and many of us are big eaters (including me). I too have Bruni's love of food. There are times when I just want to cram my gaping maw with everything delicious. It just amazed me how meals in the Bruni family were always without limits. The description of the Bruni Thanksgiving (a turkey, a turkey breast for sandwiches later, a ham, two kinds of sweet potatoes, cheese course, homemade desserts, cannoli - I'm not even scratching the surface here) where not having ample leftovers meant you didn't cook enough food, made my jaw drop. How can you not be fat in this environment?

As Bruni grew older he began to become self conscious about his weight. He knew he was heavier than his brothers. He would go on diets and he was a successful competitive swimmer but his weight often would yo-yo. As he grew older, the more self-conscious he became and the more extreme his measures.

Right from high school Bruni is brutally honest about his sexuality. His first mention of it in the book is when he is in high school and a female friend asks him why he didn't have a girlfriend. He told her that he didn't want a girlfriend. He wanted a boyfriend. Bruni is a few years older than I am, the same age as my brother, so this must have been back in the late 70s or early 80s. It wasn't quite the era where teenagers usually felt comfortable being out. I admired his courage in deciding to accept and who he was at such a young age.

Throughout college we continue to see his struggles. He tried illegal Mexican speed. He became bulimic (with purging, laxatives and "running it off"). He never felt any real self-acceptance, and while he often met interesting men, he could not bring himself to have relationships with many of them. In one poignantly funny chapter, he would go to a potential suitor's apartment and refuse to take off his jacket.

As his career in journalism progresses we continue to join Bruni on his journey of loss and gain and the highs and lows of his self esteem. He took a job with the Detroit Free Press and continued his running regimen. At this point he met a man whom he was not sure he really can love, but who was extremely accepting of him. The two of them moved in together and enjoy exploring the restaurants in the area. But the relationship ended badly when Bruni relocated to New York to work for the Times. We see him continue to avoid relationships because of his weight. In another chapter he met a man whom he really felt he had a chance with, but he didn't want to actually go on a date with him unless he could lose a few pounds. He felt all he needed was a week or two. At the beginning of the week he ate well for a few days and then lost willpower only to pig out over the weekend. That caused him to postpone the date. Eventually the object of his affection was tired of waiting and lost interest.

He ended up covering Bush's campaign. It's nonstop eating on the campaign trail and there is no time for exercise. Bruni returned home from the journey fatter than he had ever been. He continued to work in Washington, but he was very reclusive. At home at night he would go home and order takeout from 3 different restaurants and eat it all alone in front of the TV. There were major upheavals in his life as his siblings married and had children and then his mother died of cancer. He seemed to measure his life by how many pants sizes he was going up. One day one of his brothers called him out and called him fat. That became a defining moment. He felt all of that depression over the loss of his mother, his failed romantic relationships, and his lack of control over his weight and his life. He knew he wanted to make a change.

While still in DC he began to take more positive steps. He signed on with a personal trainer who is extremely tough and doesn't take any nonsense. He took up running again. He even began dating.

The real light bulb went off in his head when he was transferred to Rome. He noticed just how thin Italians are. As a man of Italian extraction himself, Bruni had assumed all Italians loved food. He tried to understand how they did it. Italians aren't that active. They don't walk the way the French do (they prefer their little motor scooters). They don't smoke as heavily as many Americans think they do (and like other European countries have been doing in recent years, they have been curbing smoking in public places). They also eat more sugar than Americans think they do (sweet pastries are a typical breakfast).

What Bruni came to realize is that Italians are masters of portion control. In Italy a roast chicken can serve 6 people instead of 2. Pasta isn't mounded onto the plate. It just covers the bottom of the bowl. Italians eat many different foods in one sitting, but they only eat a little of them. Everything is eaten in moderate amounts and savored. Bruni began to adapt the same habits. He also continued to stay active. (It's hilarious reading about how hard it is to actually work out in a Roman gym. You need a doctor's note just to join. Doc had better administer a stress test if you want to use the treadmill.) While in Italy he was also able to meet someone special and have a healthy, stable relationship.

Although it was scary for him to return to NY and be a food critic, he did find that he could apply the principles he learned in Italy. He would bring other diners with him to share things. He would eat just three of four bites of the foods he ordered. He continued to work out and managed to stay at a healthy weight. Bruni doesn't go into too much detail about his life as a critic and staying undercover the way Ruth Reichl does (that's not really the point of the book) but he does have plenty of amusing anecdotes about how restaurants treated him and how he tried to fly under the radar.

Bruni's conclusion about dieting was simple. There are plenty of diets and gimmicks out there and he has certainly tried them. He and his mother were early adherents of the Atkins Diet. It always boils down to just eating less.

As someone who also really loves eating and who also struggles constantly with her weight, I did find I could relate to this book on a few levels. Perhaps both my eating habits and my neuroses about them were never to Bruni's level, but I still knew exactly what he was talking about with his rationalizations: Break your diet on Wednesday? Well, let's not start till Monday when we have a fresh start. Now pig out from Thursday to Sunday as a last hurrah. I know it well.

I know that feeling of just wanting to shovel food in my mouth. I have family members who worried when you didn't take a second helping (my paternal grandmother was champion of that). Fat has never stood in the way of a relationship, but it has often made me self-conscious about doing some of my favorite activities. I love dancing, but I hate to watch myself dance because I'm a dancing troll. Reading about Bruni conquering his food demons was a true inspiration for me.

Born Round is definitely a must-read for anyone who wonders if she loves food too much.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beef for a Winter's Night

Do you know what my favorite sandwich was when I was a kid? You might guess PB&J, and you would be close (I certainly remember a phase). I had my ham now and then. I would go on and off bologna. I eschewed turkey.

My sandwich of choice was roast beef.

When I think of it, I think I would have been happy to leave off the sandwich part. Those slices of rare beef were the best thing in the world and didn't need any bread to take away from the experience. The bread just made it more portable for school lunches.

I loved hot roast beef soaking in gravy as well. I didn't have it very often at home growing up. The folks most likely to cook for me weren't into rare beef the way I am. Large cuts of beef tended to be braised or else served in single serving cuts like steak or burgers so everyone could have beef cooked to his or her liking. Hot sliced roast beef was a restaurant or party food. I would have it most often at catered events or hotels.

I don't see much in the way of hot sliced roast beef and gravy these days. Sure there is rib roast au jus. I often see filet with peppercorn-brandy sauce. I even see all forms of brisket. But what about an oven roasted top round coated in gravy that you can eat with a fork? The closest I can find is the hot open beef sandwich* at the diner. (Unfortunately the gravy at my local diner tastes strange and I don't order it anymore.)

I hadn't thought about roast beef and gravy in quite some time until I found myself watching Cooks Country last week. I only caught the last half of it. The cook giving that day's demonstration had just made a lovely roast beef. Her next order of business was the gravy. She assured the host that this was no jus. This was real gravy and it was the best part.

In the pot she used to cook the roast she browned some onions, carrots, and mushrooms that were cut in big chunks in some oil. She added flour for a roux. Next she added beef stock and red wine. That was brought to a boil and taken down to a slow simmer. At the end she strained out the vegetables and then sliced the beef that had been patiently sitting under foil, doing its thing with its juices.

I wanted that. I wanted that for dinner right then and there.

I didn't quite have it right away, but I did make it last night. I tried to remember what I learned from the TV show, but made a tweak or two.

I cut some slits in the meat and stuck little slices of garlic in them. Then I rubbed the meat with Penzeys Special Seasoned Sea Salt and let it come to room temperature.

I roasted it at 375 until it came to 140 degrees. I tented it with foil and let it sit while I made the gravy.

First I browned sliced mushrooms in olive oil and then removed them from the pan.
I cut up some onions and carrots in really small pieces and browned them as well. Some potato starch and a little more oil went into the pan.

Next came beef broth and red wine. There was lots of stirring in every step to make sure that every last brown bit from the pan was loosened. Boil and reduce to a simmer till thick.

Initially I did not want to strain the gravy the way they did on Cooks Country. I wanted to integrate it and blend the onion and carrot into the liquid in the blender to make it even thicker. I purposely cut the carrots and onions small so they would cook faster. They didn't cook fast enough though and the night was growing later, so I strained them out after all. Then I was annoyed that I had cut them so small!

I added the mushrooms back to the gravy (so it would be mushroom gravy) and served it over the beautiful sliced meat. Mashed potatoes would have been more traditional, but I made sweet potatoes because I felt I needed something really nutritious amongst all of this saturated fat. Some green beans made the plate really pretty.

The snowstorm began as I was cooking this meal. What could be comforting on a snowy winter's night? The beef was tender and lightly perfumed with garlic and perfectly cooked. The gravy was everything gravy should be. The wine I used was a South Africa red I was unfamiliar with that had been left over from Christmas. It gave the gravy a taste of sweet spices.

Roast Beef with Mushroom Gravy

1 3-4-pound bottom round roast
1 Tbsp of your favorite seasoning blend (or just salt and pepper)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

2 Tbl olive oil, divided
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl potato starch (or flour)
2 carrots cut in large chunks
1 onion chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves
3 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove roast from refrigerator an hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut 8 small slits around the roast and insert a slice of garlic in each one. Sprinkle generously with seasoning.

Place in a pan (one that you can put on the stove and make gravy in) and cook for about 20 minutes per pound or until temperature reaches 145 degrees.

When cooked remove from pan and tent with foil.

Place the pan on the stove and add 1Tbl olive oil to the pan. Brown the mushrooms in the olive oil and remove. Keep scraping up the brown bits from the bottom. Set aside.

Add carrots, thyme leaves, and onion to the pan and let the carrots take on some color and the onions soften. Make sure you keep scraping up those bits!

Add the next Tbl of olive oil and whisk the flour/starch into it. Cook until it stops tasting raw and becomes somewhat fragrant.

Whisk in wine and stock and stir till smooth. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil. Take it down to a simmer and simmer about 20 minutes or until thick.

Add mushrooms back into the gravy. Serve over sliced meat.

*Maybe I take back what I said about the bread. When gravy is involved, bread is handy for making sure you don't miss any of it. I guess bread is superfluous only when the meat is served cold and plain.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mole Spiced Fried Chicken - Because I Still Can't Resist a Blogger Challenge

Happy New Year to all of my TERP muffins! I suppose it may seem that I disappeared off the face of the earth for a bit. Let's just say I had a little unscheduled vacation recently. In my last post I mentioned that I was heading to Chicago that evening so SPP and his brother could go to the Jets/Bears game the next day. We were planning to fly home Monday evening.

Mother Nature wasn't so cooperative with the plan, however, and a snowstorm covered New York on Sunday, and the airports didn't open until Monday afternoon. Our flight home was canceled and we were unable to get a flight home until Thursday. This left us stranded in Chicago for a few days. We made the best of it. Kevin's brother put us up in rather nice accomodations and we spent time time exploring some of the museums I've wanted to see. Sadly, I once again missed seeing other Chicago bloggers or eating any of the Chicago food specialties.

It's good to be home, cooking my own meals and playing with my Kinect. Once I was back in the kitchen, it was time to answer another Blogger challenge.

If you were to ask me what my favorite food is, I would have a hard time coming up with any one thing. I love fried chicken and dishes of Thai coconut curry, and NY pizza and good Mexican tacos, and jars of Nutella and chocolate chips cookies and ice cream. I have been known to sum up my favorite foods as, "Anything spicy, fried, or chocolate." There is an addendum to that about things covered in melted cheese, but for today's purposes, we must stick to the spicy, fried, and chocolate theme.

I mentioned in one of my Fry Daddy posts about my love of things spicy, fried, or chocolate. It was meant as a passing comment about why I should use my Fry Daddy more often, when the challenge came via comment from Peter. "You owe it to yourself and to the internet to make something spicy, fried, AND chocolate."

Easy for Peter to say. Have you ever seen his blog? He could charge money to let people view his refrigerator because I never cease to be amazed at what he just happens to have lying around the house. The things he creates from these ingredients are works of art. Imagine Thanksgiving quails (another challenge to throw quails in the Fry Daddy?) or the most exquisite Asian noodle soups. I'm sure he could come up with something that is simultaneously spicy, fried and chocolate by blindfolding himself, opening his refrigerator, and simply pointing randomly to stuff.
For me it was a little harder. What could I fry that would be contain something spicy and something chocolate?

I came up with a fairly obvious answer: Mole! Mole is spicy and it's made from chocolate. Now how could I fry it?

It didn't take too much brain squishing to come up with the idea of a mole-spiced fried chicken. I could simply incorporate the ingredients commonly used in mole sauce as a chicken coating. I assembled the usual suspects.

Chicken was first soaked several hours in buttermilk. Normally I add hot sauce, but this time I used crushed, dried arbol chilis.

Next I toasted some pepitas until they just took on a little color. Do you know how good this smells?

I spun them into a powder with cocoa nibs. Then I mixed the powder with flour (I used rice flour), ancho chili powder, cumin, and sesame seeds.

Chicken was dipped into the flour, redipped into the buttermilk, and dipped again. I let it sit for a few minutes before frying. Looks kind of gross doesn't it?

Looks much better after it fried.

I fried the legs first to test for time. I was a little afraid of the nuts burning, so I was reluctant to fry the chicken the whole way. Sure enough the legs got a bit black when cooked in the time the Fry Daddy instructions suggested. I ended up finishing the rest of the chicken in the oven. Oh well. So much for saying a Fry Daddy would mean I could fry the chicken the whole way. Maybe if I used just plain flour without burnable nuts it wouldn't turn black so quickly.

The taste? Pretty good, but needed more spice. I think the frying kind of overpowered the mole flavors. We enjoyed it, but we enjoyed it because it was fried chicken more than because it was fried with special spices.

It was the best smelling fried chicken ever though. Even reheating it made the the kitchen smell delicious. Warm chocolate, sesame and pumpkin seeds have a magic scent.

I believe I will continue my quest for the ultimate spicy, fried, and chocolate food. Perhaps a cinnamon-laced doughnut filled with chocolate-chili cream, or maybe lace that cream with cystallized ginger?

If my kitchen experiments aren't what I had hoped, should I keep blogging about them?

Mole Spiced Fried Chicken

1 quart buttermilk
2-4 dried arbol chiles, crushed
1 chicken cut up into 8 pieces
1/4 cup pepitas
2 Tbl cocao nibs
1 cup flour
2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Mix buttermilk and crushed chiles in a large bowl. Place chicken in the buttermilk and refrigerate several hours.

Heat oven to 350.

Toast pepitas in a pan until they become fragrant and slightly brown. Place in a small food processor or other grinding device and process until it's a fairly fine powder.

Mix flour, cumin, chili powder, salt, sesame seeds and cocao nib-pepita mixture in a shallow bowl.

Remove chicken pieces from buttermilk. Let excess drip off. Dip in flour. Place them on a rack over a pan to rest for a few minutes.

Fill a deep fryer with oil and preheat. Once oil is hot, place chicken pieces in and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Then place on cookie sheet and cook an additional 20 minutes.