Tuesday, January 27, 2015

3 Recipes and 2 Movies for a Blizzard

"Men Wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." Ernest Shackleton's newspaper ad for the Endurance expedition.
Oh wintery darlings! I am writing you, pajama-clad, while snow drifts in gusting curtains past our windows. I feel like I'm in a Victorian children's book. Only then the book gets turned into a picturesque little film, and you can't hear any of the dialogue because the soundtrack is actually two neighbors simultaneously snow-blowing, but still. I'm not complaining. That much.

Craney is lazily watching the finches at our feeder. Michael is working the acrostic from Sunday's newspaper. Birdy is doing her homework (sigh) and Ben is asleep. My snow-day family in a nutshell.

There are so many new things I want to write and share, but instead, in honor of snow, I'm posting these past faves. The intros are very old and chatty. Please feel free to skip right on ahead to the actual recipes.

Gorgeous table mat made by my gorgeous mother.
Amazing From-Scratch Hot Chocolate I would not think you'd necessarily need a recipe for this, except that every time Michael goes to make it, he says, "Can you find your hot chocolate recipe for me?" So, my darling, here. It really is rich and glorious.

The problem with Maple Snow Taffy (aka Sugar on Snow) is that it's not just a gimmick: it makes a truly excellent, supremely buttery and maply mouthful of chewy candy. Which means that you, the parent, will not look on dotingly. You will, rather, eat more of it than you meant to, and then you might need to wash it down with a nice cold IPA. I'm just saying. Also, to be clear: this is not a "snow ice cream" type recipe, and the point is not that you end up eating the snow. The snow is, rather, the chilling mechanism for the taffy. If you are Birdy, though, then the experience will not be complete until you've eaten all the snow. "This is the sweetest-tasting snow of 2015!" she just announced, in case you were wondering.

Soft and Sticky Gingerbread is a perfectly simple stir-and-bake winter cake, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand already. It has been an enduring favorite of mine for four decades.

Speaking of enduring! Watch the documentary The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition. It is crazy, inspiring, and wholly entertaining. Plus, there are lines from people's diaries like, "For dinner tonight we reboiled the seal backbone," that will have you scratching your head in horrified confusion. Spoiler alert for a good cause: They kill all their dogs at some point. There is no visual accompaniment to this information, but if it's going to traumatize anyone in your family, please take note. Birdy was sad about it, but since it was a true story about survival, she did not feel that it was cruel or frivolous.

It better be an *excellent* school.
And, two, watch the entire 8-part BBC series Human Planet. Each segment takes place in a different challenging habitat--desert, Arctic, mountain, jungle, ocean, river, grassland, city--and shows how different people survive in the face of extreme challenges. It is not without its moments of drama-soundtrack reality-show-style excesses, but they are brief and, overall, the show is stunning, fascinating,  humbling, and beautifully made. Plus, your kids will get to see the children who walk for a treacherous 25-below-zero week along a frozen Himalayan river to get to their school. I'm not saying your kids can never complain about the bus again after. I'm just saying. A special bonus: there's a little "making of" segment at the end of each episode, and inevitably you get to see the film crew, with all their sophisticated equipment and technology, needing to be bailed out by the region's people with their centuries of local expertise. It is delightful.

Don't kill me that neither movie seems to be streaming anywhere. Order them or request them from your library, and save them for the next snow day.

Stay warm and have fun. xo

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd

Sometime in the Fall, I got this email from my friend Maddie: “Hi lovely [sic], Any chance I could make a date with you for you to teach me how to make your delicious chili? I thought I could bring ingredients and some beer and we could cook together.” This is the Maddie who encouraged me to post my recipe for pizza toast. Also, the same Maddie of crack-broccoli fame, who is the best and most effortless-seeming cook and party-thrower that anybody knows. 
Maddie is a person you want to camp with, and not just because she's beautiful. This was the trip where I brought 25 foil-wrapped baked potatoes to reheat on the fire and also--wait for it--a huge pot of veggie chili.
Maddie can make a pie from goat cheese and freshly dug leeks that will have you weeping with delight into your Prosecco. But she’s also the person who taught me how to throw a baked-potato potluck: invite tons of friends and their kids and ask them to bring stuff, then bake 30 potatoes, open 10 bottles of wine, and put out the game Boggle. Done.
It's so picturesque to eat with all the games and art supplies in the background.
“You don’t really need me to teach you to make chili,” I wrote back. “I probably learned from you in the first place.” But she insisted, and so we had to invite a lot of people over to give us an excuse for our chili-making lesson.

This is my 11-quart IKEA stockpot, nearly full. The chili grows out of its barf-looking stage by the end of the cooking.
I know it’s kind of a thing now, the idea that you would make a giant vat of something easy and inexpensive in the interest of maximizing your party-throwing capacity. There’s the Friday-Night Meatballs folks, for example, or my Pasta for a Crowd. But honestly? It’s the best idea. Because you want your house expansively, generously full of the people you love, you do. But you don’t want to spend a week layering a short-rib terrine or marinating plucked sparrows.
It's a lot of ingredients but, considering how many people you end up feeding, not really that much work.

You just want everybody to feel welcome and well-fed and happy. Also, to never leave. (That’s where the wine and Boggle come in.)

Once the cans are open, the chili is halfway made.
So, this chili. Many of our friends and all of my daughters are vegetarian, hence the no  meat. But sometimes I’ll make a pot of the meat kind also. The thing is? Chili with meat is easier in every way: the meat is good, if you like meat, and it adds all the satisfying texture and richness you’re looking for in a bowl of chili. In its absence, you need to pull some compensatory fast ones. That’s why I’m not using the typical flour to thicken this chili; flour doesn’t bring enough to the table. Instead, ground chickpeas add a nice nubbly thickness, while refried beans add a nice velvety thickness, and the whole thing turns out savory and delicious with little sweet bursts from the corn. 

A bowl of chili with crushed chips and a glass of dry, sparkling cider.
It makes for a tangy, medium-spicy, highly seasoned bowl of deliciousness. Practically perfect in every way—and plenty of it.

Vegetarian Chili for a Crowd
(Feeds 20—more, even, if there are no hollow-legged teenagers in the mix)

A few notes: you can, of course, dramatically increase or drastically reduce this recipe as you see fit. You can even do it in an impromptu way, adding another couple cans of beans if more or hungrier people show up than you’d expected (the chili freezes beautifully, so don’t be afraid of leftovers). I am calling for real actual pure chile powder—the kind that’s made only from chiles, and that you can find where the Mexican food is. If you can only get your hands on the blended chili powder, then use much more of it, and reduce or eliminate the oregano, cumin, garlic, and salt, since those seasonings are likely included in the spice blend. Re. beans: I start with dried pintos, quick-soaked and cooked in the pressure cooker for 7 minutes, but canned are fine.

Carnal Variation: Add 3 pounds of ground chuck to the onions and celery and cook over high heat, crumbling it with a spatula until it is cooked-looking and browning in spots. Skip the ground chickpeas and the black beans but not the refritos; reduce the pintos to 3 cups or 4 cans.

¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons mild chile powder (I use New Mexico)
2 tablespoons granulated garlic powder (I like this better than fresh for the chili, go figure)
1 teaspoon chipotle puree or powder and/or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (for a little smokiness, if you’ve got it)
1 tablespoon ground cumin (ideally but not crucially ground fresh in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more
1 tablespoon sugar
4 cups dried pinto beans, cooked (plus their cooking liquid), or 6 (15-ounce) cans, not drained
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained (you can skip this, or increase it—depending on the crowd)
2 (15-ounce) cans refried beans (I use Trader Joe’s black with jalapeno)
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, ground with their liquid in a blender or food processor into a very coarse puree with lots of small and large bits
1 (28-ounce) can crushed or pureed tomatoes
2 (15-ounce) cans corn, drained (or 1 bag frozen)
0-3 tablespoons white vinegar
Grated cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, hot sauce, and crushed tortilla chips for serving. Also, cilantro and avocado would be good.

Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and celery until it’s tender, about 10 minutes. Add the spices, salt, and sugar, and sauté for 15-30 seconds, until the spices are very fragrant. Add the pinto and their liquid, the black and refried beans, the ground chickpeas, the tomatoes, and the corn. Taste it, even now, for salt. If it’s very undersalted, add more salt at this point, bearing in mind that it will grow saltier as the liquid cooks off. I add just about another tablespoon. (The need for salt will depend on the saltiness of your canned or home-cooked ingredients.)

Simmer the chili, uncovered, over very low heat until it is completely delicious, about 1 hour. Taste for salt and tanginess: if it needs a boost, consider adding a tablespoon or 2 or 3 of vinegar. Serve with the garnishes. Cornbread is a good accompaniment, but it’s also great to bake a lot of potatoes and let people top their potatoes with chili. Yum.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Clean and Delicious Soup for One

Happy new year, my darlings. I am popping in on this arctic day to offer up this absolutely savory bowl of soup that you can make for your very own lunch! Or dinner, if you happen to be doing a weird cleanse, which I happen to be doing. It's the second year in a row, and I won't go on and on about it. Like, I won't tell you that I mostly do it to clear up a weird rash (TMI!) or because by the end of the year I am on the verge of drinking too much (TMI!). (Extra credit if you know the rhetorical device praeteritio. Thank you Latin IV!) Also, annoyingly, I find that eating like this gives me more energy than I tend to have on my usual diet of kale and pastries and lattes and quinoa and Cheezits and grapefruits and IPA. Sad but true. That said, I am only doing it for 2 1/2 weeks, instead of the prescribed 3, because we are going to New York. And I am not completely crazy.

I only bought cashew butter because Trader Joe's was out of almond butter, but I like it.
This soup, though, is unconditionally wonderful, cleanse or no: an umami bowlful of tender mushrooms and bursting celery and robust greens and rich broth and wallops of flavor. The nut butter lends a nice hit of protein, and the cider vinegar and cayenne keep it all just this side of unctuous. If these things in the picture are all things you already have in your house, the soup will come together in about 10 minutes. Otherwise, you should probably skip it, because it's probably not worth all that. Although it might almost be.

Edited to ask: Is Dr. Bragg secretly the same person as Dr. Bronner?

Clean and Delicious Soup for One
Serves--wait for it--1

Needless to say, you could easily multiply this recipe to cook like a normal person for a normal amount of people. 

3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 1/2 cups boiling water (or very hot tap water, if you're lazy)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 large clove of garlic, minced or put through a press
1 cup water
2 large handfuls baby kale or chopped kale (or spinach or another green of your choosing)
1 (slightly heaping) tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon cashew or almond butter (peanut would take it in a different, but maybe great, direction)
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
A splash of Bragg's or tamari to taste

Put the mushrooms in a heatproof boil and pour the boiling water over them. Put a small plate on top if they want to bob to the surface. Leave them to soak while you prepare the rest of the soup.

Heat the coconut oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat. Saute the celery and garlic until outrageously fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the water, then simmer another 5 minutes, until the celery is just on the verge of being tender. By now the shiitakes should just about be soft enough to sliver, which you should do (discard the stems). Add the mushrooms to the soup, along with a cup of their soaking liquid and the kale. Simmer another 3 minutes, then turn the heat off.

Stir in the miso (this is easiest if you first dissolve it in a little broth, but I always forget), the nut butter, the vinegar, the cayenne, and the salty thing, then taste and add more if it needs it.

Serve to your own self!