September, 2006

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In which I rediscover garlic and basil
Sep 30th, 2006



When I was in my early twenties I didn't know how to cook very many things - pasta, pork chops, and burritos were about the extent of my culinary repertoire - but I found that if I threw enough garlic and basil on most things they tasted good. I cooked a lot of pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil, and capers. When I started reading cookbooks and expanding my range I left these pasta dishes behind - because I had cooked them so often when I didn't know what I was doing I think I associated them with a lack of culinary sophistication. So when I got home late one night last week to a mostly empty fridge and a reqest for pasta I was faintly surprised how good the results tasted once I threw in enough garlic and basil and capers. Just because it may be overused doesn't rob this classic combination of its power.

I wouldn't call this a recipe really, just a call to lay in some fresh basil, some red and yellow bell peppers, a tomato or two, maybe even an eggplant and go to town with the olive oil and garlic. I cubed the eggplant and bell pepper and sauteed them with plenty of garlic and oil. When they were soft I added the chopped up tomatoes and some more garlic and a little salt. These cooked for a few more minutes, just until the tomatoes broke down and started to bind the sauce together, then I pulled my pan off the heat and added the basil and capers. A dusting of feathery grated parmesan topped off the pasta and sauce.

It may not be haute cuisine but it sure tastes good and that's what it's really all about isn't it?


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Curried Applesauce
Sep 25th, 2006



The latest cookbook I've been perusing is Get Saucy, by Grace Parisi. I believe I've mentioned here before that I tend to make a lot of sauces, salsas, and other taste enhancers that can b served on the side - that way the kids can have their food plain and Jim and I can still partake of a spice or two occasionally. So this book is right up my alley. I already own Sauces, by James Peterson, which is probably the definitive book on the subject of saucemaking, but I never use it. It's a very large, authoritative, hardback book and I think I find it intimidating.



My favorite thing about Parisi's book is the index in the back where you can look up a type of food (in this case pork) and see a list of the sauces in the book that would pair well with that item. So when my dad unexpectedly stayed for dinner on Sunday, I looked to the index to see what would liven up a plain pork roast. Since we also had a bucket of apples sitting on the counter from our backyard apple tree, my eye immediately stopped on Curried Applesauce. An hour later my hand was cramped from peeling and coring pounds of ridiculously tiny little wormhole-filled apples, but the house was filled with the tempting smell of warm sweet apples and Indian spices. The applesauce is sweet and savory and goes really well with pork roast - for the vegetarians I'm already salivating over what it might taste like piled on roasted winter squash with maybe a scattering of pungent cheese. I threw in a spoonful or so of Major Grey's Mango Chutney near the end of cooking time, basically just because the opened jar of chutney has been languishing in my fridge, but it added a little vinegary tang to the sauce that I enjoyed.

So when you've finally packed away your summer sandals and come to terms with the presence of fall, take advantage of apple season and try this sauce. It might make the passing of summer just a little bit sweeter. And if that doesn't work, here's Ian this morning all ready for his first day of preschool. Both boys are in school, huzzah for fall!



Curried Applesauce
makes about 2 cups

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1 1/2 tsp mild Madras curry powder
1 1/2 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown or Turbinado sugar
1/4 cup water
1 to 2 tbsp fresh lime juice, to taste
1 to 2 tbsp mango chutney (optional)
Salt
Cayenne pepper


Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-size heavy saucepan. Add the shallots and cook until softened, stirring occasionally. Add the curry powder and stir for a minute. Then add the apples, sugar, and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until softened, about 20 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high, remove the cover, and cook, stirring a few times, until the liquid is nearly evaporated and the apples completely broken down, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the lime juice, mango chutney (if using), and season with salt and cayenne. Will keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for one month.

-Grace Parisi, Get Saucy
Print Recipe

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Mystery Beans
Sep 19th, 2006



The mystery beans from yesterday's post are these beautiful Anasazi Beans I got on my visit to Bob's Red Mill. Anasazi beans have not been in commercial cultivation for that long. They were apparently discovered by a scientist in the '80s who while looking for something else entirely stumbled across a clay pot of beans in an old cliff cave in New Mexico. The beans were carbon dated to 1500 years old but some still germinated and were eventually put into production. I don't know if I fully buy the story but it is a good one. You can see more here.

Whatever their origin, Anasazi beans are beautiful to look at and have a mild, creamy taste. I wanted a recipe that was fairly simple so that the taste of the beans would shine through, and this one from Deborah Madison did the trick. I soaked the beans overnight, first boiling them for about five minutes in a quart of water for each cup of beans. They cooked up nice and soft and we wolfed them down with a pan of cornbread on the side. I did remove about 3 or 4 cups of the cooking water right before adding the cooked tomatoes to the pot, as I wanted a less soupy end product, but you could go either way.

The beans resembled pinto beans in taste, but with a creamier texture. And, as an added bonus, they're apparently very high on the digestible scale for beans. If you come across a supply of anasazi's I'd definitely recommend giving them a try - different yet comforting at the same time.



Anasazi Beans with Tomatoes and Serrano Chiles

2 cups anasazi or pinto beans, soaked
1 small onion, halved and peeled
2 garlic cloves, 1 whole, 1 minced
2 tsp fresh or dried epazote (optional)
Salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 to 3 serrano chiles to taste, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 garlic cloves, minced


Put the beans in a pot with 2 quarts water and boil hard for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam, then add the onion, whole garlic, and epazote. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt and continue cooking until the beans are soft, about 30 minutes more. Remove the onion and garlic.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and their juice, chiles, cilantro, and minced garlic. Cook briskly, pressing on the tomatoes until they break up and thicken into a sauce, about 10 minutes. Add the sauce to the beans and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Serve garnished with crumbled queso fresco or shredded cheddar, cilantro, avocado, and cornbread or corn tortillas.

-Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
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A working kitchen
Sep 18th, 2006

Well this should be the last construction update for a while, as I once again have a working kitchen and can return to actually cooking meals! We're still waiting for our new countertop and flooring to be installed, but I've got temporary plywood counters and a working sink and I'm good to go.



You can actually see things in my kitchen now - we've got new lighting in the ceiling and lighting under the cabinets. Turned around the other way you can see my favorite new light fixture in our breakfast nook. It's hard to take a picture of a light, but these are actually an orange art glass. Very pretty.



And here is my fabulous crew. I can't thank my dad and my husband (but especially my dad) enough for all their hard work. Thank you!!



Now back to the food. I'll probably post final pictures once the countertops and floor are in but otherwise is should be back to normal around here. Tonight we're having some of these little beauties. Pictures and recipe to come tomorrow.



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Progress Report
Sep 10th, 2006



Here's an updated picture of the same corner pictured in the last post. We have progress! I have a working stove, microwave, fridge, and new cupboards on that wall. Unfortunately I have no sink or countertop of any kind.

Here is the entirety of the counter space I used to have. Ah, my spacious kitchen.



And here is that corner today. As you can see we've got a ways to go. Once we're done I'll have more counter space though, huzzah! I have cooked dinner the last two nights - tough with no counter and no sense of taste or smell (my nose is stuffed up from all the construction dust), but better than yet more takeout.



And for the grandma's out there, here is the first day of school - 1st grade.



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Update with pictures
Sep 1st, 2006



Don't worry, I haven't abandoned my blog. It's just that I don't have a kitchen to cook in right now. As you can see in the picture above we're in the midst of a remodel. I could not be more thrilled (new cabinets, new countertop, new floor!) but it's going to be a rocky few weeks I'm sure. My dad is serving as general contractor and my mom is coming along as head baby wrangler/moral support. Wish us luck!

And help me bid a not-at-all fond adieu to my old crappy stove. Goodbye stove with three working burners, a broken broiler element, and a rusty storage drawer that wouldn't close anymore! I've never loved you but I cooked a lot of meals on your dilapidated surfaces. Enjoy your new life in the back of the Sears truck.



And hello new stove with all working parts! I think I love you.



And just because they're cute...



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