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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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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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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Nov 042009
 

One of my favorite things to search for in the land of food is delicious ways to get lots of protein from non-meat sources. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, but I’m a big fan of the motto “Eat a variety of foods – mostly plants.” So when I was in my early twenties and learning about the power of legumes, I was so excited the day the “hummus is chickpeas!” light-bulb came on over my head. It quickly supplanted the nasty deli meat sandwiches that had been my lunch between classes up to that point.

Beautiful Rancho Gordo chickpeas
Nikon D50

Cory loves hummus too, so when we finally got to live together I started stocking it in the refrigerator as a staple. But, predictably, it wasn’t too long before I started looking for recipes to make my own, because even though there are brands of ready-made hummus that have a minimum of ingredients – and all of them are even pronouncable – I could still taste chemicals. Why put up with uninspired hummus when there is a vast variety of this classic dish at my fingertips?

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

Being both a Moore and a Cilia, I’ve got a serious garlic addiction. There’s something about these two families: we just can’t get enough. So long as it ends up cooked, just about all of us routinely triple or quadruple the amount of garlic that’s called for in a recipe. There have been times I have bought seven heads of garlic from the grocery store and it’s all been gone less than 48 hours later.

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

This just goes to show that it’s no surprise whatsoever that my favorite hummus recipe is one of the roasted garlic variety. We’re not talking about a paltry four or five cloves worth, we’re talking about a triple-garlic punch. This recipe uses two heads of garlic, garnishes with fried garlic chips, and incorporates garlic-infused olive oil. I hope you’re not going to be in non-garlic-loving company for a while after sampling some of this stuff!

Lots of garlic is the key to happiness!
Nikon D50

But, really, that’s the beauty of garlic: it packs so much flavor, and it’s so good for you, which yet another reason that I love this stuff so much. You pair this stuff with some amazingly fun-to-make whole grain pitas and you have a fantastic, filling source of lean protein.
Nom!

Pita + hummus = a perfect combination
Nikon D50

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Oct 042009
 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking. It doesn’t matter what your favorite cuisine is or whether or not you actually know that you’re looking for something: there is a recipe out there for each of us that we have been yearning to make.

In this dish, I found mine: whether I knew it or not, zuppa di farro is the type of Italian food I’ve been trying to make since I learned how to cook.

No, it’s not smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. It isn’t pasta and there is neither a meatball nor a wine-soaked pan-fried chicken cutlet to be found. But this, folks, is the real deal – it’s not Italian-American, it’s apologetically Tuscan.

Not that the Tuscans have a single thing to apologize for in their cuisine. The days I spent in Florence and Siena were non-stop food bliss. And though I never tried this soup while I was over there, as soon as I tasted it I knew that zuppa di farro was unmistakably at home there.

Cesare Casella, the author of this recipe’s cookbook, said that this soup is like the Italian equivalent of chicken soup – it cures all ills. It screams comfort food, and the moment it hit my lips I wished that the temperature would drop a good forty degrees and that the rain would start falling in sheets from the sky. So the next time a day like that rolls around, take my advice: put on a cozy chunky sweater and lounge around the house with a good book in your hand and a somnolent hound at your feet while a pot of this simmers away on the stove.

Zuppa di farro

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Oct 022009
 

Everyone needs a recipe that can answer a host of dietary and culinary questions single-handedly. These questions might be along the lines of “How am I going to use this vat of spinach before it goes bad?” or “How can I make canned beans interesting?” or “What can I make that is attractive, delicious, very nutritious, and quick?”

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

For me, this recipe answers all those questions, plus a few more nagging ones about lean proteins and just how, exactly, one can get all the benefits of spinach without smothering it in salad dressing. It also answers the call when it hears the stomach thinking “Oh my god I am so hungry but I don’t wanna cook anything involved and I don’t want any meat today” but the tastebuds are all like “Dude, don’t forget about us!”

This recipe seriously comes together in a matter of minutes, tastes and feels like genuine comfort food, but packs in a lot of nutrition when you’re looking the other way. Serve it alongside some whole-grain pasta tossed with a fruity olive oil and couple of tomatoes you didn’t use in this dish, some brown rice, or a whole-grain bread, and you’ve got a complete lean protein and a satisfying well-balanced meal.

Cannellinis star alongside tomatoes and wilted spinach
Nikon D50

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