I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Holy Mole!

This week's BSI challenge comes from London Foodie in New York, who chose chocolate (what? no one had picked chocolate yet?!). I love chocolate in all forms -- cakes, cookies, bars, beverages -- but today, for once in my life, my sweet tooth was not clamoring for a treat. Plus, I figured there would be cakes and sweets aplenty. Therefore, I thought I'd sneak chocolate into something a little different: a chicken with mole.

Now, before people scream that this is not a traditional recipe, I know that it's not. I know this because a) it only took me 30 minutes to make instead of 3 hours; b) it only called for two types of peppers; and c) I was making it, which means it was automatically inauthentic. But what it is, is rich, complex, smooth and muy rico.

(Mole, pre-blending)

For the uninitiated, mole -- which means sauce -- is a type of thick sauce (contrast guacamole with pico de gallo) from Mexico, and comes in a variety of combinations. These are differentiated by the types of peppers used, the nuts, spices, absence or presence of tomatoes or tomatillos, and too many other ingredients to discuss. They are unified by the fact that a true mole should have many ingredients and take hours to prepare. For the initiated, you know it's definitely worth the effort.

(A sample of the ingredients; they just looked so pretty)

I based my recipe on this one from Epicurious. It's probably closest to a mole poblano, but again I tempt fate by naming it as such when it's a streamlined version. I only made a few modifications. For example, I couldn't get my hands on the right peppers. But I figured I had several different kinds on hand: some fresh from the pot on my windowsill, some dried, and some chipotle flakes. Good enough for me. Also: I slightly decreased the amount of peppers used for my wee bit more sensitive taste buds. I didn't have Mexican chocolate, so I used a tablespoon of cinnamon which I added with the other spices. Finally, instead of simmering my chicken before shredding it, I browned my chicken thighs before baking them in the mole in the oven. I served them with black beans and rice, and I (almost) didn't miss having chocolate in my dessert.

Roast chicken thighs with mole

4-6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs depending on size

3 C. low-salt chicken broth
2 C. orange juice
1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
1/2 C. sliced almonds
6 large garlic cloves, sliced
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
4 ounces dried pasilla chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
1 ounce dried negro chiles, stemmed, seeded, torn into 1-inch pieces, rinsed
1/4 C. raisins
4 3 x 1/2-inch strips orange peel (orange part only)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 3.1-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add almonds, garlic, cumin, and coriander. Sauté until nuts and garlic begin to color, about 2 minutes. Add chiles and stir until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.

Pour chicken stock and orange juice into saucepan with onion mixture. Add raisins, orange peel, and oregano to saucepan. Cover and simmer until chiles are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat; add chocolate. Let stand until chocolate melts and sauce mixture cools slightly, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown chicken in a pan, skin side down. Transfer to a baking dish just large enough to hold the thighs, and arrange in one layer, skin side up.

Working in small batches, transfer sauce mixture to blender and puree until smooth. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon enough sauce into baking dish so that the chicken is sitting in the sauce, but the skin is still exposed. Bake in a 350 oven for about 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Serves 2, with a lot of leftover mole, which will keep in the freezer and is also excellent on other meats and fish or with enchiladas.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Italian job and fresh mozzarella and tomato salad

By popular demand, a few photos and memories of my vacation in Italy. I'm almost loath to post these because it's like reviewing your favorite local restaurant: you want to spread the word because it's amazing, but it's partly amazing because nobody goes there, and if you spread the word you'll never be able to get a table again. But Italy is less easy to get to, so I'm not as worried.

My "discovery" was the little island of Procida, a tiny neighbor of Capri. An archetypal Mediterranean fishing village, the only tourists there were other Italians, or day-trippers from Naples. Nobody spoke English, which resulted in me buying an entire box of nectarines for 2 Euros rather than 2 nectarines as I had tried to communicate.

This serene retreat is bounded on all sides by beautiful, dark, volcanic sand beaches that dip in to the bathwater-warm Mediterranean. We spent a day lying on some lounges, under an umbrella decorated like a giant hula skirt, watching the extremely tanned Italians walk past. I think when Italian women die, they don't go to heaven, they go to Louis Vuitton to be made into luggage.

But ah, the food. from the thin and crispy crackly pizza crust up north (did I mention I also got to go to Tuscany?) to the more robust crust of the famous pizzas of Naples, the perfectly brewed cappucino and the characteristic local (as in, grown the next hill over) wine, the tomatoes reeking of sunshine, the fish so fresh it's practically still swimming. And the paintbox palette of gelato in each cafe's freezer case: pistachio, melon, frutti di bosco, deep dark chocolate, and stracciatella (is there a more fun way to say chocolate chip?). I relax my rule about not having dessert twice in one day because I feel that if I'm not having gelato after lunch and dinner I'm wasting my time.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Now back home, trying to recapture my sojourn on this island, I tried to cook up something quintessentially Italian. Nothing says "Italy" to me like a fresh mozzarella and tomato salad. I know this is hardly a recipe, and more like a collection of ingredients arranged on a plate, but it is so evocative of Italy that I had to post it. In Italy, we were buying tomatoes of all colors because they are sold when still green, even though the flavor has fully developed in the hot sun. Here, to get that snazzy look, I had to buy some different varieties for the color contrast. Red, yellow, orange and purple: how could you not like this? It is almost worth coming home for.

Fresh mozzarella and tomato salad

Fresh mozzarella, torn into chunks
Ripest tomatoes possible, sliced any which way
Handful of basil scattered over top
A drizzle of herbacious olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Oatmeal pancakes with cranberry relish

The story of my Italian holiday will have to wait because of a happy intersection between my Saturday breakfast and Blogger Secret Ingredient. This week's host, Johnstone's Vin Blanc, chose oats as the ingredient of the week. Now, I love oats. I have oatmeal frequently, make my own granola, and have a not so secret addiction to granola bars. Really: they are that good.

But this week, I wanted a classic breakfast of a big stack of pancakes. When I want pancakes, my go-to book is The Pancake Handbook from Bette's Oceanview Diner in Berkeley. They are great recipes, though of course they taste better when Bette's kitchen is cooking them for me. Alas, being based in London, I can't have my pancakes and eat them too...

The recipe I chose was the oatmeal-raisin pancake recipe. This batter makes moist, nutty pancakes that -- due to the oats and whole wheat -- we can smugly feel are good for us. My changes to the recipe are to increase the proportion of oats and add a grating of fresh nutmeg, and also to ditch the raisins. The brown sugar gives these a natural sweetness and the addition of nuts is just gilding the lily.

I served the pancakes with some of my favorite cranberry sauce, which I make by the stockpot-ful and squirrel away to have on toast, oatmeal, or pancakes. Or, of course, with roast turkey. It's a sweet, tart, spicy sauce that goes with just about everything and begs you to eat it by the spoonful.

Oatmeal pancakes adapted from The Pancake Handbook

1 C. whole wheat flour
1 C. quick-cooking oats
3 T. brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 C. milk (also good with buttermilk)
2 T. melted butter
1/4 C. chopped walnuts or pecans

In a small bowl, combine the oats with 1 C. milk and let soak for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nuts. In another bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then pour them into the oat and milk mixture along with the remaining 1/2 C. milk and the melted butter, then fold the wet into the dry ingredients in the larger bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.

Heat a pat of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop batter onto skillet, about 1/4 C. per pancake. Cook until small bubbles cover surface of the pancake, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes until golden brown.

Makes about 16 4" pancakes.

Cranberry relish (adapted from Sunset Magazine)

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, rinsed and drained
1 large Granny Smith apple, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly slivered, or minced finely
1 cup orange juice
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a 3 1/2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes or until some cranberries begin to pop and all sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, and allow to cool. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container until ready to use. If using slivered ginger, remove before serving or avoid eating the pieces!

Makes 3 1/2 C.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mid-summer ratatouille with polenta

I have been on vacation in Italy (just to gloat a little) and had intended to set something up to publish automatically while I was away, just in case everyone missed me, but in the pre-holiday craziness I forgot. Better than forgetting to turn off the oven, but I apologize to everyone who pined away for my posts in my absence.

More about Italy soon, but having just flown back in this afternoon (and boy are my arms tired) I am busy doing laundry, making sure nothing major happened at work, and reconciling myself to the fact that my vacation is over. I don't think I have anything in the fridge right now -- I made sure to pour out the dregs of the milk before I left (I have made that mistake before and it is a really smelly welcome home gift) -- so will have to hit the store to see what I can whip up. As much as I have been enjoying my pasta and pizza, I'm thinking tonight might be something more along the lines of a curry or a stir fry just for some variety.

But for now, though the cupboard is bare, I have a little something waiting in the wings to be posted. A few weeks ago, I went on a vegetable shopping spree at Borough Market because summer is all too short and I felt like I needed to lay in a supply, just because it was available. What to do with the bounty, besides put it in my vegetable bowl and admire my still life (which I think sounds much nicer than the French "nature morte", though I suppose the French is technically more true)? Thinking French, I decided a ratatouille -- or at least my interpretation of one -- would be perfect. I could have served it with crusty french bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with olive oil, but instead I decided to make some polenta. It was a perfect way to celebrate the season.

And now to try to find something for dinner tonight...

Mid-summer ratatouille with polenta

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, halved & quartered lengthwise, then chopped
1 medium zucchini, halved & quartered lengthwise, then chopped into 1/2 inch thick pieces
1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
fresh basil

In medium sauce pan, heat oil and saute onion until soft. Add garlic, cook for a few minutes. Then add carrot and tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and bell pepper, cook until soft but not falling apart. Add chickpeas and heat through. Serve with fresh basil leaves torn over the top, with polenta.

1/2 C. polenta
2 C. water
1 tsp. salt

Boil water. Add polenta to pan of water, whisking to remove clumps, then stir through while polenta thickens and cooks. Polenta is supposed to cook slowly for 30 minutes or more, with the cook stirring all the while. I find I make very tasty polenta in about 5 minutes, just stirring so it doesn't burn.

Serves 2
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