Monday, January 2, 2012

I love you Rick Bayless but it's over ...

Not an ingredient in a mole sauce! My dog.

We're breaking up, really, you've tested me enough, and now that the smoke has cleared, the debris been shoveled out and the company gone, it's over!

For the third year in succession I hosted the whole gang up at the cabin for the holidays. The gang includes my daughter, husband and boys 10 and 14 - who incidentally arrived with stomach flu but that's a whole other story. Oh, and they also arrived with one of their four Standard Poodles and a 7 week old rescue puppy - supposedly adopted by a friend but in need of a place to stay over Christmas. Then my unmarried son and his two dogs, June and Cash - he did bring wonderful fresh roasted coffee beans from his coffee shop, ROASTED, in down town Tucson - so for as long as the beans lasted, he was favorite child. Then there was the other son, his lovely wife and the "toadlets" - 2 and 4 - little enough to believe in the magic of the season. And then - my daughter-in-law's parents who arrived loaded with goodies of the eatable and drinkable kind. So in residence, snowed in - four children, five dogs, eight adults and all twenty-seven ingredients  for Rick Bayless' Oaxacan Mole.  No partridge, no pear tree but a Bald Eagle cruising the valley, Lewis Woodpeckers making their way into the house -    ( and not being subtle about it), two horses and a mule who consumed all the apples we had, and eighteen or more inches of light, dry, beautiful snow.

I've learned over the years to respond graciously to offers of "what can we bring" and a system has emerged of shared responsibility for meals. My only responsibility this year was for Christmas dinner itself.

We have a tradition of a New Mexico , give or take a cultural inch or so, Christmas Eve dinner and my sons are in charge. Loosely speaking that is!  Daughter-in-law's parents scoured the back streets and side alleys of Tucson to find all the specialty  chilli peppers needed for the mole (in reality they went to 17th. Street Market); one son brought up a small turkey, and the other one, technically in charge of the dinner, informed me about 4 p.m. on the 23rd. that since dinner was covered on that night - my birthday as it so happens - and I had "nothing to do" and the kitchen was "under control" why didn't "we" ( note the "we") start on the mole*.

This recipe involves, charring, deep frying, pureeing, grating, slicing, dicing, walloping, pungent fumes and CHAOS. Total and utter CHAOS. However, since it was accomplished by an army of chefs for a White House State Dinner, who was I to say we couldn't do it too. Always up for a challenge. I had made it solo, two years previously but down at the Tucson house where I have access to an outdoor cook top. We "improvised" this year. I flat out refused to allow the charring of chili seeds and the frying of the dried pods to be done in the cabin. Middle son was banished to the garage where he improvised a field kitchen using the big panini press and propane camp stove - even so the pungent, cough-inducing fumes seeped through cracks and crannies ( this is a log cabin) and filled the great room. The 4 year old informed me "Daddy is burning things in the garage". I chose not to look - couldn't - I was in the kitchen roasting peanuts, mashing banana, peeling tomatillos, chopping green tomatoes the recipe and you'll get the picture.

"How black are the onion slices meant to be?" - the question relayed by another son from the garage. "Black" I responded.  Be more explicit - memo to self. Onions came in charred into  nubs of solid - well, charcoal would be a good description. Don't be offended by the following but my Yorkshire grandmother had an expression related to toast - "when it's brown it's done, when it's black it's ......"  rhymes with sugared.

Not a surface free in the kitchen, not a dish clean, not a person free of the nagging cough induced by release of capsaicin. I did read once that the fumes do not cause permanent nerve damage.  Final stage in this glorious dish involves simmering for an hour or so and them forcing through a fine mesh sieve so that the sauce is a thick, ebony colored, and oh so amazing sauce.  Flavours of chocolate, nuts, hints of heat but not "hot" - make this the most wonderful, versatile, give me more, mole sauce imaginable.

So Rick, I'm only breaking up with you until next Christmas when I know I'll be talked into making this again. And Rick, you probably don't remember me but I did shake your hand once at Topolobampo in Chicago - the time I sat next to Rachael Ray who insisted I try her dessert. I know it was Rachael you came out to talk to but a girl can dream.

*Mole (Mexican Spanish, from Nahuatl mulli or molli, "sauce" or "concoction") Rodents do NOT feature in the recipe - despite what my 10 year old grandson may say.

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