Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Arlene’s Chicken Salad 0

Posted on May 19, 2015 by Sahar

My late, great, Great Aunt Arlene Becker Peoples (“Auntie”) was a force of nature. She was born in Georgetown, Texas on July 11, 1930.  She grew up in Kyle, married a man who founded his own meat packing company, raised two girls (my cousins Phyllis & Stacy), divorced, and then proceeded to live life by her own set of rules. She flirted with the men, traveled extensively (Bali was her favorite), played Bridge, gave a helping hand to anyone who asked for it, and made Backgammon a contact sport.  I really looked up to her in many ways.

She was a huge part of my life growing up.  And, when I moved to Austin, she took me under her wing and made sure I was properly fed and clothed (she was a free laundromat).  We also had epic Yahtzee battles that would go on for hours.  I still use the microwave she gave Husband Steve & I as a housewarming gift.

She passed away December 24, 1999.  Too soon.  Way too soon.  I still miss her every day. I could never thank her enough for all she did for me.

Above all, to me, she was a great home cook.  Nothing too fancy, but wonderful, honest cooking.  It wasn’t unusual for us to share a ham steak with German potato salad or buttered cabbage. And, of course, she always had Blue Bell Vanilla Bean in the freezer.

She did have three specialties that always stood out:  Angel Biscuits (basically, a cross between a biscuit and a roll), Seafood Crepes, and Chicken Salad.  She would always fix Angel Biscuits for special occasions and breakfasts when my family would visit when my sisters & I were kids.  Her crepes were amazing.  So amazing in fact that they became all anyone wanted her to bring to the bridge club luncheons.  Needless to say, she got tired of them.  My favorite was her Chicken Salad.

I’ve always called this dish Arlene’s Chicken Salad.  It’s in the great tradition of Southern chicken salads in that it contains dressing, a sweet component, and a lot of chicken.  Unlike most traditional Southern recipes, however, she never added eggs.  She felt, as my mom does, and I do, there is egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad; they are all meant to be separate entities standing on their own never to mix.  In other words, as great as eggs are, they don’t need to go in chicken salad.

Also, I’ve always loved her secret ingredient – Cool Whip®.  I never knew if she came up with it on her own or learned it from someone or somewhere.  But, it really doesn’t matter. It’s pretty awesome.

I have deviated from her original recipe in one major way – I use dark meat.  In a true Southern chicken salad, you never use dark meat.  Always poached chicken breast meat only.  It’s more refined, I guess.

She was also very precise in how she chopped her pecans.  She would cut it into 1/3rd’s lengthwise along the grooves, then tun it and cut it into 1/3rd’s again, making exactly 9 pieces. I asked her once why she did it that way.  I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I’m sure it was something about appearances.  It was all very German Efficient of her.  While I am half German, I don’t have the efficiency or the patience genes, I guess.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don't.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don’t.


This dish, of course, comes together pretty fast.  Just pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store, cut up a few ingredients, mix, and voila!, dinner.  And, you didn’t even need to turn on the stove.

A few notes:

1.  I’ve never had this with anything other than red grapes.  You can substitute another fruit such as apples, pears, or dried fruit if you like.  Experiment.

2.  If you don’t toast the pecans, it’s fine.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  If you do, place the pecans on a baking sheet and place in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Then, take the baking sheet out of the oven, spread the pecans out on a cool surface and allow them to cool before you chop them and add to the salad.

3.  Speaking of #2 – pecans.  Only pecans.

4.  If you don’t have or don’t want to use Cool Whip®, you can use all mayonnaise.  It just won’t be the same. DO NOT use Miracle Whip®. Gross.


Oh, and by the way.  Auntie would never use low-fat or fat-free versions of anything.  Her mantra in the kitchen was always “I don’t cook skinny”.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients


1 whole cooked chicken, skinned, boned, and meat chopped


3-4 cooked whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped

2 c. seedless red grapes, cut into 1/4’s


2 stalks celery, finely diced


1 c. toasted pecans, chopped


1 c. mayonnaise, more if needed

1 c. Cool Whip ®, more if needed

Salt & Pepper to taste


Salad greens, optional


1.  In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans until well mixed.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

2.  Stir in the mayonnaise and Cool Whip ®.  Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add more mayonnaise and/or Cool Whip® if needed.

3.  If you are using salad greens, place them on a serving plate and spread out slightly. Then, place a serving of the chicken on top.  Serve with bread or crackers.

In memory of Auntie.

In memory of Auntie.



Thom Yum Gai 0

Posted on March 27, 2015 by Sahar

It’s hard to believe even 15 – 20 years ago most Americans had never even heard of Thai food outside of cities that had a large Asian population.  Now, Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Massaman Curry, Green Papaya Salad, and Green Chicken Curry seem to be everywhere.

As much as I like those dishes, and many others, one stands out for me: Thom Yum Gai – Chicken Coconut Soup.  The words “thom yum” basically mean “hot and sour soup”. “Gai” is the chicken version of this soup. Other styles of thom yum include – “Pla”: a fish soup eaten with rice; “Kha Mu”: a slower cooked soup made with pork knuckles.  There are several other variations of this soup.

This is not only a refreshing soup to eat any time of year, but it’s one on my go-to’s when Husband Steve and I aren’t feeling well.  Something about the alchemy of Asian soups in general that just make us feel better.

I like to make my Thom Yum Gai heavily seasoned.  So, my soup has a pronounced, but not overbearing flavor, of ginger, lime, and chiles.  I wanted to keep the flavor in line with what I’ve eaten at some of my favorite Thai restaurants. Of course, if you want to go lighter, adjust the seasonings as you like.

Besides the taste, the next best thing about this soup is the quickness and ease in which it comes together.  From start to finish, less than an hour.

I will say that my inspiration for this recipe comes from James Peterson. His award-nominated book, Splendid Soups, is arguably the best book on soups ever published. While this is my recipe, he was definitely an influence on the direction I took.


A few notes:

1.  Kaffir lime leaves are an authentic ingredient in this recipe.  However, even with the plethora of Asian markets now in Austin, I still have a very difficult time finding them. So, I now use lime peel.  However, if you can find Kaffir leaves, by all means, use them.  4 – 6 leaves, cut into julienne (thin) strips will work well.

2.  If you can’t find lemongrass, you can use the peel of 1 lemon.  Alternately, if can find it, there is a lemongrass paste that is available in some supermarkets; however, once you open the tube, it must be used within a finite amount of time.  If you decide to use the paste, check the measurements on the container to see how much you need.  DO NOT use dried lemongrass; all of the oils that give it its flavor will have dissolved leaving you with basically grass clippings.

3.  You can peel the ginger or not.  I generally don’t. If you do prefer to leave the skin on, be sure to wash the ginger thoroughly.

4.  Shiitake mushrooms are really best for this dish.  However, if you don’t like or can’t find them, you can use straw mushrooms (you can usually find them canned. Be sure to drain them first).  In a pinch, criminis will do.

5.  Chicken is the most common way to make this soup.  However, you can also make it with shrimp, mixed fish and/or shellfish, pork, or tofu.  Just use the same amount as you would the chicken.  Be sure to use the corresponding broth as well.  I’ve seen some restaurants serve thom yum with beef, but I don’t know how authentic that is or if it’s just to satisfy American palates.

6.  By the way, fish sauce is essential to making this dish. There’s really no omitting it.

7.  If you are making this dish with tofu and want to make it vegan, here is a recipe for vegan fish sauce.

8.  If you can’t find Thai (also known as bird) chiles, you can substitute 3 – 4 serrano chiles. If you don’t want that much heat, be sure to remove the seeds and membranes. You can also cut back on the number of chiles.

9.  To help stretch the soup and/or help mitigate the heat, you can serve some Jasmin rice alongside the soup.  Alternately, have some cooked rice noodles in the bottom of the serving bowl and pour the soup on top.  Just have the noodles or rice on the side, not in the actual soup pot.

10.  Even though leaving all of the seasonings in the soup is more authentic, if you want to, after the soup has cooked, you can strain the broth, pick the chicken and mushrooms out of the seasonings. and place them back into the broth before serving. This is especially helpful if all you really want to do is drink the broth from a mug.

(I know you’re asking the question – “Why not strain the broth before you add the mushrooms and chicken?” Because, the longer the seasonings cook in the broth, the more flavor you will have. Besides, it’s not really that much extra work.)

11.  If you do decide to go full authentic, serve the soup with a pair of chopsticks and a small bowl on the side so your guests can place their pieces of lemongrass, ginger, etc., aside as they eat.



The Ingredients

The Ingredients


3 c. chicken broth

peel of 1 lime, cut into 1″ pieces


2 ea. 4-inch stalks lemongrass, either sliced or minced (depending on your preference and patience)


1/2 c. ginger, cleaned and cut into 1/8″ slices (estimating is fine)


4 Thai chiles, thinly sliced


1/3 c. Thai fish sauce

1/2 c. lime juice

4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and sliced 1/4″ thick


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin (approx. 1 lb. to 1-1/4 lbs.)


1 can (15-1/2 oz.) coconut milk

1/4 c. cilantro, chopped





1.  In a large saucepan, add the chicken broth, lime peel, lemongrass, ginger, chiles, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, and chiles in the saucepan.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chiles in the saucepan.

2.  Add the shiitakes, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.


3.  Add the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro.  Continue cooking until the chicken is just done; about 3 – 5 minutes.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done. You want to be sure not to overcook it.

4.  When the chicken is done, remove the saucepan from the heat and taste for seasoning.

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? The ones in the bag?)

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? La Choy?)



Chicken Tortilla Soup 0

Posted on December 19, 2014 by Sahar

As I sit here on this rainy & chilly day, my mind and appetite turn to soup.

This recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup is a hearty soup that is quick (especially if you use leftover or store-bought rotisserie chicken) and can be easily be made either ahead or after a day at work. Or, almost better yet, what to feed your family the day before a big holiday (hint, hint); this recipe can easily be doubled.

This soup is certainly a recipe that shouts TexMex at you. It  is certainly more Tex than Mex – mainly because Mexican cuisine doesn’t use blended chili powders. If any chile powders are used at all, they are of a single chile (i.e. ancho, guajillo).

This soup can also easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth and omitting the chicken. If you want the added protein, you can add beans, extra-firm tofu, seitan, tempeh, or even simply extra hominy in place of the chicken.


The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The ingredients (chicken broth not shown)

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It's simply a personal preference. There's absolutely no difference in the flavor.

The hominy. I like to use both yellow and white. It’s simply a personal preference. There’s absolutely no difference in the flavor. For a brief explanation of what exactly hominy is, go here.

From top:

From top: grapeseed oil, cumin, Mexican oregano, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt, San Antonio chili powder


2 tbsp. vegetable oil (you can also use grapeseed or canola oil)

1 small onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 small (4 oz.) can diced green chiles (hot or mild)


1 small  (7 oz.) can salsa verde

1 tbsp. chili powder (I like San Antonio blend)

1 tsp. Mexican oregano

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. salt, more to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, more to taste

2 cans hominy, drained

1 15 oz. can chopped tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

4 c. chicken broth

4 c. cooked, shredded chicken

Lime juice, to taste

1/2 c. chopped cilantro


Vegetable oil for frying


The condiments

The condiments


Shredded Cabbage

Chopped Green Onion

Crispy Tortilla Strips

Lime Wedges

Sour Cream



1.  In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft, about 3-5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles or salsa verde and saute for another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it's what I had at home.

Adding the salsa verde. I used salsa in this recipe because it’s what I had at home. if you are using salsa, be sure to let it cook down by at least half.

2.  Add the chili powder, oregano, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper.  Saute for 1-2 minutes or until the fragrance comes up.

Adding the spices. be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Adding the spices. Be sure to stir pretty much constantly; you want the spices to have a scent (this means the oils are cooking). You want to take care not to burn them.

Add the hominy and tomatoes and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

Adding the tomatoes and hominy.

3.  Add the chicken broth.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Adding the chicken broth. Once the soup is cooking, be sure to stir frequently to keep the hominy from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Cover the saucepan and bring the broth to a boil. Uncover, lower the heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

After 30 minutes. The soup should be somewhat thickened from the hominy.

4.  While the soup is cooking, make the tortilla strips.  Take 6-8 tortillas and cut them into roughly 1/4-inch wide strips.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Tortilla strips. Be sure to use a very sharp knife so you can get even strips without tearing up the tortillas.

Be sure to separate them.  Heat a medium (9-inch) skillet with about 1/2-inch of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Test the oil by dropping a strip in the oil; it should immediately sizzle. Fry the strips in small batches until they are crispy.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 - 90 seconds per batch.

Frying the strips. Be sure to keep them as separated as possible and fry in small batches. Frying the strips should take no more than 60 – 90 seconds per batch.

Drain the strips on paper towels. (Alternately, you can simply serve the whole tortillas or tortilla chips on the side.)

The finished strips.

The finished strips.

5.  After the initial cooking time, add the chicken, lime juice, and cilantro.  Cook for a further 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you're simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice. At this point you’re simply heating the chicken through. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

6.  Serve the soup with the tortilla strips, cabbage, green onion, extra lime wedges, and sour cream.

The finished soup. Pretty, huh?

The naked finished soup. it’s great just like this.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.

The fully dressed soup. Perfect for a chilly, rainy night.


Chicken Chile Verde 0

Posted on April 30, 2013 by Sahar

I’m about to say something that will send some chili aficionados into a wall-eyed fit: green chili is a good thing.

Now, being from Texas, I know that’s not necessarily a popular sentiment.  Unless you’re close to the New Mexico border.  In fact, at the best-known chili cookoff in Terlingua, Texas, there’s not even a green chili category.

However, I do like it.  I find it’s generally easier to make than traditional chili (if you’d like the recipe, see my post [Chili… Or, Them’s Fightin’ Words] from Feb. 14, 2012), it’s just as versatile, and mostly, it’s delicious.

So, off I go.  On to the recipe:


A couple of notes:

1.  Using canned Hatch chiles will save time and mess.  But, if you have Hatch chiles from last year in the freezer, use them.

2.  I’ve also used, in place of the thighs, a whole chicken from the deli.  This will save time also and make this a reasonably quick after-work meal.

3.  You can use pork instead or make the chili vegetarian.  In place of chicken or pork, you can use beans.  Yes… Beans.  Also, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

4.  Admittedly, my chili is not green, per se.  I call it green because I don’t use any tomatoes or red meat.  However, if you want a fully green chili, you can use green chili powder (usually ground jalapeno, hatch, or poblano chiles.)  However, you will want to experiment and check the spice level and adjust the recipe accordingly.

5.  Taste the chili before adding the lime juice.  I like more citrus than most people, so I enjoy the added tartness.  However, you may not.

The ingredients

The ingredients

Clockwise from top: Mexican Oregano, Black Pepper, Salt, ground Cumin, Chili Powder

Clockwise from top: Mexican Oregano, Black Pepper, Salt, ground Cumin, Chili Powder

3 lbs. chicken thighs

4 c. water or chicken broth

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 cl. garlic, minced

1 med. onion, diced

2 serranos, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds removed if you prefer

1 c. roasted, seeded,  peeled , and chipped Anaheim, Poblano, or Hatch Chilies (roughly 4 – 6 chiles)


2 small cans chopped Hatch chilies

1 1/2 lbs. tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed, leave whole

2 tsp. dried Mexican Oregano

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 c. chopped cilantro

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp. masa

Queso fresco or Jack cheese and Tortillas for serving


1.  Put the chicken thighs and stock or water in a large saucepan or Dutch oven.  Cover and bring the stock to a boil over medium heat.  Once the liquid has started boiling , uncover, turn the heat down to medium-low and continue cooking until the thighs are cooked.

2.  Place a large strainer or colander over a large bowl and drain the thighs.  Reserve the stock and set the thighs aside to cool.

**If you’re using a pre-cooked chicken, you can skip steps 1 & 2.** 

3.  While the thighs are cooling, turn the heat on the stove back up to medium-high.  Add the oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic,  Saute until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the onions and garlic.

4.  Add the serranos.  Saute another 2 – 3 minutes.

How I prep the serranos. I leave the stem on and cut the serrano almost in half.

How I prep the serranos. I leave the stem on and cut the serrano almost in half.

Sauteeing the peppers with the onions and garlic.

Sauteing the peppers with the onions and garlic.

Add the chiles and saute another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the chiles.

Adding the chiles.


Add the tomatillos and mix them in well.

The perfect tomatillo.

The perfect tomatillo.

Choose tomatillos that are firm and the outer husk peels away easily.  You don’t want tomatillos that are too small for the husk.  They’re generally old and dehydrated.  The tomatillo will be sticky when you peel off the husk, so be sure to wear gloves.

Adding the tomatilos to the saucepan.

Adding the tomatilos to the saucepan.

5.  Add the spices and cook until they begin to have a scent.  About another 2 – 3 minutes.

Adding the spices.

Adding the spices.

6.  Add the reserved stock back into the pan.

Adding the broth.

Adding the broth.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Uncover the saucepan, lower the heat to medium, and continue to cook until the tomatillos have softened, about 20 – 30 minutes.

Bringing the broth to a boil.

Boiling the tomatillos.

7.  Meanwhile, skin, bone, and shred the chicken.  Set aside.

The shredded chicken.

The shredded chicken. Not pretty. But delicious.

8.  Make a slurry.  Take the masa and add 2 – 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid or water.  Mix together until smooth.  Set aside.

9.  Once the tomatillos are soft, remove the saucepan from the heat.  Take a potato masher and carefully mash the tomatillos.


Mashing the tomatillos.

Mashing the tomatillos.

Place the saucepan back on the heat and cook for another 20 minutes.  Be sure to stir frequently.  Taste for seasoning.

10.  Add the slurry and mix in well.  Add the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice.

Adding the chicken, cilantro, and lime juice.

Cook for another 5 – 10 minutes, or until slightly thickened.  Taste for seasoning.  Stir frequently.

11.  Serve with tortillas and a little queso fresco or shredded jack cheese.




Now, If you have some leftover chili, and I’m sure you will, here’s a great way to use it.

Take a couple of toastada shells and break them into large pieces on a plate. (Or, you can use tortilla chips.) Take a skillet and set it over medium heat.  Add a little vegetable oil and heat.  Add roughly 1 cup of the chili.  Heat the chili and stir frequently.  Spread the chili out as evenly as possible over the bottom of the skillet and crack 2 eggs on top of the chili.  Cover the skillet and turn the heat to medium-low.

I generally like to spoon some of the warm chili over the top of the eggs to help with cooking. Carefully use a rubber spatula to get under the chili and eggs so the chili doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.

Let the eggs poach in the chili until they’re done to your liking.  I generally like my eggs soft, so I’ll let them cook about 5 minutes.

When the eggs are done, carefully scoop out the chili and eggs and place them over the broken toastada shells.







Mole Verde 5

Posted on October 09, 2012 by Sahar

I love mole. For me, it’s another one of those comfort foods that always make me happy. It’s also one of the great things about growing up in a state where the Mexican influence in food is so prevelant.

 One of the origin myths of mole has the nuns of Convent Santa Rosa in the 16th Century anticipating a visit from the Archbishop.  They were a rather impoverished convent and had nothing to serve him.  In their panic, they cooked together what they could find – seeds, chocolate, day-old bread, nuts – and cooked it for hours into a sweet, thick sauce.  They added the only meat they had, an old turkey, and served it to the Archbishop.  He loved it.


Little did the nuns of Santa Rosa know, they invented the National Dish of Mexico.  While it is mostly prepared for the holidays, it can be eaten any time of year.

All moles are very time consuming, labor intensive, and require many ingredients. Some sources state that some moles have as many as 100 ingredients, but that’s almost certainly an exaggeration (but, who knows). However, 30 ingredients isn’t unheard of, and some mole recipes can list 10 different varieties of chiles. Other ingredients can include: peanuts, almonds, fried bread, plantains, lard, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves.

It is said there are seven types of mole:

Mole Poblano – The most popular of mole sauces used today is mole poblano. It is what is considered the “national dish” of Mexico throughout the world. mole poblano originated in the state of Puebla and is made up of more than 20 different ingredients. The main ingredients are chili peppers and chocolate (which gives mole poblano its distinctive flavor and dark color). It has a slight sweetness to it.

Mole Negro (black)  –  While the region of Oaxaca is considered “the land of the seven moles,” its main mole is mole negro. This version of mole  is darker than the traditional mole poblano, but has the same rich flavor. Mole negro is known for being the most difficult mole sauces to make, due to its large ingredient list that contains chili peppers, chocolate, onions, garlic, seeds, spices, nuts and hoja santa. Hoja santa is a plant that gives mole negro is distinctive flavor and color.

  It is also generally sweeter than Mole Poblano.

Mole Verde (green) – Mole verde originated in the region of Oaxaca and gets its name from its green color. This color is achieved by using toasted pumpkin seeds, romaine lettuce, cilantro and tomatillos. Mole verde is has a milder flavor than most of the other mole sauces, and is popular in dishes that contain chicken.

Rojo (red) – Can be made from guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, pecans, tomatoes, peanuts, chocolate, garlic, onions and spices.

  It has a medium-heat depending on the amount and types of chiles used.

Mole Amarillo (yellow) Made from ancho chiles, guajillo chiles, tomatillos, spices, cilantro, and the aromatic herb hoja santa.

Mole de cacahuate (peanut) –  Made from peanuts and chiles.
Mole chichilo is made from pasilla chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, spices and masa harina.

Mole coloradito (red Oaxacan) – Made from ancho chiles, almonds, tomatoes, seeds, bananas and spices.

(information sources:;;

One of these days, I’m going to make all of these.

Now, on to the recipe:


The ingredients


Mole Verde is a pipian-style mole from Puebla.  The ingredients are all fresh, there’s no chocolate, and there are seeds (usually pumpkin) in the sauce.

3 lbs. chicken

Chicken broth or water

1/2 c. pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds, unsalted)

2 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tsp. Mexican oregano (I used dried)

1 1/2 tsp. Marjoram (I used dried)

Salt & pepper to taste

1 med white onion, peeled, stem end left on, cut into 1/4’s

4 lg. garlic cloves, peeled, stem end cut off

3 jalapenos

3 poblano peppers

8 tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed

1 c. packed spinach leaves

1 bunch clantro, large stem ends trimmed off

1/2 c. chopped parsley


1.  Place the chicken pieces into a large pot with just enough chicken broth or water to cover.  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, turn the heat down to medium-low and let the chicken simmer until done.  Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside until cool enough to handle and shred.  Discard the skin and bones (unless you want to save the bones for stock).

2.  Heat a heavy skillet on high.  Dry roast the pepitas and cumin seeds.  Stir frequently to keep them from burning.  As soon as the pepitas begin to brown and pop and the cumin seeds begin to have a fragrance pour the seeds onto a plate and let cool.

Dry roasting the pepitas and cumin seeds.

Using a coffee grinder (one that you use only for spices), grind the seeds into a powder.  You’ll need to do this in batches.

The ground seeds. They smell great. Really.

3.  Have a bowl covered with plastic or a large zip bag nearby.  Dry roast the jalapenos and poblanos in the skillet on all sides until the skin is blackened and blistered.  It’s OK if the skin isn’t blistered evenly and there’s still some green.  (Alternately, don’t leave the chiles on the heat for too long or they’ll turn gray.  At that point, you’ve gone too far.)

Dry roasting the chiles and garlic.

Dry roasting the poblanos.

Place the chiles in the bowl and cover or place in the bag and seal.  Allow the chiles to steam to loosen their skins.  Leave until cool enough to handle.

4.  Continue dry roasting with the onion (cut off the stem end after you’ve roasted the onion), garlic, and tomatillos.  Again, you just want to have some black spots.  Make sure you don’t overcook the tomatillos.  You don’t want them to come apart in the skillet.

Roasting the onion.

Roasting the tomatillos.

5.  Remove the chiles from the bag or bowl and peel off as much of the charred skin as you can.

The peeled chiles. Ready for seeding.

Remove the stems and seeds from the poblanos and the stems from the jalapenos.  Depending on how mild or spicy you would like the mole, keep or remove as many of the seeds and membranes from the jalapenos as you like.

5.  Add the oregano, marjoram, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, jalapenos, spinach, cilantro, and parsley to 4 cups of the chicken broth.  Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly before pureeing.

The ingredients cooking away.

7.  Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so already, shred the chicken.  Discard the skin.  Discard or save the bones for stock.

8.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground pepitas and cumin.  Add 1/2 cup of the stock and make a paste.  Take the skillet off the heat and set aside.

9.  In a food processor or blender in batches, or with a stick blender in the pot, puree the broth and vegetables until as smooth as you prefer.  Place the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and add the paste into the mole mixture.  Mix well.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes.  The mole will thicken slightly.  Taste for seasoning.

10.  Add the chicken back into the mole and cook another 5 minutes to heat the chicken through.  Serve with rice and tortillas.


Note:  I somehow lost some of the photos I took while I was making this dish.  However, you can see the finished mole here:

Yes. I did a TV spot.  And I was very nervous.

If you would like to see even more mole recipes and even some cajeta cheesecake, I’ll be teaching this class on Friday, October 19 at Central Market North Lamar.






Chicken Stock (or Broth) 0

Posted on August 14, 2012 by Sahar

Look at any (non-vegetarian) cookbook and you’ll see one ingredient that is used in just about every recipe that is a soup, has a sauce, or a gravy.  Chicken broth.

Chicken broth is used mainly for its rather chameleon-like ability to take on the flavor of most dishes.  The flavor is neutral enough to not interfere with the other flavors; rather, it enhances them.  It can be used in vegetable, pork, lamb (depending on the recipe), and, of course, chicken.

In fact, in many recipes that call for water, I’ll use chicken stock instead if I can.  It just makes everything taste better.

But, while a good sauce or gravy can cover up many sins in the kitchen, the sauce or gravy needs to taste just that much better.  So, if you’re using bad stock, there is nothing you can do to hide that.

The words “stock” and “broth” are generally used interchangeably. Because, well, they’re almost exactly the same thing.

According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th Ed.” (Herbst & Herbst, 2007):

“Stock is the strained liquid that comes from cooking meat or fish (with bones), vegetables, and other seasonings in water to extract their flavors.”

“Broth a liquid that comes from cooking vegetables, meat or fish, and seasonings in water.”

Basically, the difference between the two is one of use or intent. “Broth” is what you end up with at the end of cooking the ingredients; “Stock” is what you use to cook with.  Other definitions will say that a “Stock” is always made with bones while a “Broth” isn’t.  And, indeed, there is a very different “mouth feel “(a technical term used by chefs to describe taste and texture of an ingredient) between the two.

But, whatever you term it, a stock or broth can make or break a recipe.  A good stock will enhance; a bad stock will ruin.  There’s no hiding it.


There are literally dozens of commercial chicken stocks/broths on the market.  Swanson’s (my personal favorite among the lot), Pacific, Kitchen Basics, and Better than Bouillon are a few that come to mind.  Many stores, like Central Market (TX), Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc. will have their own brands as well.  You can find regular, organic, low sodium, and even flavored commercial stocks/broths now.

However, I always recommend one thing when buying stock/broth from the grocery store.  Avoid bouillon like the plague.  It’s little more than tiny blocks of salt with a little artificial flavor enhancement.

As good as some commercial stocks/broths are, there is really nothing to compare to homemade.

Homemade chicken broth is fairly inexpensive, easy, and, best of all, delicious.  You can control the flavor of the stock, make it with all organic ingredients, make it low- or no-sodium.  It’s completely up to you.

The recipe that I’ll be giving you today is for a traditional white (non-roasted) chicken stock.  This means that all of the ingredients are raw when they go into the water.

Now, on to the recipe.


I will preface this recipe by saying that I don’t particularly care for a lot of vegetable flavor in my meat stocks.  I save that for my vegetable stock.  So, I keep the vegetables to a minimum.  Sometimes, I just leave them out altogether.

You don’t need to get fancy about chopping the vegetables for this.  Just make sure they’re peeled and cleaned.  You can simply cut them into large chunks and that will be fine.  In fact, I worked with a lady who would simply break the celery and carrots in half and toss them in.  No muss, no fuss.

Also, I never put salt into my chicken stock.  I do this so I can control the salt in the recipe later.

One more note about the cuts of chicken. Whole chickens are best.  Just be sure to remove the giblets (if there are any) and thoroughly rinse the chicken.  Trim as much of the fat as you can (although natural, free range, and organic chickens will have less fat) and, very important, leave the skin on.  It has a lot of flavor, just like the bones.  I will sometimes use, as I did in this particular instance, chicken thighs either in place of or to enhance the whole chickens.  Dark meat has quite a lot of flavor, so I like to add a few extra thighs in.  I don’t recommend using all white meat because it just doesn’t have the flavor to make a rich stock.  If you’re going to go to all the trouble to make homemade stock, you want it to have flavor. Do NOT use boneless, skinless breasts to make stock.  You may as well use water in your cooking instead.


The ingredients


2 whole chickens, trimmed of most fat, about 8 lbs. total (If the chicken has giblets, discard the liver or use it in another recipe. It will make your stock bitter and cloudy.)


1 whole chicken plus 3 -4 lbs. of chicken thighs

1 med. onion, peeled and chopped

2 med. carrots, peeled and chopped

1 stalk celery, cleaned and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1 Bouquet Garni (made with 4 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 2-3 bay leaves, and 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns; you can also include about 10-12 sprigs of parsley)

Cold water to cover (preferably filtered), plus extra if needed


Tied Bouquet Garni

The chopped vegetables and garlic


1.  Rinse the chicken (this will help get rid of some of the impurities as well as anything that might interfere with the flavor) and place it in a large stockpot. (You want one that will hold at least 8 quarts).  Add in the vegetables and bouquet garni.  Add just enough water to cover all the ingredients.

Everything in the pot.


2.  Place the stockpot on medium heat, cover, and slowly heat until you just see bubbles start to break the surface.  As soon as that happens, uncover the stock, turn the heat down to low and gently simmer.  This will help to make a clearer stock as well as give it a deeper flavor in the end.

3.  When you see foam rise to the top of the stock, take a spoon or very fine strainer and skim it off the top.  (The foam basically consists of any dirt , blood, or other impurities in the ingredients. Sounds gross. But, hey, it’s homemade.)

You can just start to see the foam rising to the top. The stock has been cooking for about 20 – 30 minutes at this point.

3.  Continue cooking at a low simmer and skimming off any foam for the next 3 hours.  Add cold water as needed to keep the ingredients covered at all times.

After about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Skim off the foam.


After skimming off the foam.

At approximately 1 1/2 hours.

At approximately 2 hours. At this point, you really won’t see any more foam.

Approximately 2 1/2 hours. Add more water if needed.

At 3 hours. Notice how the ingredients have cooked down.


4.  At this point you can do one of two things: either strain the stock and get it ready for storage; or, store the stock as is, overnight, in the refrigerator.  I tend to do the latter.

Ideally, you can quick-cool the stock by filling your sink full of ice, placing either the stockpot or a bowl with the strained stock in the ice.  Stir frequently until the stock is cooled to room temperature (replenish the melted ice as needed).  At that point, either store the stock overnight in your refrigerator or store it into serving- or recipe-sized portions and put it in the freezer.

However, things are not always ideal.  I will let the stock cool in the stockpot on the stove and then put it into the refrigerator to cool overnight. (Luckily, we have a refrigerator in our outbuilding so I have the room to store a full pot of stock.)

To make sure you cool down the stock safely without the use of a sink full of ice, pour or strain the stock into a large, clean bowl, cool the stock down to room temperature (70F) within 2 hours and then down to 40F within an additional four.  This will help to retard bacterial growth and make a safe stock.  (Invest in an instant-read thermometer.  They’re fairly inexpensive and will take a lot of guesswork out of cooking and checking the temperature on your foods.)

In France, and probably other parts of Europe, stock is left to sit on the stove overnight. I don’t recommend that.

Be sure to cover your stock if you store it overnight.

5.  If you let your stock sit overnight, you can remove any fat that has hardened on top before you store it.  However, if you’ve trimmed the chicken before you started, there shouldn’t be too much fat to worry about.  But, it’s up to you.

Stock after sitting overnight. I left the ingredients in to continue adding flavor. However, if you want to strain the stock before cooling, go ahead.


Ideally, you want your stock to look like, well, jelly.  Meat jelly.  This happens when you have extracted all possible flavor from the ingredients and you have cooked the collagen out of the bones and skin.  It’s what gives the stock a silky mouth feel and richness.

Mmm… Chicken Jelly.  Seriously, this is what you want to see.


6.  If you have already strained your stock and are ready for storage, go ahead and do that.  However, if you’ve store your stock overnight with the ingredients still in the broth, then, you’ll need to reheat the stock over low heat until it just becomes liquid again.

7.  Strain the stock.  I’ll remove many of the large pieces of chicken, vegetables, and the bouquet garni  from the stock before I start to pour out the liquid.  Saves on splashing messes.  Be sure to let the anything you remove from the stock drain thoroughly before discarding them.  Take a large colander and pour the stock through it into a large bowl or clean stockpot.

If you’ve done this right,  the chicken or vegetables won’t have any flavor once you’re done, so they can be discarded.

(Don’t give any of the chicken to your cats, no matter how persistently they beg.  The garlic & onion that’s infused through the stock and into the chicken will make them very ill.)

First straining of the stock.

Stock after the first straining.


Now, at this point, you can do one of three things:  a) stop straining and store the stock; b) you can cook it down a little further to concentrate the flavors as much or as little as you like; or, c) strain the stock a second time to clean it a little more.

I like a richer, clearer stock, so, I went with  (b) & (c).

Take a fine meshed strainer and line it with several layers of cheesecloth (available everywhere) or a flour sack towel.  Place the strainer over a bowl or stockpot and pour the stock through.  This will catch any last bits bone, meat, vegetable, etc. that wasn’t strained the first time around.

Cheesecloth-lined strainer.

Pouring the stock through the cheesecloth.

What’s left after the second straining. A little chicken, a lot of fat. I have literally seen chefs dip bread into this.

My finished stock. Yummy.

8.  I’ll measure my cooled stock into quart-sized zip bags.  It’s almost always the amount I’ll use and that way I’ll only have to take out what I need.  You can measure out however you like; but, I highly recommend portioning it out.

Stock ready for the freezer.


I’m reluctant to give you an exact amount this recipe will make because it’s a little different for everyone.  Because I cooked this down a bit, I ended up with 2 quarts of stock.  However, you could have up to 4 or 5, depending on the size stockpot you used and how much your stock was cooked down.

Always label and date your stock.  It will keep for up to 1 year in the freezer and 3 days in the refrigerator.




p.s.  I’ll be teaching a class on chicken at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar, in Austin on Friday, August 24.  If you’d like to see more lovely chicken recipes, sign up soon!





Baking the Perfect Chicken Breast 0

Posted on January 06, 2012 by Sahar

Chicken.  For the last 60 years, it has been the most popular meat in America.  And no wonder.  It’s inexpensive, easy to prepare, and, most important of all, delicious.

Chicken hasn’t always been a food for the masses.  Up until World War II, chicken was primarily grown on small farms and were used, not for food, but for eggs.  Chicken was generally only cooked when the hens could no longer lay eggs or the roosters became too old.  Chicken has been called the “Gospel Bird” because Sunday was the most frequent day it was eaten.  The pastor or priest would come over to the house for Sunday dinner and would be offered the best piece.  After mass food production was developed during World War II, chicken became readily available to most Americans; inexpensive, and the most popular protein in America today.

Now from the history lesson to the cooking lesson…

I’ve said in many of my cooking classes that chicken is one of the great blank canvases of the culinary world.  And boneless, skinless chicken breast is the blankest of all canvases.  They have little flavor on their own, can be easily overcooked and dry, and, most important for many people, have little to no fat.  They are easily the most popular part of the chicken.

You can remedy most of the shortcomings of boneless, skinless chicken breast with a few simple steps.  Marinating them for several hours, or up to overnight, will help with flavor.  Using a little olive oil will add fat without ruining whatever diet you may be on.  But, if you overcook the chicken, all of the flavor you add won’t make a bit of difference.

So, here are some rather large boneless, skinless breasts.  They will vary in size depending on the brand (Tyson, etc.), whether the chicken was raised conventionally, or is organic or free range:

Trimmed boneless, skinless chicken breasts


You want to trim the breasts of any bone fragments (usually rib) , cartilage (from the keel bone) , and excess fat (usually found on the underside of the breast closest to the thigh and outer edge).

Now, a great way to add some flavor and moisture to the chicken is marinating.  In this illustration, I marinated the chicken in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  But, you can use any flavor combination you like.

Another favorite in our house is a marinade of ground cumin, salt, and olive oil.  It’s Provençal. And it’s delicious.

Marinade & Chicken Breasts


I like to take a zip bag, usually a gallon size, put in the chicken and pour in the marinade.  Massage (for lack of a better word) the bag so the marinade completely coats the chicken.  Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, close it, and then place it in the refrigerator. (If you have a vacuum sealer, now is the time to use it.)  I like to marinate the chicken at least 8 hours.  Perfect for doing before you leave the house in the morning.

Be sure to thoroughly clean the counter and utensils when you’re done.  This will prevent cross contamination.



Chicken all ready to marinate


When you are ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with non-stick spray.  Place the breasts on the sheet, leaving space in between the breasts.  I also pour the extra marinade over the chicken.

Chicken ready to go into the oven


I do an initial baking time of 20 minutes.  After the initial cooking time, I use an instant read thermometer to check if the internal temperature is 140F.  (When you use the thermometer, insert  it into the thickest part of the breast.  Be sure not to touch the baking sheet.)  If it’s not, I’ll put the chicken back in the oven for 5-minute increments.  It’s rare that it takes longer than 30 minutes for chicken breasts to cook.  If you have hot spots in your oven, rotate the baking sheet halfway through the cooking time.

If the chicken breasts are cooked above 140F, they become dry.  And that is what you are trying to avoid.

140F. Correct temperature for chicken breasts.

140F. Correct temperature for juicy chicken breasts.


The minimum safe temperature for hot foods is 140F.  At that point most bacteria is dead.  However, most food safety sites recommend poultry be cooked to 165F to kill all salmonella.  If this is something that concerns you, cook the chicken to 165F.  The cooking time will increase to 30 – 45 minutes.  But, the chicken will be powdery dry.  It’s up to you.

Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes once you’ve taken it out of the oven.  This will allow the juices to settle back into the meat.


Juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Rested and juicy boneless, skinless chicken breasts


Dinner! Chicken Breast with Wild Rice and Edamame


During the warmer months (which in Texas is 8-9 months of the year), I’ll serve the chicken with just a large salad.  When the temperatures are cooler, I’ll serve it with a starch and a vegetable.


Hope this was helpful.  Enjoy.


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