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Monday, December 10, 2012

Easy Holiday Tamales, Mole, and Cookie Recipes

It wouldn't be the holidays without cookies, and in some cultures it wouldn't be the holidays without tamales. 

My food blogger group gathered together this past Saturday for our annual (you can call it that after 2 years, right?) cookie exchange and I thought I'd whip up 4 dozen tamales to help balance the sugar rush.

Tamales are a Christmas tradition in Mexican and Latin cuisine, and making "authentic" tamales is a popular occasion for family members to make mass quantities of these bundles of comfort food.  The thing is that if you make them old-school style, from scratch, we're talking about several hours of soaking, mashing, crushing, stirring, wrapping, and steaming, and that doesn't even account for the extra fillings.  But thanks to Melissa's Tamale Kits, you can cut your tamale making time down to about 1 1/2 hours, including roasting the fresh pumpkin and cipolline onions that were the main additions to my batch.

While the veggies roasted in the oven, tossed with vegetable oil, salt & pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika for about 30 minutes, I made the tamale filling by rehydrating the masa mixture with water.  Laying out the pre-soaked (this means they come this way - you don't have to do it) corn husks, I placed a generous amount of the filling in the center, placed some nicely roasted pumpkin and cipolline onion mixture on top along with a couple of leaves of fresh cilantro, wrapped the tamales up nice and snug, then placed them standing upright in a steamer pot.  45 minutes later I had delicious, steaming hot tamales ready for a quick cook mole sauce that came next.

Mole (mo-lay) is another classic dish that can take hours or even days to prepare, hardly practical for my schedule or attention span.  I found a simple recipe online, looked in my pantry and fridge, then came up with a one-hour or so version that got thumbs up from the food blogger group.

Here are the ingredients for my easy mole sauce with simple directions:

Easy Mole Sauce
vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions (I used the same cipolline onions that went in the tamales)
1 fresh yellow chile pepper, seeds removed and diced
1/4 cup diced, roasted Hatch chiles
1 dried guajillo chile, crushed
2 Tbsp. raisins
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups crushed tomato sauce
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat a bit of vegetable oil on medium in the bottom of a stockpot until it begins to sizzle.  Add the diced onions and cook until softened and lightly browned.  Add the diced yellow chile, crushed dried chile, and roasted Hatch chiles to the pot and stir.  Add the seeds and spices, stir to combine, and cook until spices release their fragrance or about 3 minutes.  Add the crushed tomato sauce to the pot, stir again, then add the cocoa powder and stir until well blended.  Add about 3/4 cup of water to thin out the consistency to your liking, and continue cooking about 30-40 minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve over tamales or anything else you want to taste even more amazing.

Now back to the cookie exchange.  I tweaked traditional Mexican Wedding Cookies and brought them much further north to New Mexico with the addition of roasted Hatch chiles and cinnamon:

New Mexican Wedding Cookies
2 sticks Earth Balance vegan butter or regular butter
1 cup powdered sugar, divided in half
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup diced roasted hatch chiles
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, divided in half

Preheat oven to 350.
Beat butter, vanilla, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar until creamy.
Slowly add flour, beating on low speed until well blended.
Add pecans and blend until well combined.
Shape dough into balls, about 1" in diameter, and place on parchment lined cookie trays about 1 1/2 " apart.  Bake about 15 minutes until bottom of cookies are lightly browned, then cool 5-7 minutes out of the oven..
Mix together the remaining powdered sugar and cinnamon.  Roll warm but not hot cookies in the mixture until evenly coated and place on wire racks until completely cooled.

You might also enjoy this other post about Melissa's Tamale Kits:


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beatles LOVE

My good friend Sue and I kept a promise we made to see the Beatles/Cirque Du Soleil's LOVE, and made it a celebration of both of our recent gigantic birthdays.  Best show ever!

See waiter in rear waiting to deliver bad news about guacamole
Of course where there's a celebration there's food, and dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace, while overlooking the sports book and watching our World Series game bet pay off, was a fine start to the evening.  The only disappointment was that I had my heart set on some guacamole but our waiter sternly explained that Mesa Grill is Southwestern Cuisine, thus no guacamole.  Good churros though.

We took our meager winnings back to the Mirage, and from the moment you walked near the theater, the iconic music of a thousand fantastic memories, playing over loudspeakers, created a great mood for what was to come.  Yes, Sgt. Pepper, we really did enjoy the show.  (Here's a sneak peak -  By the way, Beatle Sir Paul McCartney is the passionate vegetarian who launched the Meat Free Monday campaign with his passionate vegetarian daughters Stella and Mary.) 

The next day we had brunch at the Mirage's Cravings Buffet, and, thank you very much, there was awesome guacamole at the "Latin" station.  There were also really good sauteed plantains, fresh salsa, and roasted potatoes with peppers and onions.  I was very inspired to create a couple of recipes with the plantains sitting on my kitchen counter when I returned home....

1.  In a bit of oil, saute cubed, ripe plantains, red and/or yellow bell peppers, onions, and zucchini until tender and lightly caramelized. Season with your favorite salt and fresh black pepper.  Note: plantains are ripe when the outside skin is blackened. 

Add some black beans, cooked from scratch or canned will be fine, and stir to combine.  Add a pinch or two of Hatch chile powder and stir again.  Sprinkle some fresh cilantro leaves over the top.

You can eat this in a bowl as a quick, fresh chili, or use it as a filling for fresh tortillas.  I really like these green ones that are made from cactus leaves, available at supermarket and farmers' markets.  Garnish the tacos with some guacamole and dig in.

2.  Make a slower-cook vegetable and bean chili, with a single bean of your choice or any combination of beans you like.  I used cooked from scratch black beans and Melissa's Steamed Lentils, which have become a favorite pantry staple from coast to coast.

I began by sauteing diced shallots, carrots, and celery in a stockpot.  Then I added some crushed tomatoes, a few dashes of liquid smoke, the black beans, and a bottle of beer.  Simmer for at least an hour, season to taste, add the lentils, then continue cooking at least 30 minutes.  You can add additional crushed tomatoes, liquid smoke, Hatch chile powder, and s&p until you achieve the taste and consistency you like.  Ladle into bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt, garnish with sauteed plantains and fresh cilantro.

Invite over a good friend or two, open more beer, turn on the Beatles, and have a great celebration!