Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beef, Lamb + Rice Meatballs with Mint Tzatziki

Soooo... I was on the fence about posting this recipe because the photos came out poopy soupy. We had friends over, I was rushing, and it was getting dark out, and all that resulted in some seriously lackluster food photography. But since the meal itself turned out so extra scrumptious, I figured I'd tell you guys all about it anyway.

We're hoping to buy a second income property by the end of the year (woohoo!), which means that we've been trying our best to watch our spending. Some weeks have been better than others, but overall, it's been a nice challenge to try and cook more budget-friendly meals. I probably only prepare meat about 2-3 times a week because it is so costly, and because even as a committed carnivore, I really don't feel that meat is necessary every single day. 

I had been in the mood to whip up some lamb meatballs, but since lamb isn't exactly easy on the wallet, I held back. And then it hit me that mixing beef in would not only make the meatballs cheaper, but it would also provide a milder flavor for those who tend to find lamb to be too gamey. Additionally, I tossed some rice into the mix to really make the recipe stretch. With just half a pound each of ground lamb and ground beef, I was able to feed 4 adults and 2 small kids. Genius, if I do say so myself. 

Although these meatballs were inspired by mediterranean cuisine, in no way would I consider them to be traditional or classic. Like most of my dishes, they're basically a result of a whole bunch of random ingredients thrown together. If you'd prefer to go all lamb or all beef, then go for it; these are virtually impossible to mess up.

Beef, Lamb + Rice Meatballs

olive oil
1 small or 1/2 of a large yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 c. of dried cranberries
1 1/2 c. of white wine
1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground beef (chuck or sirloin, whichever you prefer)
1 1/2 c. cooked long grain white rice
2 tbsp. of pine nuts
2 tbsp. of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
salt + pepper

Sauté your chopped onion in some olive oil until it starts to become translucent. Add your garlic and cranberries, and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Pour in your wine, and simmer on low heat until all of the liquid has evaporated. Put this mixture aside, and let cool.

Set oven at 375º. In a large mixing bowl, combine both meats, onion and cranberry mixture, rice, pine nuts, parsley, and egg. Season liberally*. Using your hands, bring all the ingredients together. Once everything is thoroughly combined, form the mixture into meatballs (I got 17 meatballs that were about 1 1/2 in. in diameter), and line them on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet. Bake until they're golden and sizzling. Timing will depend on the size of your meatballs; mine took roughly 20 minutes. 

Serve with Mint Tzatziki (recipe below) and some grilled or roasted summer vegetables. 

*If you're unsure about your seasoning, you can always fry up a mini patty to use as a taste test. Remember, you can always add more, but over seasoning is a tough mistake to fix.

Mint Tzatziki

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 c. of greek yogurt
1/2 c. of sour cream or creme fraîche
1 tbsp. of chopped dill
1 tbsp. of chopped mint
juice of 1/2 lemon
splash of olive oil
dash of salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Pulse for longer periods if you prefer a smoother tzatziki. Refrigerate for a few hours/overnight before serving. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cranberry Bean, Farro + Sausage Stew with Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

It's been a while since I posted a soup dish. I guess it felt a little funny to be writing out soup recipes in the middle of summer, but since the Bay Area has such mild weather until about September, I figured, why not? I know most of you are probably scorching right now and devouring popsicle after popsicle, but I'm actually wrapped in a cozy sweater as I type this. So, soup it is.

I really make every effort to try and utilize the food in our pantry as efficiently as possible. For one, we have a fairly small kitchen, and fairly small kitchens typically come with a fairly small amount of storage space. I try my best to not stock up on more groceries until our cupboards are practically barren. A lot of times, this means that I have to suck it up and eat something when I may not necessarily feel like eating that particular something. I consider myself an incredibly fortunate individual who, on a regular basis, gets to eat some of the finest foods this world has to offer, so a little bit of a sacrifice from time to time is no biggie. 

And then, there's the issue of food waste. I hate it. Yes, I actually HATE it. Every time I see food go into our garbage can, it feels as if a piece of my soul is going with it. Not only is it money that's basically being thrown out, but wasted food is food that could have gone to someone in need. Never in my life have I felt hunger, true hunger, and it crushes me that not everyone has access to a decent meal at least once a day. I just don't understand how it's possible. When I was a kid, my mom and I would help deliver baskets of groceries to local families in need around Thanksgiving time every year. Most of these families would practically shit themselves from excitement over their gifted boxed mashed potatoes and canned corn, and it didn't take long for me to genuinely understand what a lucky duck I was. I find myself constantly working to drive this point home with Cheech, and reminding her that we never refer to food as "yucky" (or, complain about food in general), but she's three, so her common response tends to be something along the lines of, "Ok, can you please play the Frozen song, Mama?" Hopefully, she'll catch on soon enough.

Alright, I'll get off my soapbox now. If there's one thing I continually want to stress with this blog, it's that  phenomenal meals can always be made without having to run to the market. It takes practice and trust in yourself and your skills in the kitchen, but it's a glorious thing when you learn how to cook by technique vs. by following a recipe word for word. This stew came about because I had three cooked sausages and some tomatoes in the fridge, plus a bag of unopened cranberry beans that I noticed had somehow ended up in a container we use to store our spices. I pretty much just threw everything together here; I hadn't even soaked the beans, but split beans don't bother me so much in a rustic soup. 

Cranberry Bean, Farro + Sausage Stew with Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

1 c. of dried cranberry beans, cooked until almost al dente and drained*
1-1 1/2 c. of heirloom baby tomatoes
salt + pepper
olive oil
1 small-medium yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
splash of white wine (anywhere between 1/2 c. - 1 c. is fine)
3 sweet or spicy (whichever you prefer) italian sausages, chopped
1/2 c. of uncooked farro
1/2 c. of tomato sauce
7-10 fresh basil leaves
chicken broth
parmesan cheese for topping

*I always forget to soak beans. Again, it wasn't the end of the world with this dish, but here's a cheater's way of soaking if you're hellbent on it:
1. Place your beans in a pot with about 2 inches of water.
2. Bring to a rolling boil, and let the beans continue to boil for two minutes.
3. Take your pot off of the heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.
4. Drain. Beans are ready to be cooked.
5. To prevent splitting, make sure to start with hot liquid when cooking your beans.

Preheat your oven to 375º. Drizzle your tomatoes with some olive oil and season with salt + pepper. Roast until fully blistered and caramelized (this took about half an hour in our toaster oven). Set the tomatoes aside.

In your soup pot, sauté your onions in some olive oil, on medium heat, until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for about another two minutes. Pour in your wine, and let the onions and garlic cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Throw in your cooked and drained cranberry beans, uncooked farro, chopped sausages, tomato sauce, and basil leaves, and pour in enough chicken broth to cover, plus an extra inch. Turn up the heat, and bring the stew to a boil. Bring the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for roughly 30-40 minutes. Check your liquid level half way through cooking. If it seems low and as if your stew might dry out, feel free to add a little more broth (as you can see from the photos, this isn't mean to be brothy, so don't go overboard).  Once the farro and cranberry beans are fully cooked, gently stir in your roasted baby tomatoes. Season to taste, and serve with grated Parmesan.

As with just about every other soup, this soup was great the first day, and to die for on the following day. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Quinoa + Chickpea Fritters

Crapballs. I've been trying to keep up with this blog, really I have. If any of you follow me on IG, or came here from my last blog, or know me from here (is that a blast from the past, or what?!), you probably know that we've struggled with Cheech's bedtime since, I don't know, BIRTH. After almost two years of scratching our heads, trying to figure out why we had the only kid who could never manage to fall asleep before 8:30 pm, we gave up at succumbed to a 10-10:30 bedtime. This was challenging, but fine and it was manageable for us. In the past couple months, however, her bedtime has slowly been pushed back, and she wan't asleep until around midnight on most nights. This is all just to say that I've become incredibly unproductive as a result and, sadly, the first thing to suffer was this blog. Without getting too into it, we're trying to phase out naps now. She was sound asleep by 7:30 this evening, so if this can continue, I'll definitely be working on this space more often. Fingers crossed!

Anyhoo... Cheech is currently big on chickpeas, and whenever I see that my kid is obsessed with a healthy food, I try my best to add it to as many dishes as I possibly can. She's happy just eating them plain with maybe a little bit of salt sprinkled on, but that can get a little B-O-R-I-N-G for me. After using them in soups and pasta recipes, I wanted to try something new, and I remembered attempting to make gluten-free quinoa fritters for a gluten-free friend of ours a couple years back. The result was a complete failure. Without gluten to hold everything together, the fritters ended up totally falling apart as soon as they hit the hot oil in my pan. 

That experience was such a disaster, that I've spent the last two years steering clear of any type of gluten-free fritter. But then a lightbulb went off in my head. Perhaps the starchiness of a bean could do the trick! Maybe some mashed chickpeas could help bind my fritters. Well, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. I quickly realized that I was going to end up with the same fiasco on my hands, so I resorted to adding some panko to remedy the situation. It all ended up working out, but I need to give these another go because now I'm determined to make them gluten-free.

Don't get me wrong, these fritters were legit. I just wish this problem was a little easier to solve. I considered omitting the egg, but I fear they might end up too dry if I do that. I suppose I could simply consult the world wide web for the best solution, but I'm the kind of person who likes to assemble IKEA furniture without the handy directions included in the box, so I'll let you come to your own conclusions when it comes to my moronic tendencies. On that note, if any of you happen to know how to fix this dilemma, please feel free to share. 

Quinoa + Chickpea Fritters

olive oil
1/2 medium-large yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 c. of chopped mushrooms (I used cremini/use whatever you happen to have)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 c. of cooked quinoa*
2 c. of cooked and drained chickpeas
1/2 c. of grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp. of chopped chives
1 tbsp. of chopped parsley
panko bread crumbs, roughly 1 c.**
salt + pepper
oil for medium-heat frying (I used walnut oil)

*I really like to toast my quinoa before cooking it. This is the absolute best quinoa-cooking tutorial, IMHO.

**Like I mentioned, I added the panko at the end to fix the recipe, so I didn't exactly measure. I'm assuming it was around 1 cup. It could have been a little more, or a little less. Once your mixture is a good consistency for forming patties that hold together, then you're good to go. 

Saute your chopped onion and mushrooms in some olive oil on medium-low heat until they start to caramelize. Add your spinach and garlic, and stir and cook until the spinach is wilted. Take your pan off of the heat, and let it cool. Using a food processor or potato masher (the latter will just take longer), grind your chickpeas into a thick and chunky paste. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, mashed chickpeas, parmesan, cooled mushroom and spinach mixture, chopped herbs, a generous amount of salt +pepper, and your egg. Bring it all together with your hands, and add the panko to help bind it. Form your mixture into little patties that are a touch smaller than your palm (I was able to get 17 total). Heat your frying oil in a shallow frying pan on medium heat. The oil is ready for frying once the fritters start to sizzle as soon as they hit the pan. Fry until golden, then flip to fry them on the other side. Make sure not to crowd your pan with fritters because it will make them harder to flip (these are delicate little guys). If you feel like they're browning too quickly, just lower your heat. Line them up on paper towels immediately after cooking to drain any excess oil. They're great served with a side salad, or just on their own with a dipping sauce of your choice. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Herbed Burrata with Maple Roasted Mushrooms + Eggplant

I am an impatient person; it is the bane of my existence. I've learned to control it a touch more since becoming a parent, but still, it is a problem that I've dealt with most of my life and will probably continue to deal with until forever. And so every June when it is almost summer but not actually summer, I convince myself that it is most definitely time to start loading our market hauls with summer produce. And every year, without fail, I kick myself for not waiting the few extra weeks it takes for the absolute best tomatoes, stone fruit, eggplant, etc. This year was, of course, no different.

I love eggplant. I mean, I LOOOVE it and I want to marry it. It is the only vegetable I long for year round, and I anxiously await its arrival in the same way a kid anxiously waits for that last bell to ring before the start of summer break. Once its peak comes, I want to put it in just about anything you can imagine. I want to grill it, roast it, toss it with pastas and grains, stack it on crostini, use it in soups, you name it. Although I cherish its versatility, I'm also always taken aback by how perfect it is on its own without any bells or whistles. I don't mean to get all existential on you, but if there is a God, the creation of eggplant, not beer, is proof that he loves us and wants us to be happy. 

Back to my lack of patience. I made this dish a good three weeks ago and although it was overall great, the eggplant was a little lackluster, so I figured I'd hold off a bit before posting it. We brought some Chinese eggplant home this past Monday and it was superb; summer produce has officially arrived. You could really sub any summer veggies in this recipe and end up with splendid results. Make sure to use top-notch burrata, though. I could wax poetic about how burrata should only be eaten in Italy just as lobster should only be eaten in New England, but at this rate I'm getting to New England about 10x more often than I'm getting to Italy, so something's got to give. If you can, try and pick some up from a local cheesemonger or gourmet shop.

Herbed Burrata with Maple Roasted Mushrooms + Eggplant

1 ball of burrata, drained of its storing liquid
1 medium eggplant, cubed
1/2 red or yellow onion, cubed
6-8 cremini mushrooms, quartered 
olive oil
1 tbsp. of maple syrup
1 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar 
1 tsp. each of chopped basil, mint, and parsley
salt + pepper

Preheat your oven to 400. Toss your vegetables with some olive oil, the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Line on a pan and roast until caramelized (mine took about 30 minutes). Once cooked, serve in a bowl alongside your burrata. Top the cheese with your chopped herbs, and finish the entire dish with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Serve with some crostini or on its own. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sausage + Chickpea Cassoulet

It's a little funny that I started this blog or even a Soup Club to begin with, considering a good 80% of my cooking is more oven friendly than stovetop friendly. And if we're being really specific, it's actually very toaster oven friendly (maybe one day I'll write a post about how I cook almost everything in our toaster oven, and how I'd probably never cook if we didn't own one). Generally speaking, I find stovetop cooking to require copious amounts of labor, and if there's one thing I don't like, guys, it's labor. Jokes aside, I always worked in kitchens where there was typically plenty of oven space, but you had to fight the hard fight to have access to even one burner on the stove. This taught me to utilize and sharpen my oven-cooking skills and to also learn some really great tricks and hacks along the way. Bet you didn't know that you can cook the most perfect and fluffy rice if you don't own a rice cooker by just baking it in your oven, did you? That, too, is a post for another time.

And so all this brings me to The Cassoulet. Simply put, a cassoulet is a stew that starts off on the stove, but spends most of its cooking time in the oven. It's a genius meal if you're having guests over to eat because you don't have to spend the first half of their visit slaving away in the kitchen. It's traditionally a rustic dish, so taking it straight from your oven to table to serve in its pot is highly encouraged. Just add a crusty loaf of bread, and you'll have a feast that is sure to impress and satisfy just about anyone.

Cassoulets are definitely one of those dishes that you can "make your own". I always use sausage in mine because my family never seems to tire of sausage, and it's just about the easiest meat to prepare (see above regarding labor). As for legume and veg, I'll add whatever I happen to have stocked. If you kept the measurements relatively the same, you could easily switch out the ingredients in this recipe and have it turn out just as delightful. 

Sausage + Chickpea Cassoulet

4 sweet italian sausages
3-4 slices of thick-cut bacon, chopped into about 1/2 in. pieces
1 c. sliced trumpet mushrooms
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1-1 1/2 c. of chickpeas, cooked and rinsed
3/4 c. of tomato sauce
splash of white wine
chicken stock
handful of chopped parsley
olive oil
salt + pepper

Real quick. I was thinking of writing a post about my absolute favorite soup pot, but I din't have much to say besides the fact that it's my absolute favorite. I will add, however, that for a cassoulet, the right pot makes all the difference in the world. I know All-Clad isn't exactly the most affordable in the cookware world, but there are few things more invaluable in any kitchen than a quality sturdy stockpot that is oven safe. If shelling out 100 bucks for one pot seems unreasonable to you, and I fully understand if it does, lots of companies like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table make great stockpots under their own label for a fraction of the price. 

Preheat your oven to 325º. Brown your sausages in some olive oil on on all sides and set aside. In the same pot, start to cook your bacon. Before fully browned, add your mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper, and sauté for a couple minutes on medium heat. Add your garlic and sauté for about another minute. Throw in the chickpeas, browned sausages, wine, and tomato sauce, and pour in enough chicken stock to almost cover all of your ingredients. Season the cassoulet and sprinkle your chopped parsley on top. Bring to a simmer, cover your pot, and then stick it in your oven to slow cook for an hour. It will be HOT when you pull it out of the oven, so let it rest for a good 10-15 minuted before serving. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Peanut Butter Polenta topped with Spicy Date Compote + Toasted Coconut

I suffer from chronic nightmares. I understand that's a funny thing to say judging by the mostly funny reactions I get from people when I mention it, but it's very true and very exhausting at times. It's a problem I've had for most of my life, and the only explanation that makes sense to me is that they are triggered by some sort of hormonal imbalance (they were off the charts during my pregnancy). On average, I have one bad night a week. But every once in a while, I'll have three to four horrendous nights in a row, and I end up so sleep deprived that it's nearly impossible to peel myself off of my couch for most of the day. Getting back to a normal sleep cycle usually takes time because when I know I'm in the middle of it, I'm actually scared to fall asleep at night. Yes, it's totally absurd, but it feels like this is my life sometimes. 

I had one of those rough periods late last week, and when you're tired and annoyed because you missed out on a good night's sleep over something so trivial, it's helpful to indulge in a big bowl of comfort first thing in the morning. Nine times out of ten, I prefer a savory breakfast. Don't get me wrong, I love pancakes and waffles (well, mostly pancakes) just as much as the next guy, but a big dose of sugar as soon as I wake up tends to almost always result in a pretty lousy rest of the day for me. When I'm experiencing nightmare hell, however, I'm more than happy to chug maple syrup by the gallon.

I never really make polenta for breakfast, which is a complete shame because it is so incredibly versatile and is obviously a superb blank canvas for both savory AND sweet preparations. Since I was in the mood for something sugary but also cannot live without some form of protein when I wake up, I decided to stir a bit of peanut butter into my creamy polenta just as it was nearly done cooking. I topped it with a homemade compote and some toasted shredded coconut, and what resulted was what one would imagine a big bowl of warm ooey-gooey PB&J to taste like. I made sure not to make the polenta too sweet because I didn't want my breakfast turning out to be a glorified dessert. The sweetness from the compote was just enough and the perfect accompaniment. 

Peanut Butter Polenta topped with Cinnamon Date Compote + Toasted Coconut

Peanut Butter Polenta

1 c. of water
1 c. of whole milk
1/2 c. of yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp. of smooth peanut butter
2. tbsp. of butter
1 tbsp. of brown sugar
pinch of salt

Bring water and milk to a boil. Add cornmeal, turn heat down to low, and stir polenta until it is thick and creamy.* This will take roughly 7-10 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter, butter, sugar and salt. Serve into bowls while still hot, and top with compote and some toasted coconut.

*Be incredibly careful when you cook polenta. It loves to pop and splatter, and I got one of the worst 2nd degree burns of my life while cooking polenta when I first started out in kitchens. Make sure your heat is set to low when you are stirring, and to be extra safe, use a spoon with a long handle and even consider wearing an oven mitt. 

Spicy Date Compote

1 C. of pitted and chopped dates
1/4 c. of lemon juice
splash of white wine
1-2 tbsp. of maple syrup (add this to taste)
1 tsp. of ground cinnamon

Bring lemon juice and wine to a boil. Add dates, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, and stir roughly every 5 minutes. Let the compote cook until the dates have broken down and you have a thick and jammy consistency. This makes quite a bit of compote, but the extra can be stored in your fridge for weeks and is excellent served with cheese. 

As for the toasted coconut, it's as easy as it gets. Spread some shredded coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350º until slightly crispy and golden. This only takes a few minutes, so make sure to keep an eye on it. Your house will smell like heaven, guaranteed. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lemony Cilantro White Bean Hummus

Holy Smokes! I didn't mean to start a blog and then slowly begin to abandon it. Long story short, we bought a duplex. We had some money saved + equity in our place and wanted to make a sound investment that would provide us with some extra cash flow (preschool ain't exactly cheap, guys). So Joe and I have basically spent the last month renovating a little cottage that was built in 1910. We'd drop Cheech off at school then head into a day of cleaning, painting, replacing floors, installing light fixtures and closets, mulching, you name it. The unit we've been working on should be ready to go and rented out by the end of the week. Thank God.

Needless to say, there's been very little time for cooking around here. We've enjoyed plenty of quesadillas and simple scrambles, but nothing that's actually worth photographing or writing about. I finally feel like I'll have the energy to catch up on my life though. I made this hummus with the intention of posting it over three weeks ago, but you'd be surprised how exhausting it is to renovate a place when you're on a serious time crunch. Most days, I'd pick Cheech up from school and stare into space while she played at a park for a couple hours before 8pm bath and bed for the both of us. 

Back to the hummus. This recipe was a bit of a happy accident. I had a pot of white beans on the stove that needed about another half hour of cooking when I put Cheech down for her nap one day. I accidentally passed out with her, and ended up sleeping for over two hours (see… I really have been tired). By the time I woke up, the beans had turned to total mush. They were unquestionably inedible in that state, but I hate, hate, HATE to waste food. I think my aversion stems back to my catering days of calculating food costs and learning to always utilize every ingredient to the last bit. Food thrown in the trash = money lost + socially irresponsible practices. In other words, no bueno. So I did what any professional cook would do, which is to turn a disaster into a success. Obviously, this hummus could easily be made with white beans that are cooked just right, but now you'll know how to save the day if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament.

Lemony Cilantro White Bean Hummus

1-1 1/2 c. of cooked (or overcooked) cannellini or navy beans
1 garlic clove
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
olive oil
salt + pepper

Mix the beans, garlic, lemon juice and zest, and cilantro in a food processor. Slowly drizzle in oil as the machine is going until you reach desired consistency (I added roughly a cup). Season to taste. Great as a dip for crackers, veggies, meat, etc. Or, slather it on a piece of toast topped with a 7-minute egg, like I did for breakfast 3 days in a row. 

P.S. This would also be fantastic with limes, but we were still suffering through the limepocalypse when I made it. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Red Lentil and Vegetable Curry Stew

A friend of ours lost her husband on Friday. I spent most of Mother's Day weekend in a haze of disbelief. Living our day to day lives, with our overwhelmingly hectic schedules, we easily forget how fragile life is; how what should be our allotted time here isn't exactly guaranteed. After hearing the news, I desperately felt the need to latch on to my family and never let them go. If I could somehow mange to not part with them ever, then I could keep them both safe and out of harm's way always. Everything would be Ok as long as I held on tight for dear life. In the days since, I've slowly been stepping back, remembering that the beauty of now must always overpower the worry of what might be. A part of me is looking forward to being distracted by the day to day again. Not because I take this life for granted, but because I know that the distraction means that the hurt has been lifted from our hearts and that we are in the process of healing. I look forward to my friend and her young son finding the distraction, too. 

I wasn't going to post this week, but I am a firm believer that food helps to heal even the most shattered of hearts. Of course, a pot of soup won't erase the tremendous void we feel when we lose the ones we love the most, but keeping ourselves nourished is important in fighting the uphill battle that is loss. Food helps bring us closer to others when they or we need it the most, and it is usually eternally tied to some of our fondest memories. Food is one of the few things we all share that aides us to persevere in more ways than one.

Red Lentil and Vegetable Curry Stew

1 large shallot, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 c. of sliced cremini mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
1 tsp. of curry powder
1 c. of red lentils
1 1/2 c. of chopped potatoes (any variety) 
1/2 c. of strained tomatoes
7 c. of chicken or veggie broth
small bunch of whole cilantro stems
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, chopped
olive oil
salt + pepper

Sauté your shallot, carrots, and mushrooms in some oil until they just start to caramelize. Add the garlic and curry powder and cook for another minute. Pour in the broth, along with the lentils, potatoes, strained tomatoes, and cilantro stems. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer, partially covered. Stir occasionally until the lentils are soft and cooked through (roughly 30-40 minutes). Remove and discard your cilantro stems. Add your chopped spinach and continue simmering until the spinach is wilted (roughly 3-5 minutes). Season to taste and serve. 

Serves 4-6

Monday, May 5, 2014

Because it's Cinco de Mayo: Mexican Rice and Beans

I made a joke on twitter a couple weeks ago about how much Mexican rice and beans we eat, and I was surprised to see that quite a few of you had requested the recipes. Most weeks, I make a big pot of each and they end up being our filler meals. The two side courses actually make a great dinner on days when I barely have time to do anything besides stick a couple of bowls in our microwave. I also use the beans to assemble mini burritos to pack in Cheech's lunchbox for school, and the rice topped with a fried egg is one of my favorite breakfast options. They're both even great for adding to soups, together or separately, when I'm making some sort of kitchen sink version (try subbing Mexican rice in your chicken an rice soup the next time you make it; it's a nice twist). And I don't know if it's because 2/3 of this family has Mexican roots, but we surprisingly never tire of either dish.

Mexican rice, as most people are familiar with it, is white rice that is cooked in broth (typically chicken) with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Cumin can even be added if cumin is your thing. Traditionally, this kind is served in Northern Mexico (where my family hails from), and plain white rice is served in Southern Mexico. Also, it's obviously not called Mexican rice in Mexico. It's either referred to as sopa de arroz, or simply, sopa. There are a variety of ways to prepare sopa, including making broth-y versions and/or using fresh tomatoes. Although I really enjoy a broth-y sopa, I find that most people prefer it on the drier side, which is the result the recipe below will give you. I also never use fresh tomatoes. Partly because fresh tomatoes suck for most of the year, and partly because I like my sopa better without tomato chunks in it. 

Refried beans, which are more typical of Tex-Mex cuisine, aren't often served in traditional Mexican fare. However, since I am Mexican-American, I grew up probably eating more refried beans than the more common frijoles de la olla. And if you find yourself in Mexico with an order of the classic variety, you'll end up with something resembling a very smooth and dry pinto or black bean paste. My version is soupier and made up of pinto beans that are cooked in salted water with onion and garlic, and then fried and mashed with chorizo in chorizo fat (lard is more often used). Also, contrary to what many people think, there is no double or re-frying involved. Adding the prefix "re" to a word in Spanish is simply a way of adding emphasis. So if you happen to live in the Bay Area, refrito basically translates to "hella fried".

Mexican Rice

1 1/2 c. of dry long grain white rice, rinsed 
1/2 of one yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 c. of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. of ground cumin (optional)
chicken broth (sub for water and use the measurement given in the directions of your package of rice)
small handful of cilantro stems
olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. of salt

Sweat your onions and garlic in some olive oil. Add your rice and sauté until it becomes fragrant (roughly 1-2 minutes). Pour in the tomato sauce and broth, making sure all the rice is submerged.  Add cumin (if using), salt, and cilantro stems. Once liquids start to boil, lower heat to a simmer and put a lid on your pan. Follow the cooking time given on your package. Once the time is up, turn your burner off and let the rice continue to steam in the pan with the lid on for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the bulk of the cilantro stems (whatever hasn't turned to complete mush), and fluff with a fork and serve.

Refried Beans

1 1/2 c. of pinto beans (no need to soak)
7 c. of water
1/4 of a white or yellow onion
2 smashed cloves of garlic
1/4 lb. of mexican chorizo

Add your beans to a pot of water along with the 1/4 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and a healthy dose of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Top with a lid and cook on low heat until beans are tender (this will take about 2 1/2-3 hours). Once the beans are cooked, brown your chorizo in a fry pan. Drain your beans, making sure to reserved the liquid. Add your beans, onion, and garlic to the fry pan along with a 1-2 cups of the reserved liquid. Start mashing everything together with a potato masher while keeping the pan on medium-high heat. The longer you mash, the smoother and drier your refried beans will be. If they start to look too dry, add more of the reserved bean liquid (whatever is left can be disposed of). Salt to taste and serve.

Note: Both of these recipes yield a good 6-8 servings each, and they'll keep in your fridge about 5 days.