Trying to choose recipes for this week’s menu from A Taste of Aloha was a daunting task because even reading the cookbook is almost a sensory overload.  It’s page after page of recipes that demonstrate all those culinary influences I mentioned in my last post – Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Tahitian, Portuguese, and of course, Hawaiian.

In the end, I wound up choosing six, so I’d better get down to business.

The beverage chapter in A Taste of Aloha features a veritable bounty of summery boat drinks.  Brady tried to order a white sangria at a South American restaurant we went to last week, but alas, they were sold out. So I decided to make it up to him.

White Sangria

White Sangria

White Sangria

4 cups dry white wine
3/4 cup Cointreau
1/2 cup sugar
1 (10-ounce) bottle club soda, chilled
1 small bunch green grapes
1 sliced orange
1 sliced lemon
1 sliced lime
Garnish: Green apple wedges dipped in lemon juice

Mix white wine, Cointreau and sugar and chill. Just before serving, stir in the club soda, adding grapes, orange, lemon and lime slices. For each serving, garnish glass with an apple wedge.

For the first course, I whipped up a traditional Tahitian dish that I learned about from the episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain goes to French Polynesia.  When I found it in A Taste of Aloha, I was determined to try it, even after I learned that it involved raw ahi tuna, which is not exactly a house favorite with the Potts/McCoys.  It can take years to recover mentally from a bad sushi experience, but no matter, because this isn’t sushi.  It’s something altogether different and wonderful.

Poisson Cru

Poisson Cru

Poisson Cru

1 pound fresh Ahi
1/2 quart lightly salted water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 bunch parsley, minced
salt and pepper to taste
4-5 drops Tabasco
lettuce leaves

Cut fish across the grain into bite-size pieces. Soak fish in salted water for 15 minutes. Drain well. Sprinkle fish with salt and add lime juice. Soak for 10 minutes. Knead and mix well. Drain off 3/4 of the juice. Add coconut milk, tomato, onion, red pepper, parsley, salt, pepper and Tabasco.

poisson cru1

Marinate for 30 minutes. Serve on a bed of lettuce. Garnish with chopped egg. Serve with toothpicks.

Despite having hard-boiled two eggs for the purpose, I completely forgot to chop them up and sprinkle them on top of the poisson cru, but it was still plenty delicious – we were both surprised by how much we enjoyed it.  The tuna was firm and smooth, and not a bit fishy-tasting, and the vegetables, especially the parsley, provided a bright and refreshing balance.

Next, I made cole slaw with a Korean twist.

Kim Chee Salad

Kim Chee Salad

Kim Chee Salad

1 head cabbage, cut in bite-size pieces
1/4 cup coarse salt
1 small carrot, julienned
4 green onions, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne or crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons sugar

Sprinkle salt over cabbage, toss and set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse and drain cabbage in salad dryer. In large bowl, combine cabbage with vegetables and seasonings. Toss well. Refrigerate and toss at intervals to blend flavors. Note: The longer this sits, the better the flavor.

There’s a lot going on in the dressing for this salad – sesame oil, cider vinegar, cayenne – but the flavors come together nicely.  This is a nice change of pace from plain old cole slaw, and would be a terrific dish to take to a summer potluck or barbeque.  Don’t be afraid to load it up with cayenne or red pepper flakes, but at the same time, don’t be tempted to add more sesame oil than the recipe calls for.  A little goes a long way.

It is safe to say that this meal only really needed one chicken entree, but I couldn’t pick between the Hawaiian classic, chicken long rice, and a recipe I stumbled upon intriguingly named…

Evil Jungle Prince

Evil Jungle Prince

Evil Jungle Prince

3-4 tablespoons dried red curry stock
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 pound sliced boneless chicken breast, skinned
10-15 fresh basil leaves
4 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1/2 cup chopped white cabbage

Saute the dried red curry stock in heated vegetable oil for 3 minutes. Add coconut milk and cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add chicken. Cook for 5 minutes. Lower heat to medium low, add basil and fish sauce and serve on a bed of chopped cabbage. Note: Coconut milk will separate if allowed to come to a boil.

— Keo Sananikone, Keo’s, Honolulu, Hawaii

Let me start by saying that Brady loooovved the Evil Jungle Prince.  Whenever his mouth wasn’t stuffed with it, he was singing its praises, and even went back for seconds.  I couldn’t find dried red curry stock at the store, so I used curry paste instead, and that seemed to work just fine.  This recipe whips up fast.  If I was making this after a long day at work (and believe me, in the future, I will be), and wanted to serve it with rice, I’d have to give the rice at least a five minute head start.  You can have this on the table in about 15 minutes, and it tastes like it took a lot more effort.

And finally, we finished off with a helping of chicken long rice.  The “long rice” in question is actually a thin noodle made of dried mung bean flour.

Long rice... the Grapenuts of noodles

Long rice... the Grapenuts of noodles

Chicken with Long Rice

Chicken with Long Rice

Chicken with Long Rice

5 pounds chicken thighs
12 cups water
1-2 inches fresh ginger, crushed
2 tablespoons Hawaiian rock salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
20 ounces long rice
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Garnish: Chopped green onions

Cover chicken with water. Add ginger, half the rock salt and garlic and simmer 45 minutes or until tender. Cool. Bone chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Reserve broth. Remove ginger and discard. Add long rice to reserved broth and let stand 1/2 hour. Remove long rice and cut into 4-inch lengths. Return long rice to broth. Add green onions, remaining rock salt and chicken. Bring to boil and simmer 15-20 minutes. Add additional salt if desired. Chicken long rice will be moist with a bit of broth as a sauce. Garnish with chopped onion. Note: If made the day ahead, add a little extra chicken broth before reheating as the long rice will absorb existing broth.

This is a luau recipe, so it’s designed to serve about 20 people.  I made a 1/3 recipe, and got a little fast and loose with my proportions, so as a result, I wound up with too much long rice, and not enough broth to leave a sauce.  But before I go on, a word about the broth.

The next time you feel like making a chicken stock, that combination of chicken thighs, ginger, garlic, and rock salt is delicate, elegant, and sent me over the moon when I took a taste.

It wasn’t our favorite dish, but that is my menu’s fault, and no blame at all should be assigned to the innocent chicken long rice.  It’s just that the Kim Chee Salad and the Evil Jungle Prince are spicy dishes with big, powerful flavors, and the chicken long rice is more subtle.  While I enjoyed mine quite a bit, it just didn’t pair well with the other things on the plate, and flavor-wise, got lost in the shuffle.  Served on its own, or with a more neutral side dish, I’m sure we would have been crowing about it.

While I am always very excited about dessert, I was particularly excited about this week’s dessert.

As you may know, this week was the season premiere of Mad Men.  I’ve watched and loved and voraciously followed many television shows over the course of my life – The Wire, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, Top Chef – but my love of Mad Men really approaches something like addiction, obsession, or a combination of the two.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone – I mean, I’m a librarian in the History Department at the Los Angeles Public Library, enjoy making old fashioneds and reading books about Nixon, and I collect old Junior League cookbooks.  It’s as if the show was written specifically for me.

So, the other day, my friend Stephen emails to ask if I know where to find a recipe for pineapple and pine nut pie.  He’d just been watching an episode from last season, “The Gold Violin,” where Sal, the closeted art director at Sterling Cooper, and his eager-to-please wife, Kitty, are entertaining cocky, handsome account man Ken Cosgrove in their home, and Kitty has made this pie for dessert.

Stephen thought that this sounded absolutely delicious, and wrote that “if anyone would have a recipe for it, it would be you.”  Like Rupert Giles, the intrepid librarian of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I told him I would “consult my books.”

And sure enough, I turned up this little gem in A Taste of Aloha.  Apologies to its creator, as I’m sure it’s probably tastier with pecans, but I could not resist substituting pine nuts.

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie (with Pine Nuts)

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie (with Pine Nuts)

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (9-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend sugar with cornstarch and add pineapple. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick and clear. Cool. Blend cream cheese with sugar and salt. Add eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Blend in milk and vanilla. Spread the cooled pineapple mixture over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour in cream cheese mixture and sprinkle with pecans. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 50 minutes. Cool before serving.

If Brady went a little nuts for the Evil Jungle Prince, this was the dish that did it for me.  Two pieces, and I might have it again for breakfast tomorrow, and not bother feeling ashamed.  We had it served at room temperature, but I suspect that chilled, it is even better.

It was kind of a big and ambitious week, both in terms of cooking effort and of trying new and unusual things, but the recipes in A Taste of Aloha are worth the effort.  Often, when you’re cooking using the same old ingredients, you have a pretty good idea of how things are going to taste when you’re finished, so it’s fun every now and again to try cooking in the dark.  The first bite or sip of every dish was a complete surprise, and a pleasant one at that.

a taste of aloha meal

And after all that cooking and writing, I think I deserve a sangria nightcap.

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Published in 1979, the canning recipes in the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s Winning Seasons are slightly more descriptive and helpful than those in my Junior League cookbooks from the 50s and 60s.  However, for the most part, they still assume you know the basics.  In case you don’t, or in case you missed my previous post, here are a few of them (and if you need additional help, I’m told that the Ball Blue Book of Preserving is the bible of canning).

  1. Wash your jars in warm, soapy water.
  2. Bring a giant canning pot of water to a boil.  This will take forever, or to be more precise, about 45 minutes.  Then, sterilize your jars by boiling for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Heat your lids and metal rings in hot, but not boiling water, and have ready.
  4. After loading your jars with fruit or vegetables (but especially fruit preserves), run the end of a wooden spoon through the food to break up any air bubbles, then wipe the rim of the jar with a damp, clean cloth.
  5. Center the lids on the mouths of the jars, and screw on the metal rings, just until you get a little bit of resistance.  Do not screw rings on tight.
  6. Process in boiling water for 5-10 minutes with pot lid on.
  7. If processing worked, lids will be depressed and taut.  If it didn’t, they’ll pop when you press you finger to the center.

If there is one thing I can say about my skills in the kitchen, it is that I am pretty good at timing things and as a result, am rarely frantic when I cook.  However, during my first round of canning, I was a mess.  Nothing boiled when I needed it to, some things boiled when they shouldn’t have, and for a good half hour, I was using my jar lifter upside down.  I also scalded my thumb, and was sort of crazy and mean to Brady, saying things like, “Potts, I want your help.  I don’t want your opinions.”

He was a good sport, mostly because I am unintentionally hilarious when I am crazy and mean.

Ironically, the first thing I canned came out the best.  It’s a delicious pickle recipe – tart, crisp, and sweet, and evidently, one that can be pulled off by an absolute beginner.

Ruth’s Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

Ruth's Bread and Butter Pickles

4 quarts medium cucumbers (about 6 pounds sliced)
1 1/2 cups onions (12 to 15 small white ones, or about 1 pound sliced)
2 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup salt
1 to 2 quarts ice, crushed or cubed
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 cups clear, distilled vinegar

Wash cucumbers thoroughly, using a vegetable brush, and drain on rack. Slice unpeeled cucumbers into 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch slices.

Cukes on Ice

Cukes on Ice

Add onions, garlic and salt; cover with crushed ice or ice cubes, mix thoroughly, and allow to stand for 3 hours. Drain thoroughly and remove garlic. Combine sugar, spices, and vinegar; heat just to a boil. Add cucumber and onion slices and heat 5 minutes. Pack loosely into clean, hot, pint standard canning jars. Adjust lids. Process in boiling water bath canner (212 degrees F.) for 5 minutes. Yields 7 pints.

Ruth G. Kirkpatrick

Following the success of my first canning attempt, I was feeling my oats.  But it would not be all sunshine and pickles.

Garlic Dill Pickles

Garlic Dill Pickles

Garlic Dill Pickles

Pickling cucumbers (not more than 5 or 6 inches long)
1/2 gallon white vinegar
1/2 gallon water
1 cup uniodized salt
1 teaspoon alum
8 flowers of dill
8 cloves of garlic
8 pods of red pepper (optional)

Place cucumbers in clean container with very hot water. They should be hot through and through; add more hot water if necessary. Bring to a boil the vinegar, water, salt, and alum. In each of 8 quart jars, put a dill flower, a clove of garlic, and a pod of pepper. Fill jars with hot cucumbers and pour boiling liquid over them. Seal. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes (212 degrees). Makes 8 quarts.

Mrs. David Hefelfinger (Virginia Mauney)

These pickles came out, um, not so good.  They were mushy, which I could overlook, but they were also very, very salty.  It was all I could do to finish half of one.  I could say, halve the salt, and maybe it would have worked better, but honestly, I don’t know if even half a cup of salt would be too much in this case.  I will have to keep experimenting, because I do love me a dill pickle.

However, the bread and butter pickles were so good, it will be hard to get me to make anything else.

And with that, the great canning experiment of 2009 comes to an end.  At least for a little while.  I may have to make some more stuff, if only because I have yet to find a place in the apartment to store my big canning pot and it’s still sitting on top of the stove.

Peach Marmalade and Strawberry Preserves

Peach Marmalade and Strawberry Preserves

For a little more historical perspective on canning, I decided to turn to some older Junior League cookbooks in addition to the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s Winning Seasons (1979).  From my collection, I plucked one of my favorites, The Junior League of Memphis Cookbook (1952), and a more recent acquisition, the Junior League of Mobile’s Recipe Jubilee (1964), which included recipes for strawberry and peach preserves.  As I had recently come into possession of several pounds of strawberries and peaches, it seemed like the thing to do.

The thing I found right off about these recipes from the 50s and 60s is that they really take it on faith that you already know the basic principles of canning.  Since, until a few days ago, I really didn’t, I’ll include them here.

  1. Wash your jars in warm, soapy water.
  2. Bring a giant canning pot of water to a boil.  This will take forever, or to be more precise, about 45 minutes.  Then, sterilize your jars by boiling for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Heat your lids and metal rings in hot, but not boiling water, and have ready.
  4. After loading your jars with fruit or vegetables (but especially fruit preserves), run the end of a wooden spoon through the food to break up any air bubbles, then wipe the rim of the jar with a damp, clean cloth.
  5. Center the lids on the mouths of the jars, and screw on the metal rings, just until you get a little bit of resistance.  Do not screw rings on tight.
  6. Process in boiling water for 5-10 minutes with pot lid on.
  7. If processing worked, lids will be depressed and taut.  If it didn’t, they’ll pop when you press you finger to the center.

This first recipe comes from the Junior League of Memphis, 1952.  While making it, I wished so much that I had strawberries from Tennessee or Pennsylvania or anyplace but here.  The last time I went home, my grandfather asked me, “So, did they ever tell you how they get so much water in those California strawberries?”

And it’s true.  The upside to California strawberries is that they are pretty, and they smell good, and you can get them all year-round.  The downside is that they taste worse than strawberries grown just about anywhere else except perhaps for a landfill or a prison cell.  They are big and watery and fibrous, not plump, sweet, and juicy, and I actively resent them.  Still, I made do.

Strawberry Preserves

All that foam I should have scooped off

All that foam I should have scooped off

4 cups strawberries
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
3 cups sugar

Boil berries and lemon juice 3 minutes. Add sugar, boil hard 6 minutes. Pour into shallow bowls (china or porcelain). Let stand 24 hours, turning thoroughly several times to allow air to get into preserves. Spoon into sterile jars. Cover with paraffin. Yield: 2 glasses.

This is a rich dark preserve.

– Mrs. W.E. Lamb

Another thing this recipe takes on faith is that you know to skim the foam that forms on the top of your boiling strawberries off before pouring it into china or porcelain shallow bowls (eh, I used a Pyrex).  I did not do this, and as a result, you can see a little bit of white foam in my strawberry preserves.  It’s not harmful, but it can affect the taste a bit and it’s not aesthetically pleasing.  So, do that.

I was a little concerned about leaving the cooked mixture out to sit for 24 hours before canning, sterilized jars or not, but I consulted a few other recipes, and found that it’s not an uncommon instruction, so no worries.

The next recipe, from the Junior League of Mobile, 1964, I selected purely for the writing of the recipe.  Its description is lovely, if entirely unhelpful.

Old Fashioned Peach Marmalade

Peaches at a boil

Peaches at a boil

Peel peaches, cook in just enough water to prevent burning.  Mash cooked peaches thoroughly.  Add one cup of sugar for each cup of peaches plus one extra cup of sugar.  Boil until mixture threads from a spoon like a goose web.  Stir constantly to prevent sticking.  Quick cooking gives the prettiest colored finished product.  Pour in hot sterile fruit jars and seal.

Mrs. Mac Greer

You might ask, “Mary, what is a goose web?”  And I cannot answer that question, at least not in any way that would be remotely applicable to the making of jam.

However, as far as I can tell, this description refers to a process more commonly known as sheeting, where you get a spoonful of the boiling fruit and sugar mixture and let it drizzle into the pot.  You know the jam is done if the drops fuse together before they fall back into the pot.  I’ve also read in some places that if you put a dab of the preserves in the fridge or freezer and they gel quickly, it’s done.  And in others, that 220 degrees with a candy thermometer is the magic spot.

But I’ll go with the goose webs.  And for more specifically-minded types, that took about 15 minutes.

I skimmed the foam off of this batch, and as you can see, it’s much better-looking than the strawberry preserves.  Both batches, however, came out a little bit runnier than I’m accustomed to having my jam.  I attribute this to the fact that neither recipe called for pectin to be added, and because strawberries and peaches don’t have much naturally occuring pectin to begin with.  But I am okay with that.

Next up:  two kinds of pickles, one awesome, one awful.

bounty

Over this Independence Day weekend, on the heels of our visit to the nation’s capital, we at the Potts-McCoy house engaged in activities most American:  listening to Dodgers games on the radio, eating hot dogs, watching ridiculous movies from the Nicholas Cage oeuvre, circa mid-90s, and putting up pickles and preserves.

I like to think that Thomas Jefferson would have been pleased.  Or at least entertained.

This weekend, I taught myself to can and in the process, learned many valuable things, including:

  • When you buy $80 worth of canning supplies from a housewares store, sales clerks and customers alike will gather around you to discuss pepper jelly and the virtues of water bath versus pressure canning, and be sweet enough to ask all about what you’re making, and assure you that you’re not going to screw it up or send anybody to the hospital.
  • It is possible to have a conversation about pickling cucumbers even if the clerk speaks no English and you speak no Korean, and that a clerk willing to have that conversation probably runs a pretty good produce stand.
  • If your mom isn’t around to help you, it is crucially important that you have a self-sufficient Oklahoma farmgirl friend available for Gmail chats at critical, time-sensitive moments, and a husband with speed-Googling skills willing to shout instructions into a frantic, steamy kitchen, should Okie friend have the nerve not to be signed in and standing by to avert a crisis.
  • The rubber end of the jar lifter goes in your hand and the curved one goes on the jar (this took far longer to learn than it should have).
  • Canning is really, really fun, and makes you feel like some kind of 21st-century Rosie the Riveter badass.

Recipes, pictures, and more valuable lessons learned to follow.

When last I posted, I spoke of grand plans to do some Junior League cooking while on vacation with my family.  Technically speaking, this was possible.  We had a condo on Virginia Beach, a kitchen full of utensils and pots, access to a grill and fresh local seafood, and a copy of Tidewater on the Half Shell.  However, the sun was shining, the waves were tasty, my niece and nephews were cute and fun, and the last thing I found myself wanting to do on vacation was cook.  So, I didn’t.

Apologies to the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, but cooking can happen anywhere, anytime – even regional cooking.  Watching a 3-year-old discover that the ocean exists only happens once, and it is pretty fun to watch.

After a few days at the beach with my family, Brady and I ventured on to our nation’s capital, where I made my pilgrimage to the Julia Child kitchen at the National Museum of American History:

Julia Child's scary kitchen implements

Julia Child's scary kitchen implements

And while there, we went through the ongoing exhibit Within These Walls, which tells the story of five families who lived in an Ipswitch, Massachusetts house over 200 years, through their furniture, household appliances, and other personal artifacts.

The part of the exhibit on the Scotts, who lived in the house during World War II, focuses on their kitchen, and their ration books.

The objects in the bottom right corner are compressed balls of tin foil.

The objects in the bottom right corner are compressed balls of tin foil.

And the exhibit gave me an idea.

So, this week, I’ll be cooking from the Junior League of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s cookbook, Winning Seasons (1979), because it has a large and extensive pickling and preserving chapter to draw from.  Most Junior League cookbooks include a token 4-6 canning recipes, but Winning Seasons has page after page of delicious-sounding pickles, relishes, and jams, most of them cherished family recipes.

Now, you may ask, “Mary, have you ever canned before?”

And the answer to that is, “No.”

However, when I was little, my parents did, and I was forced to help.  My grandparents own a working farm that’s been in the family for over a century, so when I was growing up, my canning job was usually to go out and weed and/or pick the vegetables and/or fruits that would eventually be canned.  I was kept far away from the parts of the operation that involved boiling and pouring things that were boiling.

So, one still might ask, “Mary, do you know HOW to can?”

No, but I’ve seen it done.

As far as I can tell, it involves:

This +

This +

This +

This +

Would you trust this woman with your nation's Victory Preserves?

"We'll have lots to eat this winter, won't we, Mother?" Um... sure, kid +

= PROFIT!!!

= PROFIT!!!

Right?

Seeing as I spent $80 today on jars, pots, funnels, lifting devices, and pickling cucumbers, I suspect there will be a lot of canning going on this summer.  And, not to take the suspense out of it or anything, but if this goes even remotely well, people are probably going to be getting a lot of pickles and jam for Christmas this year.

Don’t complain.  When the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll be grateful.

And, if next week, I haul all of that stuff to the curb, and vow never to can again, you’ll have a good laugh at my expense.

seasoned with sunSince its publication in 1974, the Junior League of El Paso‘s cookbook, Seasoned With Sun has gone through numerous printings and remains in print today.  And with good reason.  It’s a terrific source for authentic Mexican and Southwestern cooking, and full of recipes that reflect the Indian, Mexican, Spanish, and Anglo influences on regional cuisine.  Although there’s a section of the cookbook devoted to traditional Mexican dishes, recipes with roots in Central and South American cooking such as empanadas, jicama en escabeche, and sopaipillas are scattered throughout the book alongside the usual suspects of the Junior League cookbook — ham puffs, Steak Diane, chicken Jerusalem, cheese balls.

For my cooking this week, I wanted to make two meals, one traditional Mexican, and one traditional Tex-Mex, and Seasoned With Sun gave me many, many options to choose from.  Sadly, I did not have time to make chiles rellanos; however, there are many other Southwestern Junior Leagues, and somehow, I suspect at least one of them will include a recipe.

The reason I did not have time to make chiles rellanos is because I decided to make mole from scratch.  Ironically, I chose mole instead of tamales because I thought the latter sounded “too hard.”  Four hours and half a season of Mad Men into the mole-making process, my shoulders aching, my fingertips afire, and covered in ground chile and chocolate goo up to my elbows, I lamented my decision bitterly.  Five hours in, I took to strong liquor.

And then I tasted the mole.  And all was forgiven.

For those unfamiliar with mole, it’s a name that can refer to many different kinds of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla where they originated.  Though there are many varieties, all are made from a mixture of ground chiles and spices, and sometimes, chocolate.  Red moles – Mole Coloradito and Mole Rojo– are particularly delicious, though it’s hard to go wrong ordering a Mole Poblano, which is what I made. It’s a sauce that has a lot of subtle, complex flavors, which shouldn’t surprise you when you see the list of ingredients, as there are about a million of them. In Mexico, mole is traditionally served for special occasions.  This is sensible, because you would never make anything this labor-intensive and time-consuming for people unless you liked them a whole lot.

Chicken or Turkey Mole

Serves 6

Mole Sauce

This is what the sauce should look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

This is what the mole will look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

30 chiles mulattos
20 chiles anchos
10 chiles pasillas
1 tablespoon mixed seeds from chiles
1/2 cup almonds (not blanched)
1 corn tortilla
2 French rolls
1 onion, peeled
2 peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch anise seed
Pinch coriander
1 quarter Mexican chocolate (comes in rounds, marked in quarters)
4-6 cups hot turkey or chicken broth
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cumin powder
Salt to taste
Pinch powdered cloves (optional)

Wash and dry the three kinds of chiles (all can be bought at Mexican food stores). Place chiles in a dry, heavy skillet and toast lightly. Remove seeds. Soak chiles in water to cover. Toast the tablespoon of chile seeds with the almonds in a dry skillet until brown. Fry the tortilla crisp in a little oil. Cut rolls in half and fry until brown. Grind all ingredients to the consistency of paste. Add a cup or more of broth to the ground chile (enough to strain the chile). Stir through sieve; add broth if needed. Sauce can be frozen in 2 cup amounts.

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

1 turkey or 2 3-pound chickens, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups mole (home prepared recipe or 1 jar commercial sauce)
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash coriander
Dash cumin
Dash garlic powder
Dash ground cinnamon
1 rounded teaspoon peanut butter
1/8 round of Mexican chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaping teaspoon raisins

Simmer the cut up turkey or chicken in water to cover until tender, adding salt to taste. Heat oil and add mole sauce. Fry a few minutes; add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Add broth if it gets too thick. Place boned turkey or chicken into sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve with hot buttered tortillas.

When making a dish like mole, you will probably spend a certain amount of time in a state of anxious worry, obsessing over the very real possibility that five hours of cooking could end with a phone call to Papa John’s, and the fear that you will never again be able to eat cheese sticks without associating them with failure.

And by you, of course, I mean me.

I started to feel more confident when I got the paste ground up, and noticed that it smelled right.  And once I’d gotten it strained through the colander, it looked right.  And once I adjusted the seasonings a little bit, it tasted right.

By the time I got it plated, I was quite visibly strutting.

It was a little spicy, a little sweet, a little smoky and nutty and chocolaty — just a very good, very balanced recipe, and well worth the effort.

mole3

For breakfast this morning, we fried up a couple of tortillas and a couple of eggs, and served them with a scoop of chicken mole and a spoonful of salsa – a kind of mole, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles mash-up – which was absolutely delicious.  We had the rest with rice for dinner tonight, and I even had a couple of cups of sauce left over, which I froze.

I did make a few recipe adjustments, most notably the fact that I only used one whole chicken, and found that I only needed about three cups of broth to mix with the chile paste before I forced it through the colander, and only needed to add about half a cup of broth to the mole while it simmered.

Also, it may take you less than five hours to make this, especially if you have a food processor that can grind more than two chiles at a time.  But make no mistake, the grinding part of the recipe will take a long, long time, and your shoulders will be screaming by the time you’re finished.  Also, if you find your fingers won’t stop burning hours after you’ve finished cooking, try soaking your hands in milk for a few minutes.  It works wonders.

The plan for this week’s meal from the very high-toned Nashville Seasons was a selection of the sorts of dishes that might be served at a ladies’ spring tea on the terrace of some fine old Nashville plantation-style home in the early 1960s.  And an occasion like that, my friends, calls for an aspic.

These days, you’re most likely to encounter aspic either in The Gallery of Regrettable Food, or in a former Soviet state (a couple of my friends spent time there, and independently informed me that aspic dishes were both abundant and uniformly awful).  However, for most of the 20th century, aspic dishes commonly turned up in American cookbooks and women’s magazines, until, for reasons unknown to this day, the nation collectively came to its senses.

Of the many aspic recipes featured in Nashville Seasons, this one offended my sensibilities least, and in fact, seemed like it had the potential to be both savory and refreshing.

Tomato Aspic I

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

Tomato Aspic with Lettuce and Droid Garnish

2 packages lemon Jello
4 cups tomato juice
1/3 of a large size cucumber
1/3 of a medium onion
1/3 of a green pepper (optional)
2 cups shredded lettuce
Dash of ground red pepper to taste

Heat two cups of the tomato juice. Add to Jello and dissolve thoroughly, then add two cups of cold tomato juice. Grind cucumber, onion, green pepper, and lettuce in a meat grinder and add to tomato juice mixture. Add red pepper and pour in a large mold (or this amount will make 10 small molds). Put in refrigerator to congeal and serve with a spot of mayonnaise on a crisp lettuce leaf.

-Mrs. Robert W. Bolster

(A brief note about unmolding an aspic:  Loosen the edges of the mold with a warm knife, then plunge the mold into a bowl of warm water for 10 seconds.  It should pop right out.)

After I’d unmolded the aspic, I called Brady in to come see.  He regarded it for a moment, eyebrow raised and lips curled, before saying, “Well, it looks like the devil’s own sphincter.”  Perhaps it was this remark which impeded my enjoyment of the tomato aspic, and not the fact that it was a slippery, quivering, blood-red, and possibly sentient monstrosity, but I don’t think so.  I really cannot find words to describe the experience of eating aspic other than “unsettling.”

Into the trash it went – I called it an interesting lesson in culinary history, Brady called it grounds for divorce.

It did help matters somewhat that we had these little cocktail biscuits to serve as aspic chasers.

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuits

Sesame Seed Biscuit

2 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 tsp. salt
Dash of red pepper
1 cup sharp cheese, grated
1/2 cup roasted sesame seed

Mix flour, shortening, salt, and pepper. Add cheese and roasted sesame seed. Roll on floured board very thin and cut in small round wafers. Place in biscuit pan and cook slowly in 300 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Before removing from pan and while hot, sprinkle with salt. Makes several dozen. These may be kept in covered tin, and run into slow oven to crisp before serving. Good with cocktails.

-Mrs. John M. Ezzell

You might notice a serious omission in this recipe, namely, something to bind the dough together.  I added a few tablespoons of ice water, just enough to hold the crumbs together.  Make sure you roll them very thin, and err on the side of overbaking – they’re crispier that way.  We took the leftovers to a beer-tasting party at a friend’s house, and what do you know, they are VERY good with cocktails.  There was not a biscuit left at the end of the night.

Running a close second in sheer number to aspic dishes in Nashville Seasons are variations on the avocado salad.  This uncredited recipe featured four different suggested fillings, including one involving aspic.  I opted for chicken.

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

An Avocado Well-Filled

Peel and half 3 avocados, place on a bed of lettuce and fill with the following:

1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 hard cooked egg, grated
1 cup watercress chopped
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. grated roquefort cheese
French dressing

Bind all ingredients with French dressing and pile into avocado halves.

Were this served on an episode of Top Chef, it would probably be presented to the judges as a “deconstructed Cobb salad.”  And while it would probably not win the challenge, Tom Collichio would probably admit it was tasty, if somewhat lacking in presentation.

Finally, because Brady had been rather sporting about the aspic, I let him pick the dessert, a recipe that reminded me why people don’t bake cakes from scratch anymore.

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

Maud S Devils Food Cake

2 cups sugar
1 cup milk
4 squares chocolate
4 eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. vanilla

Put 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, chocolate and 2 of the eggs in top of double boiler and cook until thick and smooth like mush. Let cool. Cream butter, add 1 cup sugar, then 2 egg yolks, one at a time. Combine flour, soda and baking powder. Add mush and flour mixture alternately to butter and sugar mixture. Add vanilla. Beat remaining 2 egg whites until stiff but not dry, and fold in. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour batter in two 8″ square pans, covered on the bottom with greased waxed paper. Cook for 25 minutes or until straw comes out smooth. Set pans on wire rack for 5 minutes and then turn out.

This cake is named for one of Vanderbilt’s race horses – Maud S – because the cake is so good it disappears like a race horse! It can be frozen for a month. Ice with white icing.

-Mrs. A. MacDowell Smith

This cake is a little on the dense and dry side, and I’d probably use slightly less flour next time.  Still, when you make a devil’s food layer cake for somebody, they tend to get pretty excited about it.

A head of lettuce lost its life garnishing this meal

A Meal from Nashville Seasons

And there ends the story of our Nashville garden party meal, and of my first (and last) aspic.  I need a little time to catch up this week, so I won’t be doing a new cookbook this week.  However, Brady has agreed to do a little Junior League mixology in my stead, so polish your punch bowls, and cook up some simple syrup.  One can never have too many recipes for pink cocktails.