Quick and Easy Molé (and some awesome enchiladas)

I suppose that if you're a devotee of Mexican culinary tradition, then you would be quite familiar with molé, that lusty, chocolate-y, chile-based sauce that only takes 3 or 4 days to make.  If you're a pro and on your game.  It would probably take me that long just to grind the spices.  In one recipe I came across, I counted no less than 32 ingredients.  I'm still a bit curious as to who, on what day, had the time and culinary creativity to come up with a recipe such as this, but nevertheless, we're all the beneficiaries of this incredibly delicious combination of spices, chiles, almonds, chocolate and countless other tasty ingredients.

These are memorable flavors and you're especially lucky if you know someone or a chef or restaurant who's making it on a regular basis.  I ordered it once years ago at a restaurant in Santa Cruz and have never forgotten it.

But I confess I've never aspired to even contemplate making molé until I watched Marcela Vallolodid make her quick and easy version on The Kitchen, which I made shortly thereafter.  It was good, but it wasn't quite what I remembered, so I turned to Rick Bayless for a few tips.  Mr. Bayless showed me a few ingredients and steps that might be missing, and at the risk of over-complicating the whole quick and easy thing, I sort of went for it.  

And now I can tell you with excitement and confidence that these are some pretty authentic flavors that I'm still calling quick and easy.  It's all relative, you know?  Compared to a traditional molé recipe, this is most definitely quick and easy.  

We haven't even really talked about the flavors here, and it's not an easy thing to describe, except to say that the combination of chocolate, chiles, cinnamon, cloves and numerous other aromatics create something uniquely Mexican, totally addicting and wonderfully versatile.

Traditional molé is often served over roasted chicken parts which I highly recommend.  But it's also equally awesome slathered over boneless chicken breasts and makes some amazing chicken enchiladas, such as a previous photo up there illustrates.  It also shows that I made the enchiladas with my corn tortilla crepes, but corn tortillas, especially the homemade kind would be most traditional. The molé enchiladas are a cinch to throw together once you've got your sauce made.  I've provided my recipe below.

I guess that covers it, people.  A good molé sauce with minimal effort can be yours in an hour or two, which by my calculations saves you about 3 1/2 days.  Here's the recipe...

Quick and Easy Mexican Molé

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from The Kitchen

This is about as close as you’re going to come to an authentic molé sauce without spending 3 days getting it done.  I used Marcela Valladolid’s easy recipe as a jumping off point and made it a bit more involved by incorporating a few things from Rick Bayless’ recipe. Molé sauce is traditionally served over pieces of roasted bone-in chicken, which I highly recommend.  It’s also great over boneless chicken breasts or chicken enchiladas (recipe here).  And as for the Mexican chocolate, Marcela V. says that you can substitute a dark chocolate and add cinnamon to the recipe, and I've done that and it really doesn't compare to using the real stuff.  So hunt down some good Mexican chocolate; most grocery stores carry it these days.

5 dried pasilla or ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded (here'a quick tutorial
1/3 cup raisins
Two 6-inch corn tortillas, or handful regular tortilla chips
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
Kosher salt
1/4teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons almond butter (can substitute with peanut butter)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups chicken stock
One 3.1-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped, such as Ibarra


Place the dried chiles in a bowl and pour hot water over them until they’re submerged.  Cover the bowl and let them sit for 20 to 25 minutes, then drain them and set aside. 

Place the raisins in a small bowl, cover with 2/3 cup hot water and let sit for 20 minutes.  Do not drain.

Toast the corn tortillas in a dry skillet until dry, crisp and golden (you can also do this in a hot oven - they don't have to be really crispy). Tear into pieces and set aside. In the same skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, season with a little salt and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Then add the crushed red pepper and garlic, cinnamon, oregano, black pepper and cloves.   Sauté for a couple more minutes or until the spices are fragrant. 

Transfer the onion and garlic mixture to a blender with the chiles, raisins (and soaking liquid), chocolate, tortillas, and peanut butter. Pour the chicken stock over and blend until very smooth. 

Transfer the sauce to a medium sauté pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer 20 minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper, and add a bit of cayenne if more spice is needed.  Simmer another 5-10 minutes, covered, before using.

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Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

We're down to our final days here at the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen.  We've done our fair share of eating out and have spent a few days traveling, and as a consequence, I've neglected to do much cooking of the blogging variety.  Not having my favorite camera here with me has also been a factor in this situation.  Not that I haven't been thinking of you all and filled with a million ideas of things to cook for you and wishing I had the time and where-with-all to do just that.  I'm actually a little excited to get home and get back to it!

In the meantime, I'll just put out a plate of these scrumptious little zucchini parmesan crisps for you to munch on.  I made them a whole bunch of times before we left for California, and I'm not even kidding about how good and fun and crispy and cheesy and perfect with a glass of wine they are. And they're baked, so no frying or pans of hot oil are required to create their crispy deliciousness.  Oh, and they're zucchini slices so they automatically fulfill the evening's veggie quotient.

So to get them made, we're just going to firstly submerge our little zucchini rounds in egg white and then in a mixture of parmesan and panko breadcrumbs.  Our little crisps then go onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and into the oven until golden, crispy and ever so tasty.  Wish now I'd taken a photo of them coming out of the oven, but more importantly, I wish you could smell them coming out of the oven.  Oh wait, no, I hope you get to taste them coming out of the oven.  Here's the recipe...

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

These are so good and so easy to make.  No deep frying or messing with pots of oil.  Yay!  I pretty much followed the recipe, but when it came to the parmesan and panko mixture, I put in a little more parmesan cheese than panko breadcrumbs.

2 medium zucchini (yellow or green, or both!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large egg white
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese (I use a little more)

Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  If you don’t have parchment paper, just spray the baking sheet really well with cooking spray.

Using a mandolin slicer or a knife, slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch rounds. Transfer the zucchini coins to a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Beat together the olive oil and the egg white and then toss with the zucchini rounds.

Mix the panko crumbs and Parmesan together in a shallow tray. Working with a few coins at a time, dredge the zucchini in the panko-Parmesan mixture and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the zucchini are golden-brown and crispy. Allow them to cool slightly (about 5 minutes) on the baking sheet before transferring to a serving tray. Serve warm or room temp.

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Fish Taco Bowls with Avocado Citrus Dressing

If you've been reading the "What's Cooking" page at all, then you know we've packed up a few things and made our annual migration to the  Circle B Kitchen West.

And when I say we packed up a few things, I'm mostly saying that there may or may not have been a zucchini, a tomato, 2 avocados and a couple of pears stashed in my suitcase among the jeans and sweaters.  I like to imagine how the TSA peeps react to finding produce in one's luggage.  But all arrived safely and no one was harmed in transit. 

So we've settled in to our little place on the Central California Coast, and with some of the finest restaurants a stone's throw from our front door, I've been steadfastly and happily cooking up a storm in our little kitchen here.

One of the first things that must happen when we arrive at our Western Headquarters is my long-awaited and highly anticipated reunion with Cousin Katie and our traditional lunch at our favorite taqueria.  The last few times we've been there, Katie has introduced me to their carne asada salad which we order just for the basil dressing.  We've both been dying to replicate this dressing at home because it's just so dang good, and neither of us can imagine living without it.  So I finally got down to it today.  The folks in the restaurant kitchen had been ever so kind to give us a few hints as to the ingredients but for the most part, I was going to have to wing it.

So, as any great scientist might do, I ordered an extra large container of the stuff to go, and today I pulled it out of the fridge along with about 75 possible other ingredients and started mixing.  For over an hour I blended and tasted and mixed and stirred and finally enlisted the highly sensitive taster attached to The Husband, and in the end I think we created something that might not be an exact replica, but just might stand on its own as a mighty delicious dressing for salads tacos, fish, and for this here fish taco bowl.

And speaking of fish, there really is nothing like traveling from the Midwest to the California Coast and then finding yourself standing in front of the seafood truck at the farmer's market and having to make a decision between fresh caught (only hours previously) swordfish, halibut, rock cod, lingcod, and salmon.  After some serious agonizing and soul searching, I chose the lingcod (which happens to be a personal all-time favorite), and boy howdy, did we ever score big on that one.  If you've ever grilled fresh lingcod, then you know what I'm talking about.  If not, any one of those other fish will do perfectly splendid in a fish taco bowl.

And Yes, we've now finally arrived at the part of the post where I actually talk about these amazingly scrumptious fish taco bowls, in which we place a good amount of Mexican rice in the bottom of your bowl and then top that with some grilled shrimp and fish.  Then we place a bit of shredded cabbage on the fish and then a good drizzle of the dressing, followed by some grated cheese which is then topped with slices of avocado and maybe a final drizzle of the avocado citrus dressing and perhaps a final sprinkling of cilantro (which didn't make it into that photo up there) and what you have, people, is one heckuva fine taco bowl.  A bit of an understatement right there.

But enough talking here.  Let's wrap this up and get you into the kitchen.  Might I suggest that you make yourself a double batch of this dressing?  After you make these taco bowls, you're going to want to drizzle that stuff on everything... salads, chicken, fish, steaks, scallops, potatoes, veggies, eggs, tacos, and just about anything that will fit on your plate.  Here's the recipe... 

Fish Taco Bowls

Click here for a printable recipe

Serves 4-6

2 cups shredded cabbage
Mexican Rice (here's my recipe)
1 1/2 lbs grilled fish (halibut, cod, lingcod, swordfish or your favorite whitefish)
1 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups shredded cheese (1 cup jack cheese and 1 cup cheddar cheese)
1 avocado, sliced
citrus avocado dressing (see recipe below)
chopped fresh cilantro 

1.  Make the dressing:
    3 tablespoons olive oil
    1/4 cup rice vinegar
    1/3 cup orange juice
    1/2 cup tomatillo salsa (like Herdez brand)
    1/3 cup cilantro (leaves and some stem ends OK)
    1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    fresh cracked black pepper (optional)
    1/2 avocado

Place all of the ingredients in a blender or the mixing bowl of an immersion blender.  Blend until the dressing is very smooth and creamy.  Taste for salt and pepper.

2.  Mix the shrimp (thawed, if frozen) with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for about 5-6 minutes, depending on how large they are.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

3.  Baste the fish fillets with a mixture of olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper and grill for about 4 minutes per side, depending on how thick the fillets are.  Let sit for a couple of minutes and then cut into large-ish chunks.

4.  When ready to serve, place some of the Mexican rice in the bottom of each bowl.  Top the rice with some of the fish and shrimp and drizzle with a little of the dressing.  Place some of the shredded cabbage on top of the fish and then sprinkle that with some grated cheese.  Top the cheese with a couple slices of the avocado and then drizzle all with a little more of the dressing. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately.

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The Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie

Well, here's one I'm pretty sure the kids never saw coming.  For the past 40 some-odd years (yes, they actually have been odd), this particular cheesepie (aka cheesecake) has been at the center of just about every birthday and significant family celebration.  And for the past 40 some-odd years I have resolutely refused to share the recipe with anyone.  And not because there was anything exceptionally exotic or special about it, but because at some point I said "it's a secret" and then forever after I just had to mess with them.  There have been numerous attempts to crack the code, but the recipe has remained locked in a vault that only Nancy (yes, it's YOUR recipe) has the key to.

So yeah, this is a cheesepie recipe that's been around since the 60's and may be very familiar to many of you.  There have to be a zillion versions of it still floating around in the back files of many of your recipes boxes (or your Mom's or Grandmother's).  


I really had thought that the recipe would most likely go to the grave with me and the kids would have to sneak out on some dark night and retrieve it from my cold, dead hands.  But no, I've saved them the trouble and here it is. After all of these years, they can see how simple it is and perhaps I should have shared it long ago. But in actuality, I will confess to a bit of ambivalence about sharing it even now.  But it's time to get over that because you guys (if you don't already have your own cheesepie recipe) need to make this and enjoy it and so I do it for the greater good of home cooks everywhere.

Especially if you're a cheesecake fan.  It's everything you want in a cheesecake, only easier to make, creamier, and with a highly elevated degree of deliciousness. Here's the recipe...

Circle B Kitchen Cheesepie

Click here for a printable recipe

In order to ensure a smooth and creamy texture to your pie, it works best if all of your ingredients, especially the cream cheese are at room temperature.  And without sounding like I'm fronting for them, you really must use Philadelphia cream cheese.  I've tried making it with other brands, but it just doesn't work as well.

12 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla

Sour cream topping:
8 oz sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-inch pie pan with nonstick cooking spray

Beat the eggs and add sugar and cream cheese and beat until smooth and creamy.  Add vanilla, stir to combine and then pour into prepared graham cracker crust (see below).  Bake for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile stir together the sour cream, sugar and vanilla for the topping.

After 20 minutes, remove the pie from the oven and let it cool 5 minutes.  Carefully spread the sour cream mixture over the top (this can be a little tricky if the pie is still soft in the center) and then bake for another 10 minutes.  Let the pie cool and then refrigerate for 5 hours.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve of graham crackers (about 10)
1/3 cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar

Crush the graham crackers in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin, or the food processor will make quick work of it too.  Place the crumbs in a bowl and add the sugar and melted butter.  Mix really well and then press into the bottom and sides of a pie plate.

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Asian Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Broccolini

In answer to your question... yes, I do seem to be posting quite a few Asian noodle-type recipes lately (like here here here).  And no, I'm not even sorry.  I mean, I did consider apologizing, because I don't want you to think I'm one of those cooks who gets in a rut and doesn't realize how repetitive and boring she's getting.  But then I made this again last night and was immediately convinced that no apologies were needed.  If this is a rut, please let me stay here forever.  And ever.

If truth be told, my palate (LOL!!) is leaning very heavily these days towards Asian flavors, and you know, you gotta cook what inspires you.  Next month it might be Mexican or Indian (I'm in!). But this particular dish has quickly become a regular in our weeknight rotation, not only because of its particular deliciousness, but also because it's just so dang quick and easy to throw together.

It takes only minutes to trim up some broccolini, 3 minutes to cook it and a few minutes to cook some shrimp and soak some rice noodles.  The sauce is just a few easy ingredients. And I promise you, dinner is ready in 20 minutes total.

If you've never cooked with rice noodles before, nothing could be easier and they're gluten free and soak up sauce like nobody's business and that makes them super flavorful, and I hope I've done my job convincing you to get this made.  But one word of advice... double the recipe.  Although the recipe says it will serve 3 or 4, it will easily feed 2, but will leave 4 people sad and hungry for more. Here's the recipe...

Asian Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Broccolini

Click here for a printable recipe

I made a few changes from the original recipe that I got from The Kitchn website, which included reducing the fish sauce and increasing the soy sauce and replacing lemon juice with lime juice.  I made a few other changes as well, but you can see the original recipe here.  As I mentioned in the blog post, if you are feeding 4 people, you will want to double this recipe.  If you do happen to have leftovers, they're ever so great for lunch.  P.S.  The last time I made it I threw in some langostinos that I had in the freezer and that was heavenly!

Adapted from The Kitchn

Serves 3 to 4 (but not really)

1 bunch Broccolini (about 6 ounces), trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces thin, flat, dried rice noodles (see Recipe Notes)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces large uncooked shrimp (26/30 count), peeled and cleaned
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 teaspoons (or to taste) Asian chile-garlic paste, such as sambal oelek (I like go-chu-jang)
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Cook/soak the rice noodles according to the package directions, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain and rinse briefly with cold water to keep it from sticking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the Broccolini and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the Broccolini to a large plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick frying pan or wok over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp, season with salt, and sauté until just pink and almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the Broccolini. Drain the rice noodles.

In a small bowl, jar or measuring cup, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cooked, drained noodles, the broccolini, shrimp and sauce ingredients. Mix everything together really well and then remove from the heat, cover and let sit for a few minutes to let the noodles absorb the sauce.  Give it all another good stir and serve with a sprinkling of cilantro.