We are now heading into that dreaded time my husband calls "The Dog Days of Winter." Although the days are lengthening, they're still rather short and all too often they're very cold. I'm not a winter lover at all. It's particularly tough on people like me because I have a year-round, outdoor hobby that keeps me out in the cold on weekends for hours at a time. As much as I love being with my horses, on some cold winter days I just want to stay home with blankets, a good book, and some comforting beverages (they can be of the chocolate or the alcoholic variety). It's rough being out there with chilled fingers and toes feeling the warmth get sucked out of your every pore every time you breathe!
This time of year is when everyone starts talking about "comfort foods" - foods that are warm, heavy, take a long time to prepare from scratch, and fill us up quickly. Examples of this might be big pans of homemade macaroni and cheese or lasagne, enormous pots of chili, loaves of butter-soaked homemade bread, soups lovingly prepared with homemade stock, or slow-cooked stews.
I have said numerous times on this blog that I tend to eat what I eat when I want to eat it. I'm not always so perfectly attuned to the seasons when I cook. I think part of my lack of attention to typical cold weather foods is that so many of them are heavy and starchy and I fear of gaining weight. Then there is the issue that some of them are cheesey or beefy and I can't serve them to my husband. As much as I like to say it's about being weird or cynical or rebellious, some of it is just being practical. I don't cook many stereotypical comfort foods because I feel I shouldn't be cooking them for health reasons, or because if I modified them, it would ruin exactly what makes them comfort foods in the first place.
Anyway, this blog has begun to chronicle a kind of change in attitudes in the past year or two. I have actually begun to experiment more with stews and braises. I find these types of recipes enormously fun to play with and as warm and satisfying as they are purported to be.
Obviously I braise a lot of chicken, so today's recipe will be a braised chicken. I learned the secret to making my husband be more receptive to braised chicken recipes. When I make chicken I prefer to use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (although I like skinless, boneless thighs when I need to cook something quickly). I like them because they are flavorful and more succulent than boneless, skinless varieties. Sir Pickypants doesn't like fussing with bones. He doesn't like having to work too hard for his food. When he was less than enthused about my coq au vin, his main complaint was that he had this giant, messy chicken breast to contend with. It was too much work to cut around the bones. (He's not a pick-it-up-and-stick-your-face-on-it type.)
I solve the problem quite easily now. I just cut the breast meat, skin and all, off the bone before cooking. It's easier for him to eat, but the flavor is still there. It also takes a bit less time to cook. The bones go into the freezer for future use in stock. It's a win-win situation.
Even before the attempt at coq au vin I made an attempt at mole verde sauce. I invented a recipe after cobbling together a few ideas I saw on the internet. It involved toasting and grinding seeds of all sorts and long slow cooking and more effort than it was worth considering it was another dish Sir Pickypants poo pooed. I really liked it, but I never saved my recipe for it. I decided there wasn't much point.
I've been craving something slow-cooked and fragrant with sweet spice lately. Now that I learned the secret to making my husband like whole chicken pieces, I have decided to try a mole sauce again. This is a more straight-up version than the green one I made previously. It still a ridiculous amount of effort as well, but it's so perfect on a winter night.
It was less sweet and a little spicier than I orginally intended, but after I ate the first serving, I realized just how addicitive this sauce is. Worth the effort after all.
A-Lot-of-Work-But-It's-Worth-It Chicken Mole
- 1 whole chicken, cut up (breasts removed from bone if desired)
- 6 large dried chili peppers of your choice, stemmed and seeded
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 cup pepitas
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbl sesame seeds
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ancho chili powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 Tbl cocoa powder
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tbl olive oil for frying
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes
Toss the pumpkin seeds and 1/2 cup sesame seeds with the cumin, cocoa, cinnamon and chili powder. Place them in a shallow pan over low heat and toast until everything is very fragrant - almost to the brink of burning. You will have to trust your nose as the spices will keep you from seeing how the seeds are browning. Place in a food processor or other grinding device and grind into a rough powder.
Meanwhile sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chicken well on both sides. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Add the pureed peppers and the tomatoes to the pan, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands. Mix well. Allow to simmer for a minute or two. Season with additional salt to taste.
Place the chicken back in the pan and simmer for about an hour.
Serve chicken sprinkled with remaining 2 Tbl sesame seeds.