Holy Mole and Guacamole

>> Thursday, January 31, 2008

Growing up here on the east coast I never had an appreciation for Mexican food. Other than those Old El Paso shells that came from a box I never really knew what Mexican food was. Don't get me wrong, tacos with the ground beef, crispy shells, and all the fixins is still one of my favorite childhood meals and one I fondly remember sharing with my brother and cousins. But it certainly isn't the only thing on my Mexican food list anymore. Guacamole- how did I live with out you for so long? Mole sauce - heaven on a plate. Fresh tortillas that have not come from a box- Oh my god! Where have you been all my life???

Cyndee, who grew up in New Mexico from the age of 14, was definitely an integral part of my discovery and love of these foods. I had never heard of a green chile, or even red chile for that matter. I had no idea the flavor a spicy pepper could bring to a dish. Not that I eat it as hot as those crazy New Mexicans nor do I put green chile on everything I can get my hands on. But I do appreciate the food and the culture and the cooking more so than ever, all thanks to meeting Cyndee.

Here are a couple of our favorite recipes. Now, I am not saying these are authentic Mexican recipes, Mexican food varies from region to region, but I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Shredded Pork Tacos
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 Tablespoon Olive oil
1 lg. onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 boneless pork shoulder about 3 lbs or 1 pork shoulder with the bone 4-5 lbs.
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (from small can which can be found in ethnic section of grocery store)
corn tortillas or flour tortillas
guacamole (recipe follows)
salsa (recipe follows)

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook until onions are translucent and it starts to smell really good, about five minutes. Add tomato paste and whole tomatoes with their juice, breaking them up as go. Place pork on top along with chipotle chile, and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat and simmer about 2 to 3 hours.

At this point the meat should be very tender. Take meat out of pot and let sit until cool enough to shred (you can either use a couple of forks or if it is real cool I like to use my hands). Discard any large pieces of fat or gristle. Return the shredded meat to the pot and simmer, uncovered, for about 30-45 minutes.

You want the sauce to be nice and thick. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary. If using corn tortillas heat in a dry frying pan, one by one until they start to brown. If using flour tortillas you can wrap a stack in foil in and warm in the oven. Serve with your favorite toppings. I like to use guacamole, salsa, shredded lettuce, monterey jack cheese, and sour cream.


I learned to make guacamole from Cyndee's family. It is very easy and really you can change it to suit your own tastes. The key to guacamole is to get avocados that are just ripe. If they are not ripe enough (and hard as rocks) then they won’t turn into a beautiful creamy consistency. When buying avocados I always press with my thumb and make sure it gives just a little. If it gives a lot then it is probably over ripe and brown on the inside.

2 ripe avocados
juice from half a lemon (or you can use lime juice)
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
chopped tomato or fresh cilantro (optional)

Cut open avocadoes and remove pit. Scoop out avocado with spoon into small bowl, mash with a fork. You can also cube the avocado instead of mashing if you want a chunkier guacamole. Add garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and mix until combined. If using, mix in tomato and or cilantro. If not using right away put plastic wrap directly on guacamole so it doesn't turn brown.

Fresh Salsa

It’s best to make this salsa when tomatoes are locally available. But I do make it in the winter months using either grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes. This salsa is very simple to throw together and the amounts of ingredients used are really to suit your taste. So if you want a little more of something, just add it.

2-3 lbs tomatoes, diced
half a large red onion, chopped
1 red, yellow, orange or green bell pepper (or a combination)
3 garlic cloves, minced
minced fresh jalapeno, to taste (I don’t add this when I am making it for the kids)
juice of 1/2 - 1 whole lemon, or juice of 2 limes
handful of fresh basil or cilantro leaves (which ever you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl and let sit on counter so flavors can blend. I usually use lemon juice with fresh basil and lime juice when I am using fresh cilantro.


Tucking Ourselves Away

>> Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What a wonderful weekend we had, Cyndee and I. For my birthday we took a long weekend and went to The Cape. It was heaven. We stayed at her parents home in Centerville where they live only half of the year. Lucky for us it is empty the other half and we get to reap the benefits of that. Peace and quiet, a bit of heaven. With the fire place going from the flip of a switch ( its gas) I wasn't sure we were ever going to leave. The view from the house onto Long Pond is breath taking- reason enough to stay put.

Cyndee lived here for many years with her grandmother who is no longer with us. After college she found her way to the east coast (from New Mexico) and lucky for me she has never left. So this house is full of memories for Cyndee, some good, some bad and sometimes I notice these memories do seem to overwhelm her. But for the most part it is a place that she remembers visiting every summer, making that long drive with her parents and brother to visit her favorite grandmother.

Before we even got to the house we stopped in Sandwich, a small village at the beginning of the Cape, where we had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. Sandwich is a very quaint and picturesque little town as is The Bee Hive Tavern where we had the pleasure of eating.

I love their bee door knocker!

I think what I like best about The Bee Hive Tavern is the way you feel when you walk through their doors. Its all about comfort, home cooking and the small details that really do make a difference.

I had a very delicious Greek salad with roasted red peppers, Kalamata olives, salty feta cheese, homemade croutons and grilled chicken. All their dressings are homemade, the creamy garlic is amazing.

Their freshly made dill rolls were a nice accompaniment to the salad, served warm with creamy, soft butter. I think I would be happy if I had nothing else.

Cyn had the fish sandwich served with french fries and coleslaw, a typical New England meal. But it was the freshness of the fish that put it over the top. The batter was very light and the fish nearly melted in her mouth with every bite. Yes, I tried it too and it was amazing. Unfortunately we had no room for dessert and knew I would probably be having it later (after all it was my birthday) so we held off.

But I have to admit we did come to the Bee Hive tavern for a second meal while we were on the Cape. Unfortunately my camera was doing some funky things and was not working properly. So I took this as a sign from the universe to just enjoy our meal and not worry about the pictures. But let me tell you, it was even better than the first. From stuffed quahogs drizzled in lemon butter, to macadamia encrusted sole drizzled with that same lemon butter (I need to figure out how to make that) to the most amazing and comforting Beef Stroganoff we have ever had. Throw in a couple glasses of Echelon Merlot and homemade gingerbread, warmed and slightly undercooked, topped with double whipped cream, it was an amazing meal! So if you are ever on the Cape, do find the time to stop at this cozy little eating spot right off of 6A in Sandwich.

Our next stop was a little gourmet food store called The Brown Jug. It is on Main Street right in the heart of Sandwich Village, another one of my heaven places. Fresh baked bread, the most amazing French butter we ever had, salty and creamy. Delicious pastas and dried beans, sauces and salts from all over the world. I made my way home with fleur de Sel, a french sea salt that I have been dying to try. We picked up an amazing sheep and goats milk cheese that we had the next morning with the delicious loaf of sourdough bread. Also, olive oils that I had only dreamed of. Up until this point it was Bertolli's Extra Virgin. But now its Castello di Rampinzeri (recommended by the owner). And yes its a bit more expensive, but worth every penny! I am still dreaming of dipping our rosemary and sea salt flat bread and crusty sour dough bread into the olivey oil. I swear this is the first time olive oil has actually tasted like olives to me!

A few of the things we bought at The Brown jug!

A cute little farm stand that is closed this time of year. I couldn't help but snap its picture. Wouldn't you just love to own a place like this?

That night for my birthday dinner we ate at another of our favorite places, Sam Diego's. Not necessarily for the "amazing"Mexican cuisine, because it is not that amazing. But they do make two of my favorite things, frozen strawberry margaritas with lime and salt and amazing fried ice cream.

Now I know it just looks like a mound of whipped cream but it's not, its much more! It is vanilla ice cream rolled and "fried" in toasted coconut which sits in a sweet tortilla shell which is then drizzled in chocolate and topped with lots of whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted coconut. This is definitely more of a birthday dessert than an everyday dessert, just ask my waistline!

The beaches on the Cape are stunning. This beach, in Sandwich, was at the end of a very long board walk.

From a distance the boardwalk looks as if it just disappears into the horizon.

I thought it was so neat that you could have your name engraved into the planks of the boardwalk. Some of them were very sweet and some of them made us laugh like, "The Fat Grandpa".

All and all it was a quiet restful weekend that we will not soon forget. There's something about tucking ourselves away from the rest of the world that we truly find rejuvenating. And Cape Cod, in the off season, is a great place to do just that!

Good bye Cape Cod, see you real soon. Oh yeah, and thanks!


Simply Infused With Vanilla

>> Thursday, January 17, 2008

It amazes me how a certain food can transport us back to another place, another time entirely. The smell, the taste, the texture can conjure up a memory we forgot we even had.

The summer roasted tomatoes in my freezer instantly brings me to those balmy days in August where perfectly ripe tomatoes and the sweetest corn on the cob you can imagine is the only food I ever want to eat.

Creme brulee is another one of those food for me. It takes me back to a small village in Vermont in a beautiful old Inn where I first experienced it. I had never really tasted anything like it before. The crackle of the sugar on top as my spoon broke through the caramelized barrier to reveal the creamiest custard I had ever had. The simple pure taste of eggs and cream and vanilla, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I'm not sure another creme brulee has ever tasted so amazing to me as it did that first night I had it. No other caramelized custard seems to compare to that snowy evening sitting by the fire of this historical place, that is, no other creme brulee until now.

Here is a simple recipe for creme brulee. I have to say it is the closest thing I have had to that dreamy dessert that evening in Vermont. It has very few ingredients so please use the highest quality eggs, cream, and vanilla beans you can find, it really does make all the difference.
Also, you can infuse the cream mixture with anything from lemon zest to coffee beans if you wish to add another flavor. I seem to like mine best simply infused with vanilla.

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
adapted from Simple To Spectacular
by Jean-Georges vongerichten and mark Bittman

2 cups cream
2 vanilla beans, spilt lengthwise
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
vanilla sugar or regular sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the cream and vanilla beans in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles start to rise to surface (do not boil). Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
While the custard is cooling beat the egg yolks and sugar together until a pale yellow. Remove the vanilla beans from the cream. Pour about 1/4 of the cream into the egg and sugar mixture, then pour the egg and sugar mixture back into the cream and stir until incorporated. Pour the mixture into ramekins and place in a large baking dish that is half filled with water. Cover the entire baking dish with foil and bake 30-45 minutes (depending on size of ramekins) until the centers are just set. Be careful not to over cook it. Cool and chill in fridge. The custard can be made a day ahead.
When ready to serve sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of sugar and heat with the flame of a propane torch (they sell small kitchen torches just for this purpose). If you don't own a propane torch you can also put it under the broiler in your oven for a few minutes. You want the sugar to start to bubble and brown, just beginning to burn.

I keep a jar of vanilla sugar on hand at all times. Its great to sprinkle on top of baked goods and also adds a nice finishing touch to creme brulee. You can even stir it into your coffee or tea.
To make vanilla sugar I just use my left over vanilla beans. After I have scraped out the seeds for a recipe or steeped them in heavy cream (like I did for this recipe) I leave them out to dry over night and then I just stick them in a jar of granulated sugar. After a few days you will have a wonderful sugar with the aroma and taste of pure vanilla.


The Comforts Of Home

>> Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Mama do we have doughnuts?"
"No honey we don't have doughnuts."
"Awww, but Maamaaa I want doughnuts."
"I'm sorry honey, I don't have any doughnuts."
"But Mama, can you make me doughnuts?"

Growing up there are a few food things I can remember that brought instant comfort to my days. One of them was soft boiled eggs cut up with cubed buttered toast all tossed together. Eaten with a spoon on the couch was usually how it was served. This was lovingly made by my mother whenever I was not feeling well. To this day it is one of my fondest food memories. So simple, yet I think the key here is that it was made with love by my mother.

So when my youngest asked me to make doughnuts how could I say no? How could I say no to such a comforting thing as Mama making doughnuts? This is what I do, what I love to do. I make food for people, for those I love. To comfort them, to heal them, to love them, I cook for them. Who knows, maybe it will be one of his fondest food memories. And maybe every time he eats a homemade doughnut he will instantly feel like he is getting a hug from his Mama!

Here is a pretty simple doughnut recipe. It comes together pretty quickly and does not make a large amount. Fresh doughnuts do not stay fresh for very long.

Mamas Doughnuts Made With Love

1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup milk
2 Tablespoons shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour (sift flour before you measure)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
vegetable oil for frying
confectioners sugar

Stir together vinegar and milk and set aside.
Cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla.
Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into sugar mixture alternating with milk.
Drop dough on heavily floured surface. The dough will be very sticky at this point. Put more flour on top of dough. Pat dough to 1/3 inch thick. If you want to make doughnut wholes use a small glass (shot glass size) to cut out circles. If you want to make larger doughnuts use regular size glass to cut out circles and smaller glass to cut out holes in the center. Let rest for a few minutes.

In a medium size sauce pan fill pan with vegetable oil until about half full. Heat oil to 350 degrees. Drop doughnuts in a few at a time , depending on size. You don't want to crowd the pan. Fry a minute or two per side until golden brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and roll in a mixture of confectioners sugar and cinnamon (1 cup sugar to 1 teaspoon cinnamon). Repeat with remaining dough. Feed to the ones you love and enjoy!

Makes a couple dozen doughnut holes.


Merry Funky Sock Monkeys!

>> Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Now I know this has nothing to do with food, neither cooking it or eating it, but I swear I do do other things than cooking and eating, and sewing is one of them. And i just loved them so much that I just had to share them!

Every year at Christmas time I love to make the boys a handmade Christmas gift. Its something I plan to do every year. This year it was down to the last hours but I was able to pull it off. Last year I made them blankets that they pretty much use everyday and this year I decided to make them sock monkeys (to go with their sock monkey jammies)! I never knew sock monkeys could be so much fun to make. It was like watching their personalities develop with every limb I sewed on and every button I stitched. I found this tutorial on line to give me step by step instructions and it worked really well, even for someone who does not sew very often.

The eyes on Abes monkey were green (his favorite color) but he made me change them to blue so they were "just like Calebs."

Each pair of socks makes one monkey. I used a pair of men's socks and a pair of women's knee high socks since I was making two monkeys. And just to make them a little funky ( did I just say funky monkey?) I used one sock from each pair on each monkey. It gave them a neat look, not so uniform. I really liked the way they came out. I also stitched each boys initial on the monkeys chest and stitched a little heart on the butt. Kind of a way of telling them it was made with love by their mama.

It amazes me how somone came up with this clever idea of making a toy monkey out of a pair of socks. Its nice to get back to the simplicity of things every now and then. And nice to know they were not made in China too (no lead paint)!


Tis The Season To Rest...Finally!

>> Sunday, January 06, 2008

Well the holidays are over. All the hustle and bustle, done. I am still trying to recuperate from it all. I'm not saying its not worth it but boy is it a lot of work. All the cooking and shopping and planning, finding the right gifts, finding the money to pay for those gifts- Oy, it can wear you out! Thinking back on the season my most memorable time was the morning both Caleb and I woke early (while everyone else was asleep) and snuggled up on the couch together and watched Elf. Now if Elf does not put you in the spirit of the season I'm not sure what would! But it is the simplest times that are the most memorable. This is something I need to remember for next year!
So needless to say blogging has been last on the list of things to get done. But I am hoping now that things have calmed down a bit it will be put back at the top.
I wanted to share pics of this years Christmas open house where I sell my baked goods. Just like anything worth doing, it is a lot of fun and a lot of work! And by the end of it all I never want to see another cookie again! But don't worry, I am already starting to think about next year!

My cookies on display, all packaged and pretty!

Double chocolate espresso cookies

Cyns families secret almond roca candy- really If I give out the recipe she will never talk to me again!

Lemon Cream Cheese Bows. They were so delicious but oh so delicate!

Chocolate Peppermint Polka Dot Pigs! These were one of my favorite cookies this year. I packaged them in little boxes with polka dot tissue paper and polka dot ribbons.

Another one of my favorites! Old fashioned sugar cookie trucks with Christmas trees coming out the backs, all decorated for the season!

I made Chocolate Espresso Fudge (really good recipe) and packaged it in these delightful little boxes with poinsettias on top. The boxes were kits I picked up at Michael's from Martha Stewart.

Cranberry Shortbread Hearts make a sweet gift anytime of year.

Candy jars. I package festive candy in recycled jars and make them pretty using tags and ribbons. They make a great teachers gift.

Chocolate Peppermint Elf Pop Cookies. I use the same dough as the peppermint pigs and just put a stick on the back before I bake them!

Stained Glass Church Window Cookies.

Gingerbread Cottages. Iced and strung with ribbon. Makes a delicious treat or a delightful ornament to hang on the tree.

Gingerbread Snowflakes. Decorated with words of the season...Peace, joy, Love. Strung with ribbon they look beautiful hung in a window!

Whats better than a Jumbo Cookie?? Peanut butter and Double stuffed Chocolate chip!

Happy Baking Everyone! After all this cookie making I just might stick with cakes for a while!


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