Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cooking... For No Reason! - Chicken Molé

I subscribe to a lot of parenting magazines. Parents, Parenting, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Parent & Child, and Family Fun. I dutifully dog-ear all the recipe pages. You know. In case I come down with a permanent case of the Knows-How-To-Cooks. This month's issue (10-17-2010) of Woman's Day has some neat 'fancy' recipes that actually looked easy. And the author/chef J.M. Hirsch says he makes these fancy dishes for his 6-year-old. Hmm. The chicken molé looked interesting, and I had most of the ingredients in my cupboard/freezer. Double Hmm.
As it happens, today we were on our own for dinner, as Unka Seesee has a standing D&D game on Tuesdays. HmmMMMmmm... I called my husband at work to sound out my idea.... what if... I .... cooked? [*gasp!*]
I'd need him to pick up a can of crushed tomatoes, some garlic cloves and an onion before catching his bus (since he doesn't get home until after 6, and a trip to the store then would mean we wouldn't even get started cooking until 7.) He hemmed and hawed and said the stores near him weren't likely able to accommodate. Nuts. But he said the problem would be the canned tomatoes... Well... we had a can of 'tiny diced tomatoes' in the cupboard, and he said we had chicken stock when I asked him directly, since the only ones I knew of on our shelves were long since expired. (I'm talking years here.)
Dinner: PLANNED! (All the other D&D nights, we ordered pizza, or raided the freezer for random frozen boxed foods. Except the one burrito night.)

Chicken Molé (J.M. Hirsch style)
 2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil [I used olive oil]
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp cocoa powder [I used Hershey's]
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon and red pepper flakes [I used 1/4 tsp chili powder.]
1/4 tsp each ground cloves and ground black pepper [I just ground in some pepper from our grinder without measuring and called it good.]
1 c smooth almond butter [I had chunky, and probably closer to only 6 ounces left]
1 c canned crushed tomatoes [I used diced]
2 c chicken broth
1/4 tsp salt
1 slice soft white bread, cut into small pieces [I used wheat]
1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" chunks [I used 2 breasts, so probably closer to 1 lb]

Since I couldn't really start cooking until the produce arrived, Little Z and I started combining the dry ingredients and I thawed the chicken breasts (we buy a huge package and separate them into pairs and use Ziplock freezer bags, so we have nice manageable packages frozen. And I can just dunk a baggie in water and keep refreshing the water to thaw out the chicken more gently than a microwave defrosting (I've accidentally COOKED chicken while trying to defrost it before!) And by 'we' I mostly mean 'Unka Seesee.')

We combined the cinnamon, ground cloves and cocoa powder (from a really ancient can. When I asked about the new fancy gourmet brand my husband had just bought, he told me to use the Hershey's. Punk.) We thought there were red pepper flakes, but we were wrong. So I decided to substitute chili powder, and added only 1/4 tsp, with the logic that since powder is smaller than flakes, I wouldn't need as much. (Plus I fear spiciness.)

 I couldn't find any ground pepper in the spice cupboard, so we used the jobber with peppercorns in it. Little Z was not convinced about the twist-to-sprinkle method, and insisted upon shaking it around over the bowl. I didn't do 1/4 tsp, I'm sure. Probably much less, as again, I fear spice. But in the end, my husband said it was bland, so the pepper flakes and a full 1/4 tsp of pepper would have probably turned it into a party in his mouth.

I had a pot on the stove, ready to fake it as a Dutch oven (I had asked about it when I first read the recipe a few days ago.) I had the olive oil already there, ready to go.
I diced the garlic. My husband had showed me a technique ages ago to help in peeling/dicing garlic. You peel off as much as you easily can, then use the flat side of a large blade and press down hard to crush the clove. It splits apart and the peel all but falls off.
 Mince mince mince.

I diced the onion. Little Z helped to peel the 'wrapper' off.

It was unnervingly green underneath, and for several more layers under that. When asked, DH said to use it, so in it went. Being green must make it extra fume-y, since my eyes hurt much worse than I ever remember onions doing before. My husband showed me a better way to cut it, involving the flat side down, and 'scoring' it most but not all of the way through in little rays, almost like making thin apple slices. But don't cut all the way back, so it stays together and isn't burning your eyes out with all the open edges. Then he cut across the front several times until he reached the ends of his apple slices, and the layers separated, making nice little bits. Sadly (for you,) I was on the other side of the room, not taking pictures. *I* know how to do it now, but I think I did a terrible job of describing it.

Step 1. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, combine oil, onion, garlic, cocoa, cinnamon, red pepper flakes [chili powder,] cloves and black pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes.
I already had the oil in the pot, so tossed in the garlic and onions as they were done, before adding the bowl of dry ingredients we had previously made up. Soon after the onion peeling, Little Z got bored and wandered off to make Play-Doh blobs creations. I already had my almond butter, canned tomatoes and broth out, and had planned to cut up the slice of bread during the sauté... but apparently "sauté" is French for "don't stop stirring or you'll burn everything to the bottom of the pan, dummy!"

I managed to do it anyway. The recipe didn't specify about using the crusts, and since I was using wheat instead of white, I opted to cut them off. Slice. "Oh geez!" Stir stir stir. Slice. "Whaaaat? Again?" Stir stir stir. Slice. "Craaaaaaap." Stir stir stir. Etc.
I rapidly hacked it into pieces and kept it at the ready!

Step 2. Add the almond butter and mix until it melts into the other ingredients.Add the tomatoes, broth, salt and bread, and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and return to a simmer.
I only had chunky almond butter, and slightly over half of a 12 oz jar, so not quite a cup, probably. I had a hard time getting the bottom bit out of the jar. I had to ditch the spatula and go for a spoon. I didn't bother measuring it, as I have eyeballs and can do basic math. Not enough = not enough, regardless of whether you get a measuring cup dirty or not!

While it was melting, my husband stirred and I opened the can of tomatoes and measured it and the broth in.
While waiting for a simmer, I began to cut the chi... WHAT? IT"S ALREADY SIMMERING?! Crap. So we turned it down to low while I hastily did unspeakable things to those poor, mangled chicken breasts. It looked and felt like cutting slugs. Pasty, pink slugs. Barf. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a vegetarian or anything. I like to eat meat. I just don't like to be reminded that it's slimy and gross, and used to be body parts of some kind.
Okay. Chicken added. Simmering, Check.

Step 3. Cover the pot and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

The one in the magazine (photo in magazine by Jonny Valiant)
It was okay. I'd eat it again. Maybe it was bland. It was definitely a bearable spice level. I could have survived a higher level. But I was expecting more chocolate flavor.
Little Z refused to try it, despite having been excited about the choh-koh-LA-tay (Spanish pronunciation) chicken all evening. But it took longer than planned (oh yeah, did I mention that it turned out all our chicken broth WAS expired? He denies ever having confirmed we had any, but went to the store for me anyway. *Smooch.*) so she'd been filling up on some home-made Chex mix I found in Tupperware in the back of the cupboard while rooting around looking for canned tomatoes. (Hopefully Probably from last Christmas, but it tasted okay, so I let her have some.)
And as you can see, I simultaneously made rice! I know, right? It's like I'm good at this or something! Didn't burn the food (although there were suspicious black floaty bits... Didn't taste burnt though.) Didn't explode grease and potstickers all over the kitchen [ask my sister. She hid under the sink so got to see most of the show. I ran to safety. "Mom, how do I know when the oil is 'hot enough'" "Oh, throw some water on it to see how hot it is." I poured a cup of water on. Apparently, she meant 'sprinkle.' I figured it must be hot enough, so started tossing frozen potstickers into the pan from a safe distance. ROCKETstickers, is more like it!]
Luckily the bag of rice has instructions. And really, my husband took over after the measuring part. I was knuckle deep in raw chicken nibblets when the water started boiling. But still. I was awesome. Best. Day. Ever! (Other good stuff, all day long. Well except for Little Miss no-nap Cranky McCrankerson from 3 to 5pm. I managed to distract her with glue, glitter, play-doh and cooking to make the time bearable until the next poor sucker Daddy came home.)
Just as her dinner was cool enough for her to try some, she refused, and about 10 seconds later fell asleep on her little foam couch since she'd skipped nap today.. Awww. Luckily it was almost 8pm, so we let her stay asleep and rolled her into bed after we finished eating.

 [PSSST! Unka Seesee! Leftovers in the fridge!]


  1. Hey! That sounds like how I cook -- It takes me WAY longer to prep (Cut things up, open and drain cans, etc) than recipes make it sound like it should. Which ends up 1) making me panic if I try to do it while cooking and 2) makes me take much longer than the recipe says I should.

    Preferablly, I'd do ALL the cutting, etc. ahead of time. One of my favorite recipes (Chicken Spaghetti) I even do the cooking of the chicken and pulling of the meat off the bones one night and actually cook the dinner the next night!

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