Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bowl of Red (Texas Chili)


My father-in-law and I disagree about chili.  We also disagree about most of the books we read in Bookclub, but that's another issue, especially when one has the pressing issue of chili to discuss.  You see, he's wrong. And I am right.  Beans belong in chili.


And that's where he chimes in: He argues that chili should not have beans in it. He ascribes to Texas chili making, where beans are eschewed for more meat. And then some more meat on top of that. I guess, the happy part about a Bowl of Red is that if you're paleo, this is one meat-friendly pot of soup.



Adapted from The New American Heart Association Cookbookthis bowl of red is incredibly simple, especially since I didn't stew this on the stovetop for an hour, which you are welcome to do. Instead, I put this is in the slow cooker after browning the meat. Then I went to work. And when I came home I had a fantastic bowl of chile-meat soup, which is what we non-Texans might call this dish. 

Now, if you add beans, you'd have a bowl of chili. 








------

Bowl of Red

Adapted from The New American Heart Association Cookbook

Yield
4 Servings

Ingredients
1 pound boneless top round steak, visible fat discarded, and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup water
1 cup dark beer
½  medium onion, chopped
½ 8-ounce can no-salt added tomato sauce
3 ancho chiles, seeded and chopped
1 medium fresh jalapeno, seeds discarded and chopped
1 Tbsp chile powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp pepper
⅛ tsp cayenne
¼ cup sour cream
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Instructions
1. Lightly spray a pan with cooking spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Cook the beef 3-5 minutes until browned on the outside. 

2. Add the beef to a slow cooker. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook for 6-8 hours on low.

3.  Ladle the chile into bowls. Top each serving with sour cream and sprinkle with cilantro, all optional. 



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Apple Pie in Summer // Cook Your Books




In this Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food. And it turns out that these entries are a sort of long-form blog-post. So settle in. This seventh installment is a book published in 1917.

Where there is a fallen woman, there is usually an apple.  Even for the venerable Edith Wharton.

In Wharton's little novel Summer, published exactly 100 years ago, Wharton likes to talk about eating. A lot. She is not particular about the food, itself. But eating--well, eating and its environs take center stage. Eating becomes a place of transaction. And apples, both in their pie and in their unsliced, unsugared, and unbaked forms, show up a lot.  But then again, we've got a fallen woman, the Fourth of July, and New England. Seems just about right. But it's Edith Wharton, so let's not get ahead of ourselves. For, you see, she's going to complicate these apples a bit.



Summer, which takes place in New England (only one of two of her works to be so), is lesser known than Ethan Frome (that oft-assigned chestnut of middle school) but it certainly shares similarities; Wharton herself said Summer was her "hot Ethan," and like Ethan, it is about sex and sexuality and desire. And it suggests, perhaps, there's more to life than a hot romance with a ne'er-do-well outsider and a longing to leave one's small hometown. Not much more, she concedes, but something just a little bit more.



Set in the small town of North Dormer in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the story details the coming of age of Charity Royall, bored teenage librarian from "the Mountain," as she is often reminded. In other words, not from town, from a lower class of squalor and lawlessness not spoken of. Rescued as a child from said Mountain, which looms over North Dormer, by the town's premier citizen Lawyer Royall, Charity finds herself aching for something more than either the Mountain or her oppressive small town but with little means to get it or even name it. Enter visiting architect and dreamy city slicker, Lucius Harney. 



When she first meets Harney in the library, he is interested in learning more about the architecture of the old houses "about here" (104). Charity knows that there was a book, North Dormer and the Early Townships of Eagle County, a book against which she holds "a special grudge" (105) because it a "limp weakly book" that falls off the shelf or disappears between more substantial volumes. Oh, how she hates the limp and weakly (and the library, for that matter). And she cannot understand "how anyone could have taken the trouble to write a book about North Dormer and its neighbors: Dormer, Hamblin, Creston, and Creston River" (105). Dormer, apparently, is where North Dormer goes "for its apples" (105). She then lists the other claims to fame dismissively: "Creston River, where there used to be a papermill, and its grey walls stood decaying by the stream; and Hamblin, where the first snow always fell" (105). This is hardly an impressive place to Charity. Apples, papermill, snow. Ho hum. Could it get more New England? 



But then Harney becomes a border in the Royall household for some time (a plot twist involving an out-of-town cousin),  and Charity becomes his tour guide as he traipses through the countryside exploring buildings for a book on colonial houses. What better, then, than a picnic of cheese sandwiches, freshly decanted buttermilk, and wrapped slices of apple pie (135)? Possibly one's slightly dingy pink calico and a sassy sense of triumph at being "a part of the sunlight" (you cannot make this stuff up) (135-6). Charity is a claustrophobic teenager on a mission and Harney is her ticket to excitement. They unpack their basket under a walnut tree and she muses on the fact that just the night before Lawyer Royall had revealed the secret of her childhood on the Mountain to Harney. Embarrassed by her past and a little unsure about how he will take it, Charity demures to the lovely Lucius Harney, and they share a meal. Complete with an apple. Temptation at its core. 



Not surprisingly, a storm brews over the Mountain, and the two race off to Hyatt house (137), a home filled with Mountain dwellers, possibly and likely Charity's blood relations, and certainly those who live in abject poverty. And all Charity can think is "this is where I belong" (139). And the Hyatt's offer her something kind--a broken teacup half full of whiskey (140). She cannot escape this past that is passed around as knowledge among these men (Royall and Harney) without her consent and she cannot escape this town or its looming mountain, even with a pretty little picnic.



Later, Harney and Charity go to Nettleton (the bigger neighboring town) for the Fourth of July, and Charity is impressed: the town is overrun with "other excursionists" and while the shops were closed, you can scarcely tell, as "glass doors swinging open on saloons, on restaurants, on drug-stores gushing from every soda-water tap, on fruit and confectionary shops stacked with strawberry cake, cocoanut drops, molasses candy, boxes of caramels, and chewing gum, baskets of sodden strawberries and dangling branches of bananas. Oranges, apples, spotted pears, and dusty raspberries, stale coffee, beer, and sarsaparilla and fried potatoes" (164). This is a community of abundance and commerce and opportunity. As well as an abortionist and her childhood friend, who has essentially become a prostitute. It is also where Harney kisses Charity for the first time, buys her a brooch, and tries to take her to dinner at a fancy restaurant (where they wait is too long and they end up with a clam chowder at another, less elegant restaurant). Literal fireworks ensue. As do more figurative ones with a kiss between Harney and Charity. Only to be sullied when they run into a drunken Lawyer Royall, who is accompanied by prostitutes and calls Charity as much. Not surprisingly, just after Charity's first kiss, the harlot. Nettleton is complicated at best. 



And then shortly therafter Wharton gives us a love affair and apples everywhere in a secret home created out of an abandoned house. Let's review. For starters:
"The garden palings had fallen, but the broken gate dangled between its posts, and the path to the house was marked by rose-bushes run wild and hanging their small pale blossoms above the crowding grasses. Slender pilasters and an intricate fan-light framed the opening where the door had hung; and the door itself lay rotting in the grass, with an old apple-tree fallen across it" (182).  
Oh my.  That seems a bit obvious, Edith. An overrun garden, wild and disheveled. A dilapidated farm house with its door torn from its hinges. And there it is: an old apple tree, just aching to be a meeting point for this burgeoning, aching pair. And so, Harney brings Charity some tablets of chocolate inside a little abandoned house. He asks her to kiss him again they way they did at the 4th of July. And there it is, that old apple tree: "The room was empty, and leaning her bicycle against the house Charity clambered up the slope and sat down on a rock under an old apple-tree. The air was perfectly still, and from where she sat she would be able to hear the tinkle of a bicycle-bell a long way down the road...." (188).  Can't you just hear the ache in that bell tinkle? And even later, "For a few minutes, in the clear light that is all shadow, fields and woods were outlined with an unreal precision; then the twilight blotted them out, and the little house turned gray and spectral under its wizened apple-branches" (190).  Daaaaang, Edith. We get it. Abandoned house. Somewhat Edenic atmosphere. Apple tree looming, coloring how everything is seen. Got it.



And Harney, for all of his faults (and boy he has many), does awaken something in her that is found, most often, when she is alone. 

"She was always glad when she got to the little house before Harney. She liked to have time to take in every detail of its secret sweetness--the shadows of the apple-trees swaying on the grass, the old walnuts rounding their domes below the road, the meadows sloping westward in the afternoon light--before his first kiss blotted it all out....The only reality was the wondrous unfolding of her new self.... She had lived all her life among people whose sensibilities seemed to have withered for lack of use; and more wonderful, at first, than Harney's endearments were the words that were a part of them. She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he made it as bright and open as the summer air." (188-9)
He brings her a newfound appreciation for the natural world. He opens up a world of excitement and brightness. And he reminds her, through language, that she is worth something. That love is open and bright. 

The night of the first time Charity and Harney have sex, she bicycles home. The family cook is siting at the kitchen table and gets Charity a glass of milk and a plate. She eats pie hungrily. She sees her dress for the upcoming dance in virgin whiteness (192). You know this isn't going to end well. 



Harney is, of course, engaged to another woman--the society darling Annabel Balch--and despite Harney's assurances that he will marry her, Charity insists that he do the right thing, uphold his promises, and marry Annabel. Charity doesn't feel well--and well, you can tell where this is going to lead--and it turns out she's pregnant, a diagnosis that costs her five dollars (which she doesn't have and instead she leaves behind her brooch). Melodrama ensues, Charity determines she cannot remain in North Dormer, and decides to return to the Mountain, to reunite with her mother, and to be the person she believes she was destined to be: 
"The hours wore on, and she walked more and more slowly, pausing now and then to rest, and to eat a little bread and an apple picked up from the roadside. Her body seemed to grow heavier with every yard of the way, and she wondered how she would be able to carry her child later, if already he laid such a burden on her....She herself had been born as her own baby was going to be born; and whatever her mother's subsequent life had been, she could hardly help remembering the past, and receiving a daughter who was facing the trouble she had known" (218). 

Yep, our fallen woman with a code of ethics is munching on apples on her way back to the Mountain. This is her exile from her Eden. 




However, she's too late--her alcoholic mother is already dead, and instead Charity buries her mother's body. She is caught. The Mountain is no attractive alternative for Charity. She doesn't, however, want the abject poverty that her mother would have had to raise her in, so she decides to come down from the Mountain again, become a prostitute, and pay someone to raise her child. Enter in Lawyer Royall again (forgot about him, didn't you?) and his proposal.

Lawyer Royall is hardly the upstanding citizen he would like us all to believe. Yep, he's a windbag and a pompous drunk who once tried to force his way into Charity's bedroom after the death of his wife. But Wharton found something compelling about him, if only because Wharton said "of course he's  the book" when Bernard Berenson complimented her on the good lawyer.





But Wharton is smarter than the simple apples to apples connection of a fallen woman and the forbidden fruit.  She is interested in the transaction. The decision by Charity to marry Royall is just that--a transaction. They go to breakfast and she knows that he knows that she is not a virgin. He tells her to go shopping and gives her money to buy clothes; instead she goes to buy back her blue brooch (but the doctor won't part with it without an even hefiter sum of money, so Charity filches it) (240). Some transactions can be completed openly. Others need to be done furtively.

And Royall saves her from the fate of bearing a child out of wedlock. Her reputation can remain unsullied, as the child will be passed off as Royall's not Harney's. This is business. Not love. This is realism, not romance. Charity was the illegitimate child of an alcoholic. She has been given and has chosen something more for her child. But what a sad transaction. It's better than the Mountain. It's better than prostitution in Dormer.  

Charity and Royall are a kind of twins--they are set apart from "the stifling environment" of North Dormer. Both are rebels rejecting village life. Both are village outsiders. They both desire more than North Dormer. They both have fantasies of escape, and neither of them ultimately can. Wharton gives us the gradual exposure of destructive illusions and the reality of a transactional world.


Is the ending a tragedy or a triumph? I am going to go with tragedy, in part because it's packaged as a transactional triumph. Charity raises her child, yes, with little shame. But she has lost the illusion of wrapped apple pies and abandoned houses with withered apple trees. Yes, we saw this coming. Harney was no good. He treats her like a transaction as well. But the price is paid not by Royall or Harney. Nope. It's paid by Charity.  How's that for the most depressing, transactional, fallen from grace apple pie you're ever going to eat? 

The good news, it's a damn good apple pie.







------

The Quintessential Apple Pie

The sun rose without a cloud, and earlier than usual she was in the kitchen, making cheese sandwiches, decanting buttermilk into a bottle, wrapping up slices of apple pie, and accusing Verena [the cook] of having given away a basket she needed, which had always hung on a hook in the passage. When she came out into the porch, in her pink calico, which had run a little in the washing, but was still bright enough to set off her dark tints, she had such a triumphant sense of being a part of the sunlight and the morning that the last trace of her misery vanished. What did it matter where she came from, or whose child she was, when love was dancing in her veins, and down the road she saw young Harney coming toward her? (Summer 135)

Adapted from Kate McDermott's Art of the Pie

Kate McDermott is a master pie maker. Trust me on this one. And McDermott does not peel her apples, for she finds the peels breakdown in the baking process.  Plus, it gives a little interest to the texture of the pie. She's right. Don't doubt her. Also, serve with a slice of cheddar cheese--it's the dairyland thing to do.

Yield
1 gorgeous, 9-inch deep-dish pie

Ingredients

For the crust:
2½ cups all-purpose flour unbleached 
½ teaspoon salt 
14 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter cut into tablespoon-size pieces
½ cup ice water and 1–2 tablespoons more as needed 
Additional flour for rolling out dough

For the pie filling:
About 10 cups apples (skin on), quartered and cored
½ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 gratings nutmeg
½ tsp allspice
1-2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (or 1 Tbsp artisan apple cider)
1 to 2 tablespoons Calvados or apple liqueur, optional
½ cup flour
1 knob butter (about the size of a walnut) cut into small pieces
1-2 tsp sugar
1 egg white plus 1 Tbsp water, beaten with a fork

Instructions
For the crust:
1. Put all ingredients but the ice water in a large bowl. With clean hands, quickly mash the mixture together, or use a pastry blender with an up and down motion, until the ingredients look like cracker crumbs with lumps the size of peas and almonds. (We used a food processor, pulsing quickly and in short bursts--and the results were grand. McDermott says that you lose about 3-5% tenderness and only a true pie geek will notice.)

2.  Sprinkle ice water over the mixture and stir lightly with a fork. Squeeze a handful of dough to see if it holds together. Mix in more water as needed. 

3.  Divide the dough in half and make two chubby discs about 5 inches across. Wrap the discs separately in plastic wrap, and chill for about an hour. 

For the pie filling:
4.  Cut the apples into ½-inch thick slices or chunks you can easily fit in your mouth. 

5.  In a large bowl, mix apples with sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, vinegar, Calvados, and flour. Stir until mixture begins to look sandy. 

Putting it all together:
6.  Take out the dough discs and let them temper until they feel slightly soft to the touch and easy to roll out. Unwrap one disc and place it on a well-floured board, pastry cloth, parchment paper, or plastic wrap. 

7.  Sprinkle some flour onto the top of the disc. Thump the disc with your rolling pin several times. Turn it over and thump the other side. 

8.  Sprinkle more flour onto the top of the dough as needed to keep the pin from sticking, and roll the crust out from the center in all directions. When the dough is 1 to 2 inches larger than your pie pan, brush off the extra flour on both sides. 

9.  Fold the dough over the top of the pin and lay it in the pie pan carefully. Don’t worry if the crust needs to be patched together. Paint a little water where it needs to be patched and “glue” on the patch piece. 

10. Pour in apple mixture. Distribute the pieces of butter evenly on top. 

11.  Roll out the top crust; place over the filling. Cut at least 5 vents in the top. Trim any dough that hangs over the side of the pie pan. Crimp the edges. 

12.  Cover pie in plastic wrap and transfer to fridge for about 30 minutes. 

13.  Meanwhile, heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove wrap from the pie. Brush the top of the pie with the egg white and water mixture. Transfer pie to middle rack in the oven. Cook, 20 minutes. 

15.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake, 30 minutes. 

16.  Sprinkle sugar on pie. Continue cooking until evenly browned on top, and liquid just starts to bubble from vents, about 10 minutes more. 

17.  Remove and let pie cool for at least an hour.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Refried Beans on Chipotle-Vanilla Sauce


This cookbook is not for the feint of heart.  In Maricel Presilla's new cookbook, Peppers of the Americas, one must be a serious connoisseur of peppers, either as a gardener or a cook. One does not dabble with this cookbook. Instead, one must commit.


Do you want the history of this capsicum? Do you ache for a breakdown of pepper anatomy and heat? Do you long for pretty little naturalist drawings of calyx, flower, and seed, and then hope for well-shot, full-color photographs of hundreds of peppers? Do you need the Latin name, the approximate lengths, and a thoughtful catalogue of the growing season of each of those hundreds of peppers? Again, I ask of you, are you a serious connoisseur of peppers?  If you answered yes to even just one of those questions, then this just might be your new cookbook.  In fact, I think this is the perfect book for my friend at Bat Barn Farm. He's a food geek, and this book is for geeks. Period.



Presilla is the first Latin American woman invited to cook at the White House; she has been nominated six times by the James Beard Foundation (both for her non-fiction writing and for her cookbooks) and one of her cookbooks, Gran Cocina Latina, won the 2013 James Beard Foundation Cookbook of the Year. She is chef and co-owner of Cucharamama and Zafra and owns the little shop Ultramarinos--all in Hoboken, New Jersey. And she is no slouch in the intellectual business either. She has her PhD in medieval Spanish history. Yep. She's got chops.



Since I am a food geek myself, I decided to be ambitious.  If I was going to cook from this book, it was going to be an all day endeavor. It was going to involve three recipes. It was going to call for three different kinds of peppers. I would not call myself a serious connoisseur of peppers, no. But I would call myself a curious geek on the look out for interesting combinations, and this cookbook provides!



Let's break it down by recipe and pepper.

The first recipe: Refried Black Beans with Chile de Árbol

Chile de Árbol are potent little peppers. These are dried peppers, found sometimes in the bulk section of your grocery, with thin skins and bumpy exteriors. Presilla describes the flavor as "clean and sharp" with "an edge of bitterness without acidity or great complexity." And the beans take an afternoon to cook, they make your house smell amazing--all garlic-y and onion-y and bean-y. As the afternoon wore on (with October baseball in the background), my belly growled and I grew hungrier and hungrier. What an amazing smell. Such delightful torture.




The second: Chipotle and Vanilla Sauce

The chipotle?  Well, it comes from what Presilla calls the "chicken of the pepper world": the jalapeño. It's just one of those workhorse peppers that can often be substituted in for harder to find peppers. The dried, smoked jalapeño is simply the infinitely more interesting chipotle. With a powerhouse of concentrated flavor, the chipotle is often housed in a lovely adobo sauce and is easy to pick up at just about any grocery, these days. 

Okay, this sounds a bit unusual, I am not going to deny it. But it seemed interesting enough to try. And interesting it was. Presilla grinds all of the bean (pod and seed) into a crumbly paste and combines it with a smack of chocolate in a tomato-chipotle sauce. It is big and bold and complex. And my only regret is that I made only enough for this recipe.  And next time, I am not going to add the sugar.  It seemed a little sweet to me, but still amazing. Looks like I will need to make more.



And the third: Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Refried Beans on Chipotle-Vanilla Sauce

Finally, the piquillo is a specialty pepper originally from Navarre, Spain (although there are plenty of growers in the US, China, and Peru). These are the ultimate sweet pepper for cooking for they do not tear easily, they boast a sweet and tangy flavor, and their size (small) and shape (heart shaped with a pointy tip) just beg to be stuffed. But you can also just saute them in olive oil and be almost equally as happy. 

And once we put the beans in the piquillo peppers and sauced everything up--oh, it was much greater than the sum of its parts. This instead was an algorithm of flavor. Yes, it would be just fine with some polenta, but it's also delightful all on its own. The best parts are the little charred bits of cheese and pepper. And the beans are an anchor to the sweetness of the sauce. And, oh, sweet lord, this recipe alone was worth the whole book. Connoisseur of peppers or not. 



So the final assessment: this is a cookbook for the serious gardener or cook. The rewards are sweet, indeed. I declare, it is time to geek out.



I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


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Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Refried Beans on Chipotle-Vanilla Sauce

Adapted from Peppers of the Americas: The Remarkable Capsicums That Forever Changed Flavor

Yield
4 Servings

Ingredients
9½ ounces canned piquillo peppers, drained
1 cup refried black beans with Chile de Árbol
6 ounces aged manchego cheese, grated
2 cups Zafra's Chipotle and Vanilla Sauce

Instructions
1.  To stuff the peppers, place one on the palm of one hand and hold it upright and open between your thumb and index finger. Fill with 1 Tbsp refried beans and top with 1 Tbsp grated cheese. Gently transfer to a large plate. Repeat until all the peppers have been stuffed. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes for the beans to firm up.

2.  Preheat the broiler.  Pour about 1½ cups of the sauce into  12x9-inch baking dish and spread evenly. Arrange the stuffed peppers over the sauce. Pour the remaining ½ cup sauce over the peppers and sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the dish. Broil 5 inches from the heat source until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has melted, becoming golden brown and a bit charred in places. Serve hot. 

3.  Store any leftovers (right, like there will be leftovers) tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  Would be great served on a bed of creamy polenta.


For the Refried Beans with Chile de Árbol
Presilla recommends procuring 5 large dried Mexican avocado leaves, and charring them over a gas flame or in a cast-iron skillet over high heat.  Then crumble the leaves into a blender with the peppers.  

Yield
3 cups

Ingredients
8 ounces dried black beans
1 medium white onion, cut in half lengthwise
6 garlic cloves
3½ tsp salt, plus more
1/4 ounces (about 7) Chiles de Árbol, stemmed and seeded
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch roughs, rings separated

Instructions
1.  Place the beans, halved onion, and garlic in a medium saucepan with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil, lower the hear, cover, and simmer. Season with 1 tsp of the salt, just as the beans are beginning to soften. Cover and continue cooking until the beans are soft, about 1½ hours total cooking time. Strain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. You will need about 2/3 cup to blend the beans and about 1/4 cup if you plan to store the beans.

2.  Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and add the chiles. Toast for about 15 seconds, tossing with tongs. Transfer the chiles to a blender, and add the beans, 2/3 cup of the reserved cooking liquid and the remaining 2½ tsp salt. Process into a smooth puree.

3.  Heat the oil in a medium skilled over high heat and add the sliced onion. Saute until the onion is golden brown and crunchy with small charred bits. Strain the oil through a sieve and set over a bowl, pushing he onion down with a spoon to extract as much oil as possible.  You should have about 2 Tbsp oil. Pour the onion-flavored oil back into the skillet over medium heat. Pour int he bean puree and cook, stirring, until the puree bubbles, about 5-8 minutes.

4.  If not using immediately, let cool completely. Store in a tightly covered glass container in the refrigerator until ready to use. Te beans will keep up to 4 days. To reheat, place the beans in a skillet over medium heat and loosen with some of the reserved cooking liquid. It is best to keep the beans as thick as possible if using them as a filling so that they will not ooze out.



For the Chipotle and Vanilla Sauce
Yield
2 cups

Ingredients
2 large Mexican vanilla beans
2 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and quartered
3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo with the sauce clinging on
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Mexican piloncillo, Colombian panela or light muscovado (optional)
1 ounce 60% cacao dark chocolate (preferably made from Latin American cacao) (optional)

Instructions
1.  Cut the vanilla beans into 1-inch pieces and put into a food processor or spice mill, and process until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You should have about 1 Tbsp. Set aside.

2. Place the tomatoes into a blender or food processor and process into a puree.

3.  Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir int he puree and the salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes, until the sauce thicken and the oil starts to separate. Stir in the ground vanilla, muscovado, and chocolate, and cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

4.  If not using immediately, store the sauce in a glass container in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Half-Blistered Tomato Pasta Salad from Food52


Stop what you're doing. Fire up your oven. Boil a pot of water. Grate a ripe tomato. You won't be sorry.  Mostly because there are tomatoes--lots of them--in this new take on that old summer standby of a pasta salad with raw tomatoes.



As you may have noticed, I have been on a salad kick (see here and here. Oh, and here.). It's summer. Produce is at its peak (or getting close to it), and all I want are tomatoes. And more tomatoes. Lucky for me, there are a plethora of tomato salads out there, and this one from  Food52  is a hit because this summer-time staple of pasta salad with tomatoes brings you tomatoes three ways.



Well, actually it technically brings it to you only two ways, but I made some adjustments to the original recipe.  Let me detail all of my modifications below, including that additional hit of tomatoes:

(1) I got inspired by another salad in the Mighty Salads cookbook: Corn-Barley Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette. That particular vinaigrette requires the grating of a ripe tomato in order to get its pulp and juices (without the skin) in a totally fresh and bright way. So I added it here. (Okay, two tomatoes.) You can leave it out if you're talking nonsense. 

(2) Our leaders at Food52 recommend a 1-hour roasting time for the cherry tomatoes. Maybe it's my oven, but it was way too long, and I was left with charred carcasses of tomato skins. I made another round of tomatoes and cut this back to 45 minutes. Crisis averted.



(3) Additionally they recommend adding 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled, to the tomato roasting pan. Great idea. However, again, I found the roasting time far too long for the cloves of garlic. My garlic came out like pieces of crumbly charcoal--never appetizing in a salad or otherwise. Plus, I don't like garlic. So I cut it. If you like garlic, I imagine the shorter cooking time might be effective.

(4) They call for 1 pound of pasta. That is also nonsense. Pasta salad should be more salad than pasta. So I halved it. You can put the other half pound in. But really, then you're just diluting all this tomato-y goodness. You don't need that in your life.



Okay, beyond the adjustments, let's talk a little more seriously about the end product of the work you're about to embark on. Yes, you need to turn on your oven. Yes, it's August. But it's worth it. The sweet, candy flavor of roasted tomatoes next to the bright acidity of the raw tomatoes (and the extra pulp in the dressing) is a revelation in late summer tomato bliss. You get velvety smooth tomato bombs next to crunchy tomato halves. And then, there is the cheese--torn chunks of creamy mozzarella and flakes of salty parmesan. 

Drat, now I am hungry again.





------

Half-Blistered Tomato Pasta Salad

Adapted from Mighty Salads 

Yield
Serves 4

Ingredients
4 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large ripe tomatos
2 Tsp red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar) or to taste
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
½ pound of casarecce or other tubular pasta
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
¼ cup loosely packed mint leaves, torn
⅛ cup lightly toasted pine nuts
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks
1½ ounces Parmesan, finely chopped or crumbled

Instructions
1. To make the vinaigrette: Heat an oven to 375℉. Combine 2 cups of the cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a pinch of sugar (if using) on a rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt and pepper, and toss until evenly coated. Spread the tomatoes into a single layer. Roast until the tomatoes have blistered and shriveled, about 45 minutes. Feel free to give them a stir about halfway through (just be sure to return them to a single layer).

2.  While the cherry tomatoes are roasting, grate the large tomato halves on the large holes of a box grater over a wide bowl, collecting the juice and pulp. Discard the tomato skins. 

3.  Once the 2 cups of cherry tomatoes have come out of the oven, blend together ¼ cup of the blistered tomatoes, the large tomato pulp and juice, the vinegar, the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and the red pepper flakes. Add more olive oil if needed (a little at  time) and continue to blend until the vinaigrette is smooth. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and set aside.

4. Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions or to your taste. While the pasta cooks, season the raw cherry tomatoes with salt. 


5.  To compose the salad: Drain the pasta and toss with the vinaigrette. Let the pasta cool until just warm, then toss in the remaining blistered tomatoes, the raw tomatoes and their juices, the basil, mint, pine nuts, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add more red pepper flakes, olive oil, or pine nuts as needed.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lemony Greek Pasta Salad from Food52


Pasta salads are ideal for packing up for a picnic. Or to be more quotidian, for lunch at work. Either way, it's better to eat food you're looking forward to having--be it after a hike to the perfect picnic spot or after a morning staring at a computer. So why not make this Greek-inspired pasta salad? The fine folks at Food52 encourage you to make without tomatoes, and I encourage you to ignore that directive.


Intended to be a subtle accompaniment to salmon, roast chicken, or the like, this salad nixes the tomatoes and focuses on the cucumber and the dill, traditionally found in all walks of Greek Salad.  I am in the middle of being in love with this summer's cherry tomatoes. And I have never been accused of being subtle. So here we are. With tomatoes. You make your own decisions, I won't judge. But we both know you should put tomatoes in this salad.


The briny feta and olives are the perfect counter balance to the acidic and sweet tomatoes and the cool cucumbers. This salad will win you no points for originality, but I promise you, it will win you a sense of satisfaction while sitting on a picnic blanket or your desk. Or at your next potluck or even, yes, as a an accompaniment to salmon or chicken at your own dinner table. 


The only real problem with this salad is that I had only one glorious serving of it. Neither on a picnic or at work. You see, my mother-in-law mistook the container that I put it in (a washed out yogurt container) for her very own, so she took it with her on her trip back up the California coast. So she got to enjoy the seven other servings (I doubled it, too, because there was a long work week and a half in my future).  She said it was delightful. And from what I could tell from a Sunday afternoon pasta salad eating on my back deck, she was right.  



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Lemony Greek Pasta Salad

Adapted from Mighty Salads and recipe here 

Yield
Serves 4

Ingredients
½ pound orzo pasta 
Zest of 1 lemon 
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
1 medium shallot, grated 
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped 
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced 
2 medium cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and sliced 
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Instructions
1. Cook the orzo in abundantly salted water according to package instructions or to your taste. Drain and transfer to a large salad bowl. 

2.  Meanwhile, make lemon-dill vinaigrette to dress the salad: combine lemon zest and juice, mustard, and grated shallot in a medium bowl. Whisk everything together with a few pinches of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking, then stir in the chopped dill. Taste and adjust as needed. 

3.  Pour the vinaigrette over the still-warm pasta and toss. Allow to cool to room temperature, then add the olives, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Fold in the crumbled feta cheese, adjust salt and pepper, and serve.