Mole amarillo for turkey enchiladas

Mole amarillo2Mole amarillo is a classic sauce for Day of the Dead meals in Oaxaca. When we first started visited the Oaxaca region in the 1980s, we already knew the spicy, chocolate-y mole poblano. But of the seven classic moles, the one that really blew us away was the complex, subtle, and tangibly acidic mole amarillo (yellow mole). It was the first taste of travel that we labored to bring home. In those days, that meant growing our own tomatillos and yellow chile peppers and experimenting a lot to get the flavors right. It really does represent the culmination of our garden, which may be why we introduced mole amarillo with enchiladas into our post-Thanksgiving rotation many years ago. It’s a perfect way to use to leftover turkey. We often serve it accompanied by saffron rice mixed with sautéed scallions, corn, and coarsely grated carrot from the excellent New Southwestern Cooking by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger.

The concentrated form of the sauce can be made far ahead, preserved in canning jars, and be ready to eat in 20 minutes. Just follow the directions through Step 3, ladle into sterilized canning jars, and process for 20 minutes at 10-15 lb. pressure. Because it’s a high-acid food, it will keep safely in canning jars for up to two years. Or so we think. We’ve never been able to hold onto it that long.

MOLE AMARILLO (YELLOW MOLE)

Traditional variations of this autumn Oaxacan sauce, often served on the Day of the Dead, substitute dried cascabel peppers for the yellow peppers and marigold petals or safflower stamens for the saffron. Epazote is a common weed all over North America, often found in vacant lots. When crushed, its leaves smell a bit like kerosene.

Ingredients

8 fresh yellow chiles (Fresno, Santa Fe Grande, etc.), roasted, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 raw onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 lb. tomatillos, husked, parboiled and drained
1 roasted medium onion
1 roasted head of garlic
1 toasted cinnamon stick
6 toasted whole cloves
2 medium tomatoes, roasted and peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh
8 epazote leaves, minced
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 tablespoons toasted peanut or sesame oil
1 slice raw onion
generous pinch of saffron
4 cups strong chicken broth
1/2 cup tortilla dough (masa)

Directions

1. Sauté chiles, raw onion and garlic until soft. Purée and set aside.

2. Purée tomatillos, roasted onion and garlic, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, epazote and tomatoes.

3. Heat oils in heavy skillet. Add onion slice and brown. Stir in tomatillo mixture and cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until mole renders out the fat. Stir in chile mixture and simmer about 1 hour or until mixture thickens. Fat on top may be skimmed off.

4. Crumble and dissolve saffron in warm chicken broth. Dissolve tortilla dough in broth.

5. Add to the mole and simmer about 20 minutes until texture of custard, stirring often.

Traditionally served over chicken pieces, enchiladas or as dipping sauce for small tamales.

29

11 2013

What to eat at the airport at LAX

Puck breakfast pizzaOver the years we’ve bypassed a lot of Wolfgang Puck Express eateries in many an airport in our quest to find restaurants and meals that truly speak of their place. But finally we found ourselves in the right place at the right time: LAX at breakfast. Or more specifically, LAX Terminal 7, the location of one of the two Wolfgang Puck Express restaurants at the sprawling airport (the other is at Terminal 2). Although Puck long ago went global with his fine dining, we think that his casual yet inventive food epitomizes the lifestyle of southern California, where he’s been based since 1975.

Luis delivers Puck breakfast pizza His Breakfast Pizza, which is big enough for two to share, is an easy-to-eat remix of of the bacon-egg-toast breakfast. The nicely chewy thin crust is topped with scrambled eggs, mozzarella, cheddar, bacon, caramelized onions, and chopped chives. It’s available to eat in or take out. The kitchen exercises restraint with the toppings, making it possible to consume the pizza in cramped airplane seats without mishap. But we had enough time before our flight to sit down and relax in the restaurant and spread out over breakfast.

“Would you like some dessert?” our waiter asked us when we had finished. “A nice latte would be perfect.”

He was right.

15

11 2013

King’s Hawaiian: White bread with taste and soul

Bread puddingCourtney Tiara’s late grandfather founded King’s Hawaiian bakery in Hilo on the island of Hawaii in 1950. She brought a taste of the islands to Boston recently when she celebrated the introduction of the products to the area with a luncheon at Catalyst Restaurant in Cambridge.

According to Courtney, her grandfather was inspired by his Portuguese neighbors to create a soft and fluffy round bread similar to Portuguese sweet bread, but with a longer shelf life. The family-run company (Courtney’s 94-year-old great-uncle is the master baker) has expanded its product line to include dinner rolls, hamburger buns, and more. It relocated first to Honolulu and later to California. “My grandfather never imagined making it to California and then all the way out here,” she said.

lobster rollCatalyst chef William Kovel gave the bread a workout. He toasted the Original Hawaiian Sweet Round and topped it with seared foie gras, braised cherry, and orange. He served chicken liver mousse on a King’s Hawaiian crostini. He stuffed a hot dog bun with lobster salad. And he used the Original Sweet Round to make a bread salad to accompany a lamb tenderloin.

CourtneyThe dessert of white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce, Courtney’s personal favorite, is a King’s Hawaiian classic. “I make it all the time. You just have to be patient and let the bread dry out for a day so it will soak up the milk and eggs,” she said. “I under-bake mine a little because I like it wet.”

She may be partial to this combination, but Courtney encourages creativity. “Hawaiian style is real easy,” she said. “Just take whatever you have in your pantry and mix it up.”

WHITE CHOCOLATE CHIP BREAD PUDDING WITH CARAMEL SAUCE

Serves 9

Ingredients
King’s Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Round
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups white chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped

Directions
1. Cut the bread into cubes the night before and leave out to become a tad stale.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the white chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl. When the cream comes to a simmer, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream over the chips, whisking until the chips melt. Whisk the sugar into the mixture; add the milk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla.

3. Add the bread to the bowl, gently stirring to coat the cubes. Set the mixture aside to allow the bread to soak, tossing periodically (about 30-40 minutes).

4. Toss the pecans into the soaked bread mixture, then pour into a baking dish (individual dishes can be used for single servings).

5. Place in 350F oven for about 45 minutes. Test the bread pudding to make sure the top is golden brown and the inside is cooked (but not too dry).

6. Remove from oven and serve with caramel sauce and an optional scoop of vanilla ice cream.

CARAMEL SAUCE

Ingredients
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

1. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup. Place over high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves and begins to boil. Note: Do not stir the sugar as this could cause it to seize.

2. While the sugar is cooking, combine the cream, butter, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Keep an eye on the sugar while heating the cream to keep it from scorching. Cook until the butter melts, stirring it into the cream. When the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from heat.

3. Continue to cook the sugar until it darkens to a rich caramel color, 9 to 15 minutes. Swirl the pan as the sugar darkens. Watch carefully as it can burn easily at this stage.

4. When the sugar is rich caramel in color, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the cream mixture in a slow, steady stream. The sugar will bubble and steam as the cream is added. Stir in the vanilla.

5. Drizzle over individual servings of bread pudding.

Recipes adapted from King’s Hawaiian

22

10 2013

Last taste of summer in Tuscany

burrata tomato I just returned from touring vineyards in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG district in southwest Tuscany, and once in a while I had to stop to eat. One of the most memorable meals was at Trattoria Verdiana (Ponticello di Montemerano on the road between Scansano and Montemerano, tel: [011-34] 0564-602-576). It’s open nightly except Wednesday, and uses the produce from a 10,000 square meter garden as the basis for the menu. There, as here in New England, the growing season is coming to a close. So I was surprised and delighted when the amuse-bouche pictured above appeared in front of me. It’s a grape tomato (upside down) cut in half, filled with a dab of creamy burrata and a tiny basil leaf. The whole composition was then drizzled in a great local olive oil. It summed up summer in a bite.

16

10 2013

PEI potatoes make rich cake for dessert

root beer chocolate cakeMy gastronomic adventures on Prince Edward Island were not limited to shellfish. PEI is famous for its potatoes — the tiny island grows more than a quarter of the entire Canadian crop.

PotatoesChef Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown consults for the potato board, which was handing out all kinds of recipes at the PEI Internaional Shellfish Festival. Most of them were predictable — potato gnocchi, potato pancakes, potato pizza, etc. But Daniel came up with this delicious cake that uses mashed potatoes and Greek yogurt to create a dense, moist texture that keeps for days. She was giving away samples, and once I tasted it, I knew I had to get the recipe. I cut the recipe to one-quarter of the one given here, and cooked it in a 6-inch springform pan (see photo above). The results were identical.

CHEF ILONA’S ROOTBEER CHOCOLATE PEI POTATO CAKE

Ingredients

1 cup mashed and hot PEI Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup water, warm
1 cup full-fat (9%) Greek yogurt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon root beer extract
4 large eggs
1 cup cocoa
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9x13x2-inch baking pan using butter or non-stick oil spray, and dust with cocoa powder. Remove excess cocoa powder and set aside.

2. Whisk mashed potatoes, water, and yogurt until a smooth mixture is formed.

3. Beat butter, brown sugar and root beer extract for 4-5 minutes with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

4. Add 2 eggs and mix until blended, scrape down sides of bowl; add remaining eggs and continue mixing until well blended.

5. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt; stir to combine.

6. At low speed, alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients with the potato mixture into the egg mixture until just incorporated. ****DO NOT OVERMIX. Fold in chocolate chips.

7. Place batter into the prepared pan; smooth out top. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly and begins to move away from the sides of the pan.

8. Cool in the pan on a cooling rack. Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake or drizzle with an icing of your choice.

9. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Cake also freezes well

04

10 2013

Winning shellfish dish in PEI chef cookoff

Finalists cookJudging the final round of the Garland International Chef Challenge turned out to be a big deal. Instead of hiding in a back room while we tasted, Dominic Serio and I sat on the main stage while the two finalists cooked on the main floor of the hall in front of the stage. Chef Alain Bossé paced back and forth for an hour offering commentary and gently kidding both contestants.

With $10,000 on the line, the two finalists gave us their hand-printed menus. Marc Lepine was preparing lobster poached in orange beurre blanc with crab meatballs, miso mayo, fennel sponge, wild rice crispies, and lobster jus. Ryan Morrison proposed “packed” lobster tail, oyster and crab hushpuppies, cauliflower purée, chanterelle and spearmint “salad,” and dill-pickled mustard seeds. They had to complete the ambitious dishes from prep to plate in one hour.

00 - Marc's dishBoth competitors stayed calm and controlled as the clock ticked away. My view from the stage let me look down on their dishes (and the backs of their heads). Both chefs were methodical, executing their complex garnishes first — Lepine’s fennel sponge (made with agar-agar) and wild rice crispies (uncooked wild rice puffed in hot oil), and Morrison’s dill-pickled mustard seeds. Then they marshaled each segment of the dish in an order so that everything hot would be done last for presentation.

Even the way they chose to plate showed the different mindsets of two tremendously talented chefs. Lepine saw his plate as a series of featured items linked by sauces, and that’s how he plated them. Morrison saw his plate as a gestalt of flavors, and he literally piled one element on top of another. The final judging was close but unanimous. Both plates were gorgeous (and delicious). They were very different, but in the end, tiny details made the difference. Morrison’s pickled mustard seeds really thrust the shellfish flavors front and center, while Lepine’s bland fennel sponge detracted from the seafood. Ryan Morrison, whose dish is pictured below, went back to Vancouver $10,000 richer than when he had come.
00-ryan's dish

01

10 2013

Enjoying a great meal in Charlottetown at Lot 30

Halibut You would not have thought I’d still be hungry, but between rounds of judging I found time to have dinner at Lot 30 (151 Kent St., Charlottetown, PEI, 902-629-3030, lot30restaurant.ca). Charlottetown is not a big place (fewer than 35,000 people), but Lot 30 and chef Gordon Bailey could hold their own in Montreal, Boston, or Toronto. The restaurant is a spacious room with hardwood floors, wooden tables and chairs, and several pieces of Op Art on the walls. Since I was dining alone, co-owner Traci Bailey (Gordon’s wife) placed me at the bar in front of a video screen showing the kitchen’s plating station. Watching disembodied hands assembling each plate before it came out was as hypnotic as staring into an aquarium.

Lot30 dining roomThe décor is low key because chef Gordon Bailey’s cuisine is the star, and those plates coming out of the kitchen are full of drama. I opted for the five-course tasting menu ($65) and let Bailey call the shots. My meal included pan-seared scallops in carrot butter with a browned bearnaise with toasted pistachio nuts; seared halibut with roasted beets, butternut squash purée, and an olive-orange “vinaigrette”; lobster fricasee with field greens and foraged lobster mushrooms; a meat pairing of grilled ribeye with champagne grapes and maple-glazed pork belly with potato pierogi on crème fraiche; and a dessert plate with a sliver of nut-crusted flourless chocolate cake, burnt almond ice cream, and blackcurrant cassis sorbet.

GordonBailey wasn’t doing anything special for the visiting judge. Each of these dishes was on the menu that night. Lot 30 also has a remarkably good wine list, especially given all the tax and import challenges of the maritime provinces. It so happened that several of the chefs I was judging also went to Lot 30 the same night I did, and Bailey made a dining room appearance to greet them. He looked very much as shown here with an oyster knife (he was about to compete in an oyster-shucking contest). I think he maybe scared a few of them….

LOT 30 HALIBUT WITH ROASTED BEETS, BUTTERNUT
SQUASH PUREE, AND ORANGE-OLIVE VINAIGRETTE

Every dish on my tasting menu was a hit, but this one had some simple tricks of technique that will actually change how I cook from now on. Roasting the beets whole in foil makes them especially sweet, and the skins just slip off. Moreover, Bailey’s technique with the fish produces a moister fillet than cooking on both sides, then removing to a plate and holding it in a warm oven. I intend to sear all my fish this way from now on.

Serves 2

Ingredients

4 baby beets
canola oil
2 4-ounce halibut fillets, about 1 inch thick
juice from 4 Valencia oranges
2 teaspoons sugar
puréed butternut squash (warm)
12 kalamata black olives pitted and chopped
scallion greens sliced on diagonal for garnish

Technique

1. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and roast in 425F oven for 20 minutes. Let cool in foil. Unwrap and peel.

2. Grease heavy skillet or griddle with canola oil. Heat over high flame. Meantime, salt both sides of halibut fillets. Place on hot pan and sear until top is beginning to lose translucency. Remove pan from heat and set aside while finishing dish.

3. Combine orange juice and sugar and stir to dissolve. Place over high heat and reduce to one-quarter volume.

4. Paint hot plate with broad swash of butternut squash. Place a fillet on each plate, flipping it over so seared side is up. Place a beet at each end of fillet. Sprinkle chopped olives on top and pour reduced orange juice over the fish and beets. Garnish with scallion greens and serve.

29

09 2013

Trying to judge the best shellfish chefs in Canada

judge101I was honored to be asked to judge the Garland Canada International Chef Challenge, one of the highlights of the PEI International Shellfish Festival. Ten world-class chefs compete for a grand prize of $10,000, sponsored by Canada’s lead producer of professional kitchen equipment. I joined chefs Alain Bossé from Nova Scotia (aka the Kilted Chef) and Dominic Serio, the vice president of the Atlantic division of the Canadian Culinary Federation. The challenge for the chefs was to cook a plate incorporating at least three of the following PEI shellfish: lobster, jonah crab meat, mussels, and soft-shell clams. The challenge for the judges was to choose the best dishes from a field of highly talented competitors.

I don’t know what what goes on back stage on Top Chef and the other televised culinary competitions, but the three of us used a version of the international culinary competition form that spelled out the criteria for judging. We gave each contestant up to 15 points for presentation and general appeal; up to 30 points for taste, texture, and technique; and up to 5 points for menu description (including spelling).

judge102The competition was fierce, and included last year’s winner, Marc Lepine of Atelier in Ottawa, who was also 2012 Canadian Culinary Champion. Some Americans crept in — Jamie Parsons of Legal Sea Foods in Burlington, Mass., and Michael Reidt, recently of Area 31 and now about to open open his own restaurant in Miami. Danny Smiles, who just took over at Le Bremner in Montreal, was first runner-up in last year’s Top Chef Canada. Others included Shawn Jackson of the Mill Street Brew Pub in Ottawa, Kyle Panton of Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar in PEI, and Michael Blackie of Nextfood in Ottawa. Some of my personal favorites (after the judging was done, of course) were Ryan Campbell, who will be opening his own farm and restaurant near Niagara Falls in the spring, Ryan Morrison of the Glowbalgroup in Vancouver (including Granville Island’s Fish Shack), and the one woman in this group, the kickass talented Charlotte Langley of Catch in Toronto. (That’s her at the stove in the photo at the top of this post.)

Chefs competed in two heats of five chefs each, and they had one hour to prepare and plate their dishes while the judges paced back and forth, checking on their progress. In previous years, the chefs had cooked behind closed doors at the culinary school far from the festival. This year they commandeered one of the side tents and allowing the general public to watch was one of the biggest draws of the festival.

judge103Both heats were so close that none of us knew who had won until an official from the Culinary School of Canada tallied our results and announced the two highest scores of the first day of competition. The dishes are here. The smaller one at left is by Ryan Morrison, and was a play on “green eggs and ham.” Each plate had an egg yolk half-cured in salt that made a creamy sauce when the diner stirred the dish. The larger one below was Marc Lepine’s beautiful masterpiece that included a lobster-crab timbale, where shaved lobster tail makes a wrap for crabmeat. The two of them represented extremes in contemporary cooking: Morrison’s gutsy and assertive dish, and Lepine’s model of finesse and technique. When their names were announced an hour later, we couldn’t wait to see what they would do for the finals the next day.
judge104

24

09 2013

Making PEI mussels like the mussel master

Mussels to steamAs a native Belgian and as the man who launched mussel aquaculture on Prince Edward
Island (see post), Joel Van Den Bremt has eaten his share of mussels over the years. When I asked him how he preferred to cook them, he thought a bit and told me, “steamed, but with the vegetables soft enough to eat. I like the vegetables, too.” I agree with him. Some diners will pass the mussels to someone else at the table and just concentrate on the mussel-flavored broth. I prefer the three-bowl plan: one for the mussels, one of the spent shells, and a third for broth and vegetables. Although you can steam mussels in a dry pan, relying on their own juices, many people add raw vegetables to the pot. But by the time the mussels are cooked, the vegetables are neither cooked nor raw. If you keep cooking to finish the vegetables, the mussels will come out vulcanized. Joel’s solution is to sauté the veggies first.

MUSSELS A LA JOEL

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients
1/4 lb butter, cut into pieces
6 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large carrot (2-3 salad carrots), cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups white wine
5 lb. (about 3 quarts) live blue mussels

Directions
In large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter, and add shallots, celery, and carrots. Stir steadily and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add wine and mussels. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened their shells.

Remove mussels to four bowls using slotted spoon. Ladle broth and vegetables into four smaller bowls.

PEI: Not your average foodies

Scott LinkletterI can’t say I’ve ever see an island where so many people make or gather or process wonderful food. Between judging duties at the International Shellfish Festival I had the chance yesterday to drive around the island a bit, heading up to the north shore to see a mussel processing operation (more on that later on), pay a visit to a potato farm, catch a picnic in the fields, and visit Raspberry Point oysters. That’s Scott Linkletter at the top of this post, hauling a cage of oysters to show how they’re grown using an Australian system of posts driven into the soft bottom of shallow waters. The cages are suspended on lines that hang on the posts. Every few days he and his staff haul cages out so the sun can dry out any incipient seaweed or mussel growth that would impede the flow of water to the oysters. It’s an ingenious system.

CampbellsI also got a chance to join a picnic being catered by the Pendergast brothers, chef David and baker Richard, at Mull Na Beinne Farm, where Vernon and Bertha Campbell have grown gorgeous PEI potatoes since 1980. Here are the Campbells in front of their giant potato harvester, which is manufacturer in Prince Edward Island. (Yes, there are a LOT of potatoes here.)

Mussel rollsRichard and David put on a great spread that included mussel rolls (mussels and mayo on sourdough finger rolls), a fine chowder, and baked beans with oyster sauce. Then David picked up a guitar (Richard had a fiddle) and played some tunes. Check out this verse of his original, “Campbelltown.”