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Southern Comfort for Strength

Southern Comfort for Strength

My absolute winter favorite is collard greens. I love eating them for their flavor but I love them even more for the irony that I associate with it. You see, for me, collard green is a distinctive Southern comfort. I don't get it often because I want to perpetuate the myth of its luxury that I have created for myself.  When I do, I inevitably slow cook it, overall hours, or even days, drawing out the flavors into the dish and building up the anticipation of that climactic first taste.

This dish here I cooked for 24 hours. No, that is not an exaggeration. My sincere gratitude to whoever invented the slow cooker. It is a cook's best companion any time of the year, but, particularly in winter. It is cheap, energy efficient and versatile. And, it is perfect for cooking collard greens. Your southern mama may not approve of this new fangled device but give her a taste of this Ham Hock Cured Collard Greens and I'll bet she will be wanting one of them cookers herself!

Read more and find out the story of this dish.

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Pomegranate and Cocoa Glazed and Pear Stuffed Quail

Pomegranate-Cocoa Glazed Stuffed Quail served

It's officially Fall or perhaps even bordering on Winter. However, despite the temperatures hovering in the 50s and the heater coming on already, there hardly any other evidence of the season that has sneaked (a sarcastic misnomer here) upon us with a surprising suddenness this year. I mean, it was barmy yesterday and today, what do you know, it's frosty!

In the city, there is hardly any change in foliage. The two trees outside my apartment are still a vibrant green with perhaps a scant few leaves hesitatingly siding with the season. But, last weekend, I got my first real evidence of the changing time of the year. Upstate New York, near the Catskills area, there were trees that were glowing amber especially in the gorgeous late afternoon sun.


It was beautiful, in a very chilled, ethereal sense. The sun was still out and mightily working herself to warm the day. But, as soon as she was gone, the beauty almost seemed to fade away as the cold seeped in unhesitatingly and we wrapped ourselves in multiple layers to walk just 5 minutes to the neighbouring diner. The nights even dipped dangerously close to the 30s.. Brr!!

We came back to a city, which, we had left only a couple of days back undecided between Summer and after, now decidedly moving on towards shorter and colder days. Still, the leaves are green but I don't think for long. I am rather anxious that it's going be a sudden metamorphosis to barren! :( Hopefully not!

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Meanwhile, our craving for foods like soups and stews has already kicked in. It seems like the body has an internal clock. The first hint of a nip in the air and the brain frantically sends messages to all the senses to seek immediate solace in the warming to the hands and the soul! :)

Suddenly, I feel like luxuriating over our dinners. The thought of roasting meats and vegetables in the oven and slow cooking over the stove have been growing over me ever so enticingly. And, only a short few weeks back I wouldn't even consider turning on the oven for staples like cake! I even attempted successfully, many times, to escape the reflected and refracted heat of the city to the cool recesses of the Westin in NJ! :)

Pomegranate-Cocoa Glazed Stuffed Quail with Risotto

It's the perfect time for risottos and stuffed birds. As we inch closer to Thanksgiving, I can definitely use the practise and new recipes! ;-). This one again was inspired by the bounty of Fall fruits that seem to have taken permanent abode in our little apartment. It's really becoming a case of "Here an Pear, there an pear, every where an pear-pear!" Old Macdonald's orchard indeed! :)

My choice of poultry was the delicate quail. I love quail. For a tiny bird, it packs a lovely punch of flavor. I stuffed the quail with a mixture of bread, nuts, pears and chocolate. Extending the fruit and chocolate theme, I used a pomegranate cocoa reduction to glaze the bird while roasting. I served the whole bird over a bed of a simple herb risotto.

It was the perfect meal to begin the season.... :)

Pomegranate-Cocoa Glazed Stuffed Quail

Pomegranate and Cocoa Glazed and Pear Stuffed Quail

2 Quails

For the stuffing:
1 Bartlett Pear, peeled, cored and diced
2 oz of dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 sliced of white bread, corners cut and cubed small
2 T pistachios, chopped
1 tsp milk

1-1/2 cup pomegranate juice
2 tsp cocoa powder
3 T honey

Salt, pepper and olive oil as needed

To make the glaze, bring the glaze ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture has reduced to a third. Set aside.

Combine the stuffing ingredients together and set aside for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, oil and season the bird with salt and pepper on the outside and inside the cavity. Gently stuff the bird with the filling and tie the legs with twine to keep the stuffing in. Baste the bird all over with the glaze. Place the bird in an oiled roasting pan.

Bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes. Halfway through, flip the bird over and baste again. Once done, baste the bird once more before serving over the risotto. Drizzle the pomegranate reduction over the dish and serve.

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Mole Risotto with Chicken and Avocado Puree - Daring Cooks Mar '10

Mole Risotto Close up

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of


and Jess of


. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make


. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the

Australian Masterchef cookbook

and the cookbook


by Greg Malouf.

I think it's the perfect dish for a challenge! First of all, I love risotto. It is the perfect comfort food that can be so easily dressed to any occasion from the light spring provencal to pure indulgence with lobster et all. From a challenge perspective, it is indeed a fantastic choice given the attention that it requires to get it just right. And, it's versatility means there are going some incredible creations from Daring Cooks that I just cannot wait to browse through!

Mole Risotto with avocado puree + Avocado wrapped chicken

As for myself, I decided a blend of cuisines was in order... As soon as I read the challenge, chocolate came to my mind. But, chocolate risotto neither sounded innovative nor did I want a sweet risotto. So, I turned around, told Mr. FSK the month's theme and asked him what flavors he'd like. He sweetly said "You decide dear. I think of only the traditional, but you come up esoteric combinations". Now, what can I say to that?? Smooth talker, he is!

And then, out of nowhere, the thought of

Mexican Mole

floated into my mind...

Mole Risotto Close up 2

I have never made mole before and knowing how difficult it is to make, never really had the nerve to try it. Plus, Mr. FSK is super picky about his Mexican food, having been exposed to some awesome food during his stay at Austin. All very daunting... all very stimulating...

It's a challenge after all. I have made risotto before with success with rice and other grains (like the Pumpkin Barley Risotto I made for Halloween last year). So, I thought I would challenge myself with making mole. Interestingly, the web did not have any result for this combination of Mexican and Italian.. Even more incentive..

Chicken Avocado close up

The mandatory parts of this challenge included making the stock and the risotto base. The home made stock was fantastic! I used it to make the risotto base as well as the mole. This was what I call a self-sustaining recipe. I also reused the cooked chicken from making the stock for the protein element of the risotto dish. I shredded the meat and then lightly sauteed it with salt and paprika for flavor.

As to the Mole, it's a whole saga on it's own, reserved for another post. Let me just say here that all the effort to make it was totally worth it! It is rich and smooth with multiple layers of flavor which cook together into a mellow sauce over many hours. The richness of the sauce is paired beautifully with the creamy and starchy risotto. To cut in some freshness, avocado seemed perfect - Mexican, rich and creamy! Oh and the green contrasts nicely against the brown, don't you think?! Drizzled with toasted sesame seeds and grated queso, it was a truly satisfying meal!

Mole Risotto with avocado puree + Avocado wrapped chicken 2

Now, I am off to see what everyone else at

Daring Kitchen

has created for this challenge. Oh! So exciting!!

Mole Risotto with Chicken and Avocado Puree

(serves 2)

For the Risotto:

1 cup risotto rice (I used Arborio)

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup white wine

3 cup chicken stock (recipe below)

1 generous cup of Mole (


from Rick Bayless)

For the Chicken:

cooked chicken from the stock making, shredded

salt and paprika as needed

olive oil to saute

For the Avocado Puree:

1/2 ripe avocado

1 tsp lime juice

2 T heavy cream (you may need more or less depending on avocado's ripeness)

salt to taste

To make the Risotto:

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and garlic. Saute for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir for a few minutes to coat each grain of rice with oil and toast slightly. Add half the wine and let it bubble away until evaporated. Add enough stock to cover the rice by a finger’s width (about an inch or two). Don't actually stick your finger in, it will be hot. Just eye it off.

Cook on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time, until most of the stock has been absorbed. As the liquid gets absorbed, add more stock one ladle at a time until you have used all but quarter cup of stock. Test the rice for done-ness. It should be almost cooked at this stage.

Add a cup of mole and wait for it to be absorbed. Add the rest, turn the rice a couple of times to coat nicely. Stir in the remaining stock and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

To prepare the Chicken:

Lightly saute the chicken in olive oil with salt and paprika, till golden brown and flavored well.

To make the Avocado Puree:

Blend all ingredients together to make a smooth, creamy mixture. Add more cream and lemon juice according to the consistency you want. I quennelled my puree, so it was thick.

Chicken Stock

1 large chicken 2-3 pounds about 1 kg

chicken bones 2-3 pounds 1 kg

2 onions, roughly diced

1 medium leek - white part only, roughly diced

2 sticks celery, roughly diced

2 cloves garlic, halved

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp. white peppercorns ( Any type of whole peppercorn will do)

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried, it doesn't matter.)

peel of 1/2 lemon

1/4 tsp. allspice

Wash the chicken and bones and places in a 5 Litre pot, cover completely with water and bring to a boil. Skim away any scum as it comes to the surface. Add the vegetables and bring back to a boil. Add the rest remaining ingredients and simmer very gently, uncovered for 1.5 hours.

Carefully lift out the chicken, set aside. The chicken meat can be removed from the chicken, shredded off and used for other things like soup! Simmer the stock gently for another hour. At the end you should have around 2 Liters.

Carefully ladle the liquid into a fine sieve, the less the bones and vegetables are disturbed in this process the clearer the stock will be. 
The stock is now ready for use. Freeze what you don't need for later use.


Share your creations tagging @ashafsk on Instagram and hashtag #MadeFromFSK