Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Chicken Tacos with Mole Sauce, Pico de Gallo and Guacamole

Do you ever find that those last-minute, spontaneous get-togethers often turn out better than the long-planned gatherings?

That's what happened a few nights ago. And in the end it turned into a pressure cooker Mexican extravaganza - with the pressure cooker participating in no less than three dishes!

A girlfriend of mine and I had determined that we would get together, but didn't know where or when. When she called in the late afternoon we determined to have dinner at my place. It was a good thing as I had been pretty lazy all day and it got me off my but.

My friend is originally from Mexico (not to be confused with my other friend from Mexico). She had a rough week and was feeling a bit blue and homesick, so I decided to make a Mexican dinner for her (with her assistance of course). I ran to the store and got some kitchen essentials including tomatoes, avocados, cilantro, jalapenos, and limes. Does that grocery list not scream Mexican????

I also got some tortillas. I've mentioned before that I live some distance from Mexico. I think the search for tortillas is one of the more telling sure signs. It's hard to find corn tortillas here. You can find wheat, flax, three cheese, and pesto. But corn tortillas are a little more challenging. I suspect that this is a sign that the wrap-sandwich folks have a corner on the market. I did manage to get a package of jalapeno corn tortillas - a sure substitute.

I prepared a guacamole dip and a pico de gallo salsa so that we could have those as appetizers with nacho chips (corn nacho chips to be specific) and set the scene. I didn't have any specific Mexican music so opted for Buena Vista Social club music to add Latino charm.

I then set out to make refried beans. A simple, yet complex dish with 3 steps.

I employed the pressure cooker first to assist with a "quick soak" of some dried pinto beans so that we would be able make refried beans. To do this you bring the beans to a boil for 2-3 minutes in a good amount of water. You then turn off the heat and let them sit in the heated water for a good hour. Of course, if you are able to plan ahead, you would just soak them overnight instead of going through this step - but that would require much more than 2 hours notice like I had tonight.

You then go onto cook beans in the pressure cooker, then finish them on the stovetop (the "refried" portion of their name I assume).

I did a quick cleanup of the pressure cooker and then prepared two large, bone-in, skin on chicken breasts in the pressure cooked. I've done this before, so I won't bore you with the details apart from the fact of the great smell. Also, for this evening's meal, I kept the reserved stock from cooking them for the mole sauce.

It was roughly at this point that my friend arrived. Although I had done quite a bit of prep work, there was still lots to do so we divided the tasks. She finished the refried beans and prepared the mole sauce. I shredded the chicken and then used the pressure cooker, again, to cook white rice.

The final step before sitting down to our feast was to prepare the tortillas. I learned something new.
In other cooking demos I've been shown the method where you sauté each tortilla in oil to soften it and make it pliable. Tonight, my friend took advantage of the natural gas flame and cooked them right on the flame - flipping often. It was fantastic, no mess and less fattening. You don’t want to get distracted though lest you burn your tortilla.

As we were in the final steps of preparation we invited another girlfriend to join. She arrived just in time to partake of the meal and get a demonstration on how to assemble the chicken tacos.


Pico de Gallo
1 large tomato diced
1/2 onion diced
1 jalapeno minced
1 small bunch cilantro chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients. Let sit for at least 1/2 hour for flavours to absorb. If you don't have time, dig in.

2 avocados peeled and pit removed, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 small bunch cilantro chopped
1/2 jalapeno minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
Put all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and process until desired smoothness.

Refried Beans
Step 1:
1 cup dried pinto beans
6 cups water
Bring beans to a boil in the water. Let boil 2-3 minutes. Then remove for heat and let soak at least 1 hour.

Step 2:
The absorbed pinto beans, drained
6 cups water
1/2 onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper
2 cloves garlic
Put all ingredients into a pressure cooker and secure the lid. Bring to pressure over med-high heat. Once at pressure, reduce heat (not so much that you lose pressure) and cook 6-8 minutes. Use a quick release method to reduce pressure. Discard, onion, pepper and garlic and drain beans. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Step 3:
1-2 tbsp oil
1/2 onion diced fine
1 cloves garlic minced
The cooked pinto beans, drained
Reserve bean cooking liquid
Salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan heat the oil and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until soft. Add the beans and mash. Add enough bean cooking liquid to make to a chunky-smooth texture. Salt and pepper to taste.

Mole Sauce
1/2 jar prepared mole sauce
45 grams unsweetened Mexican chocolate
1/2-3/4 cup chicken broth
Heat the mole sauce in a small saucepan with enough broth to make a thick liquid. When smooth, add the chocolate and stir until melted.

See the recipe and method here to prepare and shred the chicken.

White Rice
1 cup white rice
2 cups water
Put the rice and water into the pressure cooker. Secure the cover and bring to high pressure . Reduce the heat, but don't lose pressure. Cook for 7 minutes and use a quick release method to reduce pressure.

Prepare by heating in oil in frying pan or over an open flame on the cooktop. On open flame keep rotating every 20-30 seconds so they don't burn.

Sour Cream
Thin with milk to make a more fluid consistency.

To assemble the Tacos add shredded chicken, mole sauce, guacamole, salsa and sour cream. Roll up and devour.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Chicken Bouillabaisse a la Pressure Cooker

Do not try this at home.

At least, not just yet.

A few weekends ago I was flipping through the
Barefoot Contessa's latest recipe book, Back to Basics. In usual style it is filled with beautiful pictures of beautiful foods. Inspiring. To say the least.

The one photo that made me pause was her
Chicken Bouillabaisse recipe. It looks sooooo amazing. And I was particularly thrilled that one of the ingredients is Pernod, as I had just been reading about Pernod use in Anthony Bourdain's book "Kitchen Confidential". Coincidence. I think not. It was a sign that I should pursue this recipe.

First I had to pursue Pernod.

It's a lovely French liqueur that has a strong licorice nose and fennel (or perhaps anise) taste. How could you go wrong?

Now that I've been on the pressure cooker bandwagon for a good two months, I figured I was ready to jump right into the recipe modifying it appropriately for pressure cooker purposes utilizing my arsenal of lessons learned.

I began by sautéing chicken parts seasoned with salt, pepper and rosemary (I used bone-in, skin-on, chicken breasts with the back attached) right in the cooker with olive oil. Once browned, I removed them to a plate.

From there I added lots of garlic (yummy), fennel (more licoricey goodness), saffron (very exotic), white wine (always a winner), Pernod (even more exotic), tomato paste (not so exotic), whole canned tomatoes (even more not so exotic), and chicken bouillon (the right thing to do). All of this was a variation on the book recipe but with reduced liquid, and more tomatoey flavour, and 10 minutes on high pressure vs.30-40 minutes simmering on the cooktop. Again, not just a time savings, but an energy savings (after all, yesterday was Earth Day).
After simmering, I made use of my latest favourite appliance (at least it is now that my sister-in-law taught me proper usage skills), the hand blender, and blended it all together. I then added cubed red potatoes and the chicken back to the pot. I brought the concoction back up to high pressure and cooked 17 minutes under pressure.

This is where I return to my initial statement - do not try this at home. Although the dish looked fantastic and smelled fantastic, I was less than impressed. But where did I go wrong? I haven't made this dish using the traditional recipe so was it my pressure cooker conversion? Did I add to much tomatoey goodness? Should I have added sugar to offset some of the acidity? Maybe I snacked too many crackers and other snacks while making the dish that I really just wasn't that into it?

I don't know.

Maybe it tasted as it should (the Pernod flavour did come through). But it just wasn't as good as it looks.

So I don't know, you can try it. Or not.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Ottawa Pizza

I'm wayyyyy past due for a blog-post.

I do plan to get right back on track with the pressure cooker and/or smoker cooking a.s.a.p. In fact, I'm in the process of buying another pressure cooker (but that's another blog). I do digress.

My delay is a function of a combination of a lot of travel and and a lot of eating out. I s'pose I could have blogged on some of the fantastic restaurants I've enjoyed in Eastern Canada and the New England area, but I was to busy eating and enjoying to take pictures.

But, I did manage to squeak out a few pictures of this evenings feast.

It's a bit of an interesting story. A local (sorta) freebie newspaper called
The Metro had recommended two wines for drinking relative to the movie "Bottle Shock". (Have you seen this movie? It's really good and worth the watch). Anyways, we bought the wines and were planning to do a fancy dinner and wine tasting with them.

But . . . We had a large lunch at our favourite Ethiopian restaurant, The Horn of Africa, and just didn’t have it in us to do a big dinner. We still did a mini wine tasting (and true to the movie, the American Cabernet Sauvignon won). As for food, something lighter and fast. The answer: Pizza.

Now when I'm at our primary residence, my favourite way to prepare pizza is on the smoker (watch upcoming blog-posts for this), but in Ottawa, I had to go more traditional. We bought a prepared crust, some terrific deli meats, and good quality mozzarella. We used up some stuff around the house including a tomato and some mushrooms. The end result was yummy.


Ottawa Pizza
Prepared Pizza Crust
Prepared Pizza Sauce, good quality
Good Quality Hot Salami, enough for a single layer
Good Quality Unprocessed Ham, enough for a single layer
Mushrooms (wild or crimini), sautéed with olive oil, garlic and kosher salt
Good Quality Mozzarella (North American) grated, to cover
Tomato, thinly sliced
Oregano, dried, sprinkled on top
Hot Pepper Flakes, sprinkle on top

The list of ingredients is in order of how they should be put on the pizza. You don’t want to make any of the layers thick, just to cover. Bake at 375F for 10 minutes. Then finish with the broiler for 4-7 minutes.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Linguine Carbonara

Mmmmmmm carbonara. Is there a more perfect food?

Mmmmmmm bacon. Is there a more perfect food?

I know that's duplication, but the thing is, I think carbonara has to be my most favourite go-to food. It's got all the makings: simplicity, tastiness, quickness and of course, bacon (or bacon-like content) . What I haven't determined is if it is the bacon that makes this dish - as bacon pretty much improves any dish - or if it's just a great thing in its own right.

Either way, it's fantastic.

The great thing about carbonara, beyond its purist form anyways, is that you can swap ingredients in and out and still come out with a fantastic product. Once you've established a basic recipe - you can begin to play. Switch-up the pasta to a farfalle or orecchiete. Substitute prosciutto or pancetta for the bacon. Or add veggies such as zucchini, spinach, peas or arugula.

That's why you'll find all sorts of recipes with variations on ingredients and methodology. I encourage you to find the one that works for you. Here's mine (well at least the one I'm using today, I'm likely to change it up next time round).

Linguine Carbonara for Two
2 tsp olive oil
8 strips alder-smoked bacon, sliced in short, thin strips
1/2 medium onion, diced
9 oz dried linguine
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons creams, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a large Dutch-oven type pot heat the oil on medium-high heat. (Using this kind of pot, serves two purposes, it reduces the splatter from sautéing the bacon and onion, and it serves as the final mixing bowl). Add the bacon and onion and stir to mix. Let the bacon and onion saute until the bacon is crisp and the onion is carmelized. Once ready, turn the heat off and let stand.

Meanwhile, start a pot for boiling water for your pasta. When the water is boiling add the pasta and cook as usual (9-11 minutes).

While the pasta is cooking mix your eggs and cream until blended. Then mix in the cheese.

This final step has to be done relatively quickly once all the pieces are ready. When the pasta is cooked, drain it. Then dump into the bacon and onion pot. Chuck in the egg mixture and mix through. Serve topped with more grated cheese.