Saturday, August 31, 2013

Teach Your Parents Well: Guacamole

It's a pretty worn-out cliche that we learn from our children, blah blah blah, but of course it's true, we do. For example my children have unintentionally taught me how to feel deeply inadequate and desperately guilty.

I assume this is universal and unavoidable, so I'm not too concerned, nor am I constantly plagued by these feelings, but they are there and seem to intensify around life's milestones, like dropping a kid off at a dorm, or dropping another off for his first day of high school. At times like these I tend to mull over my mistakes; the stupidly missed windows of opportunity, the wrongheaded strong-arming, the unnecessary misunderstandings. That kind of thing.

It can get a bit overwhelming, so to cheer myself up I've been digging around for redemption, looking for the things I've done right as a parent.

Here's one: My sons both make great guacamole. So how bad a mom can I be, right?

As a matter of fact, I learned something else from my kids this summer besides inadequacy and guilt. I learned how to make better guacamole. Jonah had a summer job at Whole Foods, and part of his responsibilities included making dips. We recently had friends over for dinner, and Jonah made a huge bowl of guacamole. It was a big hit, and I had to admit, it was superior to mine. I asked him for his recipe, but of course he didn't have one, he just chops, mashes, and tastes until it's right. But he showed me how, and it was one of my better moments of the summer, getting a cooking lesson from my oldest son.

It goes something like this:

Mash 1 avocado per 2 people
Add lemon juice and salt to taste (lime juice is also good)
Chop tomatoes, cilantro, onion, and jalapeño, and add to avocado until it tastes really good.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Roasted Tomato and Jalapeño Sauce

In August I feel an intense obligation to eat as many fresh tomatoes as possible and to constantly explain to my children why they should feel the same urgency. This recipe arose from these conversations, and from Henry's current obsession with jalapeño peppers. It is the easiest sauce in the world to make. The less you mess with it the better - just let everything roast in the oven for a full 50 minutes, undisturbed, while the vegetables transform into even more concentrated and flavorful forms of themselves.

Roasted Tomato and Jalapeño Sauce
adapted from a recipe in The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld

7-8 medium tomatoes, stemmed and halved
1 - 2 onions, thinly sliced
1 - 2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded, and halved
5 - 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme, oregano, or combination of both. Or use fresh herbs if you've got 'em.

Preheat oven to 375.

Spread onions across the bottom of a 9 x 11-inch baking dish. Top with tomato halves (cut side down), jalapeños, and garlic cloves. Drizzle olive oil over everything and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs.

Roast uncovered, 50 minutes.

Squeeze garlic from skins, and toss garlic into a blender. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out tomatoes and onions into blender and blend until smooth, adding liquid from baking dish as needed to get the right consistency.

For superior texture, press the sauce through a mesh strainer. It will still be good if you don't do this.

Taste and add a little more salt and/or pepper if you want.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

White Bean Chili with Roasted Corn and Poblanos

This chili requires several steps and multiple pots and pans, and it will leave your kitchen wrecked, unless you're better than I am at cleaning up as you go. But I've never felt so in-tune with the late summer harvest: roasting corn, toasting pumpkin seeds, scorching and peeling poblano peppers, it's about as ritualistic and satisfying as cooking gets.

Part of my plan here was to teach Henry how to roast peppers. Unfortunately, I was a terrible model. I grew impatient with the process, like I always do, and didn't blacken them enough or steam them enough, and wound up grumpily scraping off little bits of tenacious pepper skin until I finally gave up and left tons of skin on.

It was fine. The end result was smoky and delicious, and provided an opportunity to teach my son that you don't have to do everything perfectly right to produce a damn good bowl of food.

Anyway, late summer is short - maybe too short to worry about peeling every piece of skin off a pepper.

White Bean Chili with Roasted Corn and Poblanos
Serves 6-8

1 lb small white navy beans, sorted, soaked, rinsed, and drained
4 poblano peppers, roasted and peeled (good tutorial here - I used a little olive oil instead of cooking spray)
4 medium ears corn (in husks)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Big handful cilantro, leaves pulled off, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
8 ounces soft goat cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons milk (optional)
Big handful raw pumpkin seeds

To cook beans:

Place in a large pot with six cups cold water. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to strong simmer, and cook one hour or so, until beans are cooked tender but not mushy. Check regularly to make sure beans are immersed in water - add more if necessary.


Roast and peel the poblano peppers (link to tutorial above). Chop roughly and set aside.

Roast the corn (keep husks on) in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, husk and use a sharp knife to scrape off the kernels. Set aside.

Warm olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and a small pinch of salt. When onions sizzle, reduce heat to low and cook ten minutes, stirring occasionally  Add garlic, chopped roasted poblanos, oregano, cumin, salt, and about half the cilantro leaves. Cook five minutes, stirring.

Scrape every bit of olive oil/onions/garlic/poblano mixture into a blender. Scoop out 1/2 cup or so of bean cooking liquid and add to blender. Blend well - at least 1 minute. You will have a gorgeous green saucy paste. It will smell so good you won't believe it. Add more liquid if necessary. Stir mixture into beans.

Add corn and lime juice to beans. Taste and adjust seasoning, and simmer over low heat 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure beans don't stick or burn. You might need to add a little more water.

Roast the pumpkin seeds by stirring in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until they pop and smell toasty. This demands constant attention.

Warm milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add goat cheese and stir constantly to make sauce. (To make dish vegan, omit goat cheese sauce and top chili with vegan sour cream or yogurt substitute).

To serve: Ladle chili into a bowl, spoon a few tablespoons of goat cheese sauce on top, add pumpkin seeds and cilantro to garnish.

Harvest time. Coming soon: Roasted Tomato and Jalapeño Sauce!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Buttermilk Biscuits

Two years ago today I lost my Grandma Violet. Nobody will ever love me as absolutely, as unconditionally. The last thing she said to me, a few weeks before she died, was "see you next time."

I think I know what she meant.

I see her every time somebody generously gives me the benefit of the doubt, deserved or not, or every time I follow her example, and muster up the energy to care for my family when I don't think I quite have it in me.

And I see her when I make biscuits. Hers were the best, and she made them for me whenever I visited her in Nashville, Tennessee, even when I arrived with an entire rock band in tow. Mine will never compare to Violet's, but she never did anything but praise and encourage me, and she believed until the end that it was at least possible for her Yankee granddaughter to make a good biscuit. And so I try.

See you next time, Grandma.

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup shortening (or unsalted butter)
2/3 cup buttermilk plus 1-2 tablespoons, if needed

Preheat oven to 425.

Work shortening into flour with your fingers or a fork, quickly and lightly.

Stir in buttermilk until dough comes together. Add a little more buttermilk if you need it.

Turn onto floured surface, fold and knead briefly, and press into 1/2 inch (or a little more) thick rectangle.

Use a biscuit cutter to cut rounds and place on un-greased baking sheet, one inch apart.

Bake 8-12 minutes, until golden brown.

Best hot.