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.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fancy Wedge with Buttermilk Creme Fraîche Bleu Cheese Dressing

I'm not what you would call a salad person. Once in a great while I'll suffer through some sort of identity crisis and think that I could be a salad person, but without fail, I am always dead wrong. When people wax poetic about the large beautiful (they always refer to it as beautiful, for some reason) salad they had for lunch, I can't help but think that they are totally bullshitting me. I mean, yeah, I enjoy a well crafted salad as much as the next guy, but to have it be your entire meal just seems completely absurd to me. Maybe my appetite is off the charts, but if I were to eat a salad for lunch and only a salad, I'd be heading for some cheese and crackers within the hour. And it's not that I don't take pleasure in greens and a plethora of vegetables. Oh, I do! We eat LOTS of greens and LOTS of vegetables in this house, but I think I simply prefer them more in a supporting role.

This is not all to say that I will not be posting salads here. I will occasionally make a salad that I devour and am particularly proud of, and I'd love to share those recipes with you. Like this wedge, for example. We invited some friends over for dinner and we wanted to keep the menu from getting too complex, which can actually be challenging for us. I felt like serving a wedge salad, but also wanted something with a little more zest (after all, you have to impress folk who are coming for dinner at least a little bit), so I figured I'd take the traditional wedge just a few steps further. The result was glorious, and although I'm not convinced I would want to pull it off as a meal on its own, I will be making and serving it again, and again, and again.

Let's be honest. A wedge salad is not unlike a wolf in sheep's clothing. At some point in time, someone threw a whole bunch of really great, but possibly not great for you, ingredients on top of some iceberg lettuce and had the bravado to call it a salad. And good for that guy. Whatever you decide to add to your wedge salad, I think the key is always going to be a healthy slathering of creamy bleu cheese dressing. For supreme creaminess, you're going to want to let this dressing sit in your fridge for at least two hours, but overnight is best.

Buttermilk Creme Fraîche Bleu Cheese Dressing

1/2 c. of buttermilk
1/2 c. of creme fraîche
2 tbsp. of mayonnaise
1 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. of chopped chives
1 cup of crumbled bleu cheese
salt + pepper

Combine all of the above ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake the daylights out of it. Let it chill before using. Will last a good 4-5 days in your fridge if you have any extra, but I doubt you will.

Fancy Wedge

(serves 6-8)

2 heads of iceberg lettuce, quartered
2 8-minute eggs, peeled and chopped
6 slices of thick-cut bacon, fried and chopped
1 c. of halved cherry or grape tomatoes
1 tbsp. of chopped chives.
bleu cheese dressing
salt + pepper

Arrange your iceberg wedges on a platter. Top with your bleu cheese dressing. Sprinkle remaining ingredients on top of dressing and finish off with some salt and pepper.