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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Jul 212013
 

Roasted poblanos

I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I really did resist the whole idea of hominy for a long time. I’m not sure why, but there was some strong reaction to the word (not the concept, just the word) in my brain. Maybe it was because it sounds somewhat like homily, which is a thing I found to be exceptionally tedious in my formative years. Of course, hominy and homilies have absolutely nothing in common, unless I’m going to use this here platform to preach to you about the virtues of nixtamalized corn. Which I might just a little bit, given that this is my blog and all and I do have a tendency to go on about food that I really, really like.

Ahem.

My love affair with hominy began just shy of a year ago when I was cooking like a mad-woman to stock the freezer before The Babe was born (yes, I was totally bare-foot and pregnant in the kitchen). I had never had the stuff but decided to make a pork-hominy-tomatillo stew to squirrel away for the post-partum days. (We ate better than the average newly-minted parents. It was a priority.) I was pretty-much ensnared once I discovered than it smelled like a really really good corn tortilla tastes. And the stew? Heavenly. One of these days I’ll get around posting it here. But I digress.

Having repented of my anti-hominy ways, it wasn’t long before I was ordering more of the stuff from Rancho Gordo, which meant, of course, that I needed to find more ways to cook it.

Enter the poblano: while she was visiting one weekend, Mrs Cheeseburger in Glacial Ice and I discovered these in Tucson at a chef demo at my favorite farmers’ market. The chef had soaked strips of the pepper in tequila and simple syrup and then dehydrated them to make a candy. Delish! I had found a new favorite pepper. So when I came across a recipe on the Rancho Gordo website that used both roasted poblanos and hominy, it took me all of about two seconds to decide that I was going to have to try it. I’ve made it several times and several different ways and it never disappoints. So throw irrational food prejudices and caution (except when it comes to those serranos — whoo boy, those should be used sparingly) to the wind and whip up a pot of this. Else I’ll be forced to go on a hominy homily, and really, no one wants to hear that.

Roasted poblano pozole

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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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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 062009
 

By now, you’ve probably been able to tell that I’m having a love affair with Rancho Gordo beans. They’re just so damn good (and good for you) – I can’t help trying to put them into every food imaginable. I love them so much that someone who possibly lives in my house may have possibly placed an order for 45 pounds of beans from them a couple of weeks ago. My thinking was that I was buying a year’s worth of beans, but at the rate I’m finding fantastic recipes, the ten pounds of garbanzos may only last a couple of months. We’re not even going to mention the fifteen pounds of black beans and fifteen pounds of borlottis that arrived in the same shipment. But I digress.

I’ve recently started reading the Rancho Gordo blog and was ecstatic to find this particular recipe on there last week. It sounded so delicious, so healthy, and so satisfying, that I had to hurry up and make some chicken stock post-haste (as we had just run out two days before – like I’ve said before, the stuff burns a hole in my freezer) so that I could put this soup on the table.

Clearly, I hadn’t really been paying attention when I read up on the ingredients – I must have just been skimming for the produce I would need to add to the grocery list. So I didn’t really notice that it called for cinnamon until I was mise en place-ing everything. It was such a pleasant surprise though – we Americans are really missing out by regarding cinnamon as a wholly sweet spice rather than something that can be used to great effect in savory dishes. It brought a whole new dimension to the soup: adding a fullness not otherwise present and bringing to mind the most comforting of comfort foods. Try this on a cold, dreary winter night with a glass of lush cabernet and discover it for yourself!

Chickpea soup with barley and chard

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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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Sep 272009
 

I have been meaning to post this for a loooooonnnggg time. In fact, if the word “long” was as long as the length of time I’ve waited to post this recipe, it would be approximately sixty-three syllables long. But I digress.

Rancho Gordo borlotti beans

I’ve long had a soft spot for minestrone. It’s such great comfort food, and super-healthy to boot. I suppose that soup is normally a fall or winter endeavor, but here I’m going to give a Tucson summer (the fact that it’s late September is irrelevant – it’s in the upper nineties today) the finger and make this soup anyway. That’ll show the bloody weather!

There I go with my digressions again.

I’ve been through a lot of phases with this soup. I first got hooked on it at an Italian restaurant when I was a teenager, so when I started cooking a lot of vegetable soups after I moved to Alaska I decided to try this one out. To be honest, I hated my first attempt. I hadn’t yet started making my own chicken stock, and this was when I learned the hard way that using commercial chicken broth as the base for a soup is Officially a Bad Idea because it is Utterly Repugnant. However, at the time, I didn’t know that was the cause, so I just thought the recipe was a dud.

Many months later, something strange came over me and I decided to try it again – on unsuspecting dinner guests, no less. This time I was using homemade stock, and when I put the stuff in my mouth I had a foodgasm. It was that good. But because I am crazy, I am hardly ever 100 percent satisfied with a recipe, no matter how good it is. I decided that what this soup needed was an improvement in the bean department. Since then, I’ve tried all manner of beans: pinto, cannellini, kidney, great Northern whites, and heavenly borlottis. But all of these were canned and none of them were quite right.

Enter Rancho Gordo beans! These heavenly heirloom beans are as fresh as dried beans can get, especially when compared with lowly supermarket beans that are more than likely about five years old, which explains why those inferior beans cook slowly, unevenly, and blandly. This company carries many little-known and rare varieties of beans, including – look out for the squeeing – borlottis! I tried them for the first time when I was throwing together this soup, and finally, I have found my 100 percent satisfaction. These creamy, velvety, supremely flavorful beans add an entirely new level of flavor that ties minestrone together perfectly. It is definitely worth the time to find and cook the beans. And considering that I only just discovered the key to bean bliss, it was also worth the wait in posting this recipe!

Minestrone soup

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