Like most other people in our culture, the last week has been Über-indulgent, with the excuse of festivities being used to indulge in copious quantities of meat, cheese and fizz, in particular. I have enjoyed seeing friends and relaxing over good (and very rich) food, however, I am now almost at The Grinch stage and I must admit that I have been eyeing up the tree with a view to taking it down and am looking forward to getting back to the normal routine that the New Year will bring. I miss running, and haven’t been out for over 2 weeks, although this has been enforced due to flu before Christmas, and lingering symptoms.
We Scots are supposed to know how to really show the world how to bring in the New Year with our partying and hospitality on Hogmanay. Hmmm. My gasket is well and truly blown, so I think I’ll pull the chair up in front of the fire and stare wistfully into the flames for the rest of the evening.
Welcome back wind
It has been a very atypical and surreal weather year in the Outer Hebrides, with the notable absence of wind being, quite frankly, disconcertingly abnormal. And so it was, a poor forecast and severe weather warning at the start of the weekend heralded the arrival of the Hebridean gales we know and love. Sometimes.
Before the wind picked up, we walked round the garden and did a check that there was nothing lying around that would sail off as the wind speed increased. Polytunnel door closed. Check. Cold frames latched down. Check. Ash pan for the fire empty. Check. This is particularly important because we have had many a ‘Big Lebowski moment’ as we end up wearing the ash, trying to empty the ash pan in the wind. We only burn peat, hence the bright orange ash can leave you looking like a belisha beacon, hair coated in fine orange ash, and sneezing. A lot.
Despite the wind getting up to about 60 mph, gusting to about 80 mph, our intrepid friends arrived for dinner and it was a great relief that the power stayed on without a flicker. Due to the southerly direction of the wind, we also managed a record-breaking lounge temperature as the stove was totally out of control – an amazing 23C!
The next day, the wind dropped a bit, we sustained no damage but we found our neighbour’s fence had blown down. They were away and there were sheep in the garden. Together with our other neighbour (we only have 2 neighbours remotely near us), sheep were herded from the garden and back onto the common grazing, we did what we could to the very exposed fence to brace it in place before the wind got up again as forecast. Our neighbours have a lovely garden, veg and ornamental and it would have been awful to see it trashed by sheep.
The sheep on the common grazings around the house are very tame hooligans and will take any opportunity to access gardens and tasty grass/plants/trees within. They are also very quick and we cannot even leave our gate open for half an hour without finding a few have sneaked in. They are also completely unperturbed by the dogs and I frequently find Darwin standing at the gate, a flock of sheep on the other side, each staring steely eyed at the other in some kind of Mexican stand-off, usually just before Darwin gets frustrated, emits one sharp bark and the sheep momentarily scatter.
One of the most dangerous acts to partake in here is to wander onto the common grazing with a plastic bag that vaguely resembles a sheep feed bag. All sheep within the vicinity spot you, do their sheepy thing, bleating and charging at you like a single amorphous, off-white entity and trample you in a bid to access what is in the bag, as it MUST be sheep nuts.
My neighbour swears that one of the local sheep looks like Margaret Rutherford. The Man Named Sous agrees with this identified resemblance and can spot ‘Margaret’. I’m not so sure myself…
Safely back in the kitchen and having escaped the vagaries of the gales and sheep, the turkey swan song took the form of mole poblano. Mole poblano de guajolote, to give the dish its full title is the national dish of Mexico (although mole simply means sauce). I had the Mexican food bug again after visiting Lupe Pintos deli and stocking up on ingredients, and also reading Mexigeek blog that I follow on Facebook, where there are a series of informative posts about this dish and which helped to inspire me to give it a try, as well as reading some variations in Thomasina Mier’s Wahaca cookbook – ‘Mexican Food at Home’. So, with that I embarked on my own freeform mole recipe.
The dish appears to commonly contain upwards of 20 ingredients of varying quantities, and I am certain no two moles are the same, and it would be difficult to re-create exactly each time. That is why I like it so much, as well as for the chilli and the fragrant and aromatic nature of the dish enhanced by nuts, spices, chocolate and sometimes fruit too. The seeds and ground almonds add texture and thicken the sauce, as does the bread. Stale corn tortilla is also typically added, but I had none, so went with the bread.
2 tomatoes, roasted
2 onions, roasted
6 cloves garlic, roasted
1 dried ancho chilli, toasted and rehydrated
2 dried pasilla chillis, toasted and rehydrated
2 dried mulato chillis, toasted and rehydrated
30g pumpkin seeds
6 allspice berries
6 black peppercorns
15g sunflower seeds
40g chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coriander seeds
1tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp aniseed seeds
50g ground almonds
1 slice of stale bread
sprig of oregano
turkey, Christmas day leftover bits
turkey stock, enough to get the right sauce consistency
pinch of salt
Chillis – dried pasilla, ancho and mulato prep
- First, prepare the three types of dried chillis, discard the stem, cut them in half, keep the seeds.
- Heat a dry, heavy based frying pan to a medium heat and add the chillis. Toast briefly on each side, about 20 seconds until they begin to release their aromas, do not burn as this will taint the mole.
- Soak in boiling water for 20 minutes (seeds too) to rehydrate
- Next, dry fry the spices and grind them and put these with the chillis in a food processor.
- Put the rest of the ingredients in except the chocolate and turkey. Blitz to a fine paste, adding just enough turkey stock to create a thick paste.
- Transfer to a saucepan and warm before adding the chocolate. Be sure to add a little at a time to ensure the mole is balanced as too much chocolate will overpower and spoil the balance of flavours. Adjust the seasoning, add more stock, if required and stir in the turkey pieces. The mole was pretty hot when just made, but mellowed significantly by the next day when we ate it.
Finishing touches – accompaniments
I can’t resist turning any Mexican meal into a bit of a banquet. I made some guacamole – mandatory with any Mexican meal, added some tortilla chips bought in Lupe Pintos, natural yoghurt, basmati rice and flour tortillas – and margaritas, of course.
As I was rolling the final flour tortilla, inexplicably and without so much as a flicker of a warning, the power went off, even though the wind speeds had dropped to about 30 mph. This brought an entirely new perspective to the description of a dark mole. Fortunately, the rice was cooked, but despite our best efforts with the frying pan on top of the stove, it just wasn’t hot enough for the flour tortillas to cook, so we resigned ourself to eating in the dark without them. Presentation was perhaps not the finest, but what the hell, the atmosphere was just right.