Saturday, February 23, 2008

Queso and Mole, what more could a girl want?

This post is mainly for those who are not Texans. Or at least not Americans, but I think the rest of the United States could learn a thing or two from Texans and how to do their food right. After going home for Christmas this year, I brought back some absolutely necessary ingredients that just aren’t available here: Velveeta and Rotel. These two are best friends and when they get together, they make something just darn delicious, you might have heard me talk about it, called queso.

For those of you who haven’t, queso is the basis of Tex-Mex food. It’s melted yellow cheese, mixed in with onions, tomatoes, peppers like jalapeños, and garlic. You can also add in other stuff like avocado, but your basic queso is spicy melted cheese. It’s to be served with a basked of crispy tortilla chips, but can also be poured over enchiladas, burritos, chalupas, and any number of dishes, or, one of my favorite ways, spooned over fresh flour tortillas.

In my opinion, the best queso comes from restaurants, it’d be rare to go to an Austin Mexican restaurant and not find queso on the menu. It’d be even rarer not to order it. But for all those times when you have people over for parties or just for drinks, and you want to have a big bowl of queso, because who doesn’t, you need Velveeta and Rotel. I’m not going to lie, people here were very skeptical of Velveeta, especially after looking it up on Wikipedia and it described it as a “cheese product that contains less than 50% cheese.” I opened the silver block package of my 2 lb. hunk of cheese and a friend asked, “is this butter? It’s butter, right?” You’ve just got to ignore that stuff.

Rotel is just the other stuff that makes up queso neatly produced and sold in one can. It’s tomatoes and peppers, and there’s also more variety now, you can get it with cilantro, or extra spicy, which is what we had. I was asked why I couldn’t just cut up some tomatoes and peppers instead of using canned food, and I guess the answer is because then it’s not Rotel.

I was having a Tex-Mex night, so queso was definitely on the menu. And as cautious as everyone was, the second that bowl hit the table, chips and hands didn’t stop going in until the bowl was scraped clean. I don’t think it hurt either, that I put in chorizo and made my own chips from corn tortillas (how I miss El Milagro chips).

So now my friends are requesting ‘cheese product.’ I’m going to have to see about getting some more shipped over here. That night, there was even talk about importing Velveeta. So, this is the queso and the start to the Tex-Mex night, which was complete with Mexican beer and cowboy boots, and even a homemade Once Upon a Time in the West shirt. Enjoy.

Queso with Chorizo

2 lbs Velveeta (I guess if you can’t find it or have something against it, you could use regular cheddar cheese, mixed with some milk to make it melt easier)
1 can of Rotel (you could also do this yourself, just chop up some onions, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic)
Cooking chorizo

Cut the Velveeta into chunks, empty the can of Rotel and cook them together in the microwave until melted. In the meantime, cook the chorizo in a pan, and when it’s done and the queso’s melted, mix it in well. Serve with chips, and if you want to make your own, look here.

Now we have the main course: mole. This is more traditional Mexico than Tex-Mex, and it originates from Puebla, and if you google it, you can find out a lot more information than I can tell you. When people think of or try and describe mole they usually say a chocolate sauce. True, it’s made with chocolate, but it’s also got about 20 other ingredients, so it’s not just a chocolate sauce. It’s a chile sauce, but not spicy chiles, bigger, dried Mexican chiles that you have to prepare. So that was my first obstacle. I had snuck some Ancho chiles in my suitcase and I had two left over, but that’s not even 1/10 of what most mole recipes call for, but I decided to make it anyways, I mean, it does have all those other ingredients.

I made it one time, a couple years ago, and afterwards I took pictures of the kitchen and all the utensils because it was a mess. And everything was stained a nice reddish-brown from the chiles. And it took me seven hours. I learned from that day, and cut my time down to something like 2 hours or less. Something normal. First of all, since I had two chiles as opposed to ten, my roasting, soaking, and deveining time was decreased dramatically. And the second thing was I decided not to sieve the mole at the end. I remember doing that, standing in my kitchen, putting little batches of the sauce in a fine-mesh sieve and squishing it through with a spatula (thereafter staining both), and I don’t think it was worth it. Yes, it was creamy and smooth, but is there really a problem with a sauce with little bits of nuts and onions still present? No way, it’s less refined, but it’s a bit heartier, and I don’t know if those nuns who made the first mole stood there and strained it (I’m sure if you do search for mole you’ll read about that tale).

Mole is typically served with fowl. I’m not a huge chicken fan, but almost all recipes say, and whenever you go to a restaurant and see mole, it’s with some sort of bird. But I was ‘not allowed’ to do it with chicken. So stewing pork was prepared, and then mixed in with the final product and it came out pretty dang good. Here’s my recipe.

Oh, and one last thing. Mole does not photograph well. At all. Dang it. But I promise it tastes good.

Mole with Pork
Adapted from Café Pasqual’s cookbook and a big, fat Mexican cuisine book

lard or vegetable oil
1-2 slices hard bread
½ c raw peeled almonds
¼ c peanuts
¼ c sesame seeds
1 medium plantain
1 white onion
4 cloves garlic
2 plum tomatoes (fresh or canned)
50 g chocolate
cinnamon (ground and a stick)
1 chipotle chile (from canned chipotles in adobo)
now this is where my recipe goes a little off track because of limiting ingredients:
10 mulato chiles
10 pasilla chiles
10 ancho chiles
(out of all this, I had about 2 ancho chiles)

First roast the chiles, which means put them in pan over medium hot heat until they start to turn black, but not completely because you don’t want to end up with a burned chile, just slightly charred. Then let them soak in plenty of water until they get soft, for about 15 or 20 minutes. Save the water to add to the sauce later. When they’re soft, take them out and devein and de-seed, and then set aside the chiles. Now toast the almonds, peanuts, and sesame seeds in a pan. The sesames probably take less time, so throw them in when the nuts are almost finished. Now heat up your lard/oil and get your other stuff ready: quarter the onion, slice the plantain, and roughly chop the garlic and bread. Then add all these to the lard along with the cinnamon stick and tomatoes. Heat everything until the onion is translucent, at least 20 minutes. Now add the prepared chiles, the chipotles, the nuts and sesames, and a bit of the chile water and blend with a hand blender (you can also do this in your regular blender). You can add more water as necessary, if it’s too thick. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about that cinnamon stick—take it out. This is the part where you would strain, which by all means, you can, but I don’t think it’s necessary and having bits of the ingredients in the mole doesn’t take away from it at all. At this time, the sauce is almost ready and all you have to do it get your meat ready, so boil your chicken or pork or whatever until it’s done, then slowly reheat the mole, adding the chocolate and stirring until melted, and a dash of ground cinnamon, then add your meat to the mole and let everything heat up together. All the books say serve with toasted sesames, and it’s usually eaten with rice, but we went for tortillas, because we were already breaking the rules with pork, and it did not disappoint.


d anything said...

Ah yes, the almost-cheese product. It got eaten. And was dericious, with real chorizo.

Now what about mole with some red meat?

Steve said...

The queso was gooood. Wrong but gooood.

The lil beer bottle coolers things were the highlight of the night though. Genius...

Courtney said...

now steve, when you say 'coolers', you mean coozies? it's ok, one day you'll learn, boy. why don't you get yourself an education on the ways of the world, go watch no country for old men or something and you'll discover a thing or two about texas...
oh, and it's absolutely necessary that the coozie be burnt orange and in the shape of a football jersey