May 042014
 

I find the concept of terroir fascinating. It’s a set of characteristics about where a food was grown or produced that affects the way it tastes. This concept is used a lot in wine and it refers to the special characteristics of a region’s soil, water, micro-climate, etc. that make it impossible to reproduce. You can’t just dig up a grape plant from France, plunk it down in Ohio, and expect it to taste the same. You also see this idea in cheeses from pasture-fed animals (as special characteristics of the place’s grace ultimately affect the cheese’s taste) or wild-yeast breads (as many strains of lactobacillus are regional and unique in flavor), or from man-made sources such as the bagels in New York City (whose special flavor is rumored to come from the water’s pipes).

This dish has absolutely nothing to do with that. But I have to admit that this recipe has a special terrior in my memory. Though this is a distinctly regional dish, it really has nothing to do with the more conventional definition. It’s difficult to explain, but whenever I cook this or eat it, I’m transported to specific points in space and time in my memory. I remember fun times with my friend Adrienne and the great pride that she has in this wonderful family recipe. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this dish from her several times and can remember with searing detail so much of those meals. And, fortunately for me, I was able to peer over her shoulder one day as she cooked it and she showed me what she meant when she said “cook it until it looks right.” Adrienne is one of those people who understands the transformative power of a good meal shared with the right company and the power of such food to cement an experience in your mind and the ability of it to transport you back in a split-second — its mental terrior, as I’ve clumsily attempted to explain. And even if this recipe isn’t tightly moored in wonderful and happy parts of your brain as mine is, I think you’ll find that this is most definitely some good eats.

Sittie's red beans and rice

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Apr 272014
 

Goat tagine with pita

I feel a little conflicted posting this. One the one hand, goats are one of my favorite animals. They are bursting with personality and fun and they’re incredibly playful, though they have a knack for getting into trouble. I got to know a lot of goats (and other charming farm animals) pretty well at Hoofsnhorns Farm (my source for raw milk) when I lived in Tucson and they completely won me over with their goat-ish ways.

On the other hand, goat is delicious. Most of the rest of the world has caught on to this fact, but (much to my chagrin) goat remains somewhat difficult to find in the USA. Perhaps it has a reputation here for being gamey or tough, but if you use a good low-and-slow cooking method, you need not worry about that. So look for goat at a farmer’s market or perhaps at a Mexican grocery store, where it might be labeled something like cabrito or cabra.

Lucky for us (busy with both a fully-cooked and an in-progress baby), the slow-cooker comes to the rescue once again and delivers something that tastes like you slaved over a hot stove all day, instead of alternately sending your toddler down the slide in a continuous loop and then crashing on the couch every ninety minutes (which I wouldn’t trade for the world, but there’s no arguing that it can be challenging to put a satisfying and nutritious meal on the table under such conditions). Moroccan tagines and other braises are well-suited to this sort of fix-it-and-forget it cooking.

And now I shall have to cut this commentary short and go get horizontal, because cooking a human (gestating! I’m not actually cooking anyone!) is way more exhausting than cooking any meal I’ve ever eaten!

Goat tagine with pita

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Aug 042013
 

Desert lime lentil soup

As someone who likes to be able to cook on a moment’s notice, I believe in having a stocked pantry. This is great in principle until I get stricken with “OOH shiny!” syndrome at the grocery store. I’m sure many of you are familiar with it: you’re browsing the aisles and then you come across some item or ingredient that sounds unusual but delicious and even though you don’t have something immediate in mind that you’d like to do with it, you bring it home with you. Repeat this over the course of a couple of months and before you know it your pantry bears a disturbing resemblance to a curio cabinet.

I recently found myself in such a pickle, seeing as how I live near some pretty cool grocery stores and I also have less time to experiment in the kitchen than I used to. Before I knew it, I found myself elbow-deep in the pantry, pulling out ingredients, determined to re-organize that sucker. (Yeah, it’s still a work in progress. The kitchen and the baby have yet to figure out a custody schedule for me.)

One of the most disastrous shelves in my pantry is the chocolate & tea area. The chocolate is in a border skirmish with the tea, as both have spilled out of neat little piles and are encroaching on the other’s territory. There’s a huge mix of chocolate that I bought before Leah was diagnosed with her allergies and I thus can’t eat anymore and chocolate that is really more vegetable than candy, since it’s like 90% cacao. It’s also almost the only chocolate I can find without soy lecithin in it. So it was pretty easy to re-organize that stuff into a His & Her piles, ta-da, done. Time to start negotiations with the other side!

The tea side is a bit trickier because tea comes in big boxes and the size of the box doesn’t decrease as you use the bags within. I consolidated a few boxes, threw out some tea that was by all rights fossilized, and then started making massive quantities of cold-brewed tea to kill off some of the dwindling boxes. Then, deep within the recesses of the little food-closet, I found this box of lime tea that I had bought way back when I lived in Tucson. It wasn’t really my favorite tea to drink, which is why it was still hanging around all this time, so I really didn’t fancy drinking it. I opened the box to count the remaining bags so I could rationalize throwing it away or something, but then I found a recipe — for soup of all things — on the inside flap.

And see, this is where having a stocked pantry comes in handy. The soup called exclusively for pantry staples (hooray!) so I decided to give it a shot. If it sucked, then it wouldn’t be a huge loss, because lo, rice and lentils, they are cheap. I made several modifications, opting to go pilaf-style to maximize flavor out of the relatively meager ingredients, but I have to admit, I was expecting disaster. Much to my surprise though, this was actually pretty tasty! Rice and lentils aren’t exactly the most exciting combination in the world, but the lime goes a long way towards brightening up the tried-and-true pairing. Now I find myself kind of sad that I don’t have enough tea-bags left to make another batch of this stuff, so will I find myself buying another box of it? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose (cleaning out the pantry) of making this in the first place? Has that ever stopped me before? Nah, didn’t think so.

Desert lime lentil soup

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May 122013
 

As I have learned more about cooking over the years and gotten more comfortable with the world of pulses, I find that I am more and more satisfied with jettisoning meat in a given meal. Not that I’m going to leave it behind entirely, because hello! Duck is meat! I’m just saying that I’m perfectly happy going without if there is some other source of protein in the meal. And in this house, with my stash of beans, we don’t have to worry about that. (Seriously, if you’re ever over at my house, ask to see the stash. It would be a stash of shame to rival my yarn stash, except this is edible and delicious.)

I love making these stuffed peppers because, like a frittata, they are exceptionally flexible. You can throw whatever you have on hand into this dish and it is likely to come out quite deliciously. So this is not really what one would call a hard-and-fast recipe because it comes out differently every single time I make it. That’s a good thing for me though, since I can get stuck in a tasty-rut and need things to challenge my creativity. I hope you have the same fun I do experimenting with this healthy, delicious, and satisfying stuffed veg dish!

Stuffed bell peppers

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Feb 102013
 

A variety of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo

For years I had a simple dietary resolution: eat more beans. The reasons are multitudinous: they’re inexpensive, ridiculously nutritious, and are fantastic sources of protein, high-quality complex carbs, and fiber. But for a handful of reasons, I failed again and again into incorporate more legumes into my diet.

Rancho Gordo scarlet runner beans

These reasons were the same ones that I suspect keep many Americans from eating them as well: they take forever to cook; they taste lackluster; and the canned varieties, while convenient, suffer from sodium over-dose, have awful texture, and don’t have any more flavor than their home-cooked bretheren.

Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans

I continued in this well-meaning but ultimately bean-less quandary for ages until one of my food-blog-heriones well-nigh split the clouds, poured out a sunbeam, and started up a soundtrack of glorious voices. My curiosity was piqued and before long I was placing my very first order at Rancho Gordo (and having some of them shipped to my Mom, too. I’m such an enabler!).

Rancho Gordo soaked good mother stallard beans

Would it be cliche to say that these beans changed the way that I eat? Well, even if it is a tired and worn-out idiom, I don’t care: they really did change my kitchen and my diet. These heirloom beans are the answer to every single problem I cited above without rejecting any of the this-is-why-they’re-good-for-you statements above. Before long, I found myself with cooked beans always in my fridge, waiting to be eaten for any meal (including breakfast) or thrown into any soup. Rancho Gordo’s catalog boasts a dizzying variety of beautiful beans you’ve never heard of, many of them incredibly versatile. For instance: the vaquero beans are a dream in chilis, good mother stallards will make you swoon when served with a scrambled egg and toast, ultra-creamy runner cannellinis were born for soup, and borlottis are ideal in nearly any Italian application. Their garbanzos will make the best hummus you’ve ever had and Rio Zapes will sing with a squeeze of lime. Sangre del toro beans will knock your socks off in red beans and rice.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

It’s not very often that we Americans come across a real honest healthy food as humble as the bean that is beautiful and delicious too, so I feel compelled to share my legume epiphany with, well, everyone. Forget everything you know about grocery-store beans (which may have been in storage for about a decade; hence their miserable performance in the kitchen) and hunt down some fresh beans. Ah, but you’re worried about (ahem) the gastrointestinal distress that can accompany an indulgence in beans? Just keep eating them. Your body will get better at digesting them. I promise. And your taste-buds? They’ll be thanking you from bite one.

Rancho Gordo midnight black beans

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Jan 202013
 

Yellow eye beans
If you’re like me, these days our legislative branch makes you go all frothy at the mouth. So why, you ask, would I endorse something that is served daily (and has been for many, many years) in the Senate cafeteria? I offer the following reasons:

  1. This soup won’t make you the laughing-stock of the free world.
  2. This soup won’t spiral you down into debt.
  3. You’re not stuck with this soup for the next six years, especially if it’s really bad.
  4. And, finally, unlike its name-sake, this soup gets the job done.

Senate bean soup with yellow eye beans

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Jan 062013
 

Chicken tortilla soup

Names are funny things.

Take this soup, for instance: tortilla soup. I think that ostensibly, this type of soup is usually served with strips of fried corn tortillas or (in a pinch) bits of tortilla chips… or something. I’m not really sure. To me, this is tortilla soup, though nary a flat-bread has ever graced it, as far as I know.

And really, that’s fine with me. I’m normally kind of stickler for those sorts of things: I like to know what things are called and how to use names and terms properly, because they mean something. In this case, though? Whatevs. See, this is my grandmother’s recipe, and far be it from me to go changing the title. She was a wise old bird, so I figure that she knew what she was talking about.

And really, once you throw on a goodly hand-full of cilantro, squeeze on plenty of lime, stir in half a bit of an avocado, and take a bite of this, who cares what it’s called? You may find that after all, the only truly appropriate name is get-in-my-face soup, and isn’t that the only name that matters?

Chicken tortilla soup

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Dec 302012
 

Red lentil stew with quinoa

This recipe came to me by way of a dear friend and backpacking/adventure buddy. About a year ago, Heather and I had kicked the planning for our six-day Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim backpacking adventure into high gear and had begun to draft a menu so that I had plenty of time to cook and dehydrate all of our dinners. I was basing much of the menu off of that summer’s Denali menu, but because the Grand Canyon adventure was longer, I needed more meal ideas. Heather suggested this chili, and I was impressed by its credentials. Her husband, a weirdly picky eater, loved it, so I decided to make a test batch.

Now, my husband is not a weirdly picky eater (he’ll eat anything I put in front of him — even the most fail-y of my experiments), but he isn’t normally so vocal about food that he enjoys. He repeatedly enthusiastically complimented it, so I knew I had a winner on my hands. That’s right: it got the stamp of Manproval from both of our husbands! So by all means, hurry up and try this yourself — your taste-buds will thank you!

Red lentil stew with quinoa

For guidance on making this for dehydration, see the “Variations” section at the end of the recipe.

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Sep 142012
 

Pasta Fazool

I am such a huge sucker for hearty bean stews. The moment that the summer heat shows that it might be wavering in its resolve, I’m pulling out all my cookbooks and playing match-maker with my stash of beans. Borlotti beans often find a starring role in my kitchen in every imaginable application, and this soup is no exception.

Pasta e fagioli (aka pasta fazool) is a dish born of frugality, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be boring. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to find bland versions of this soup, with boring beans, mushy pasta, and a lack-luster broth. This soup rectifies all those wrongs and then some, all without requiring you to slave over a stove for hours or leave a pot simmering all day. Served in small portions, it makes an excellent appetizer (or primi if you’re going authentic-Italian-style), or scooped up into bigger bowls, it’s hearty enough to be a meal in itself. Either way, it’s a delicious and welcome addition to any table — whatever the weather!

Pasta Fazool!

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Dec 072009
 

Let’s be real for a minute. We all know that beefy burgers are bad for us, right? Even if you’re like me and you don’t particularly like 98% of the burgers out there (the rosemary burger at the Bear Tooth Grill in Anchorage is the lone exception, in case you were wondering. And while we’re on the topic of the Bear Tooth, that burger is served with scrumptious garlic-cilantro fries – utterly unfair. Again, I don’t particularly like the fries at 98% of restaurants, but the Bear Tooth is the one place I will get them. Holy digression, Batman!) it doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you just want to eat something that you can hold like a burger, like a sandwich piled so high you have to unhinge your jaw just to shove it in. Ahi burgers are a great way to fill this niche, but what if you live in, ahem, a desert and have spotty access to good seafood?

Rancho Gordo midnight black beans

A lot of people turn to garden-burgers, and they are… oh, how do I put this delicately?… absolute rubbish. I once heard a Brit say that the idea repulsed him, since they call their lawns gardens over there, and he imagined it being full of yard clippings. Really, I don’t think he was far off the mark.

So, because of those disgusting facsimiles of real food, vegetarian burgers get a bad rap that they truly don’t deserve. Done right, they’re substantial and full of flavor. No, they don’t taste like beef, but they’re not supposed to, and in my opinion, they’re much more delicious than all but 2% of the cow burgers out there. They’re far more healthy and honestly I think they’re even heartier and more filling.

You may be thinking “Sure, Stacey, it’s obvious that a tree-hugger like yourself would love these, but what about people who really enjoy meat?” I’ll bring in Exhibit A, The Hubs, one who is much happier than me to eat beef. He actually requests these on a regular basis, so, to borrow an awesome phrase from Heather, they get the stamp of Manproval!

Of course, in a recipe like this ingredients matter. I can’t stress enough how much better these are when used with heirloom beans that I know to be less than a year old, as opposed to the five-to-ten years-old beans that you’ll find in on supermarket shelves. As usual, I have been gaga over the results I’ve gotten with Rancho Gordo midnight black beans, but you will still get good results with supermarket beans – you will just need to cook them longer and use more aromatics and spices to flavor them. Canned beans will work just fine too if you want to make these on short notice.

I think that the only thing that could really make these black bean burgers even better is a good homemade whole-wheat burger bun. I have yet to branch out into those but I shall soon! These were photographed on bagels that had been baked that day. Unconventional, yes, but who am I to say no to using whatever fresh homemade bread I have on hand as an alternative to store-bought buns?

So pull out your stores of black beans and get a-soakin’. Treat yourself to a real black bean burger and revel in the fact that you can finally have a burger that tastes great and is actually good for you!

Black bean burgers on a home-made bagel

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