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lentil & pumpkin stew with roasted garlic

Installment #5 in our continuing series on Rice & Beans. 

Here it is already the last day of November and we started this series on the 1st. Some of you are jumping in mid-stream, so for you, briefly – the idea behind this series of mostly vegetarian meals is that if we eat more frugally just once a week, with the money we save We Can Feed Another…(The post that introduced the series explains more fully the motivation.  If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you ‘ll take a look. ) This series will continue, once a week, up to the start of a new year. We haven’t taken this to Europe yet, so, how about a little something from sunny Spain?

Here’s a lentil stew, with mildly-spicy peppers, garlic roasted as well as fresh, tomatoes and sweet butternut squash. Again, we’re serving it over rice, because with legumes and rice we’ve got a “complete protein.” (Everything that meat could offer, at a fraction of the cost.) Like the other entries in this series, it satisfies. It fills, it warms and it lights up taste buds. I might not recommend this as a busy weeknight meal, but I do recommend it.

Lentil & Pumpkin – (or Butternut Squash) – Stew with Roasted Garlic

(over rice, serves 6)

  • 1 large head of garlic, plus 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling over the garlic
  • 2 medium-size onions; 1 cut in half; 1 finely chopped
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig (or more)
  • 1 bay leaf (or 2)
  • 1½ cups lentils (brown or green) – rinsed and picked over (I used French green lentils)
  • 8 to 9 cups water, chicken broth (or right after Thanksgiving, turkey broth)
  • 2 Italian frying peppers, cored, seeded, and chopped (see NOTE for substitutions)
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes (or what you deem to be the equivalent in smaller ripe tomatoes)
  • ½ pound pumpkin or butternut squash, cut in ½-inch to ¾-inch cubes
  • ½ teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika (I love the smoked, but not necessary)
  • Coarse salt & freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 medium-size pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or best-quality wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • One pot of cooked rice

NOTE on the peppers: Italian frying peppers have not been easy for me to find. They’re a fairly long, yellow and mild pepper. I substituted an equal amount of Anaheim pepper and found that worked well. You may also be able to locate mild Banana peppers, or Cubanelles or Jimmy Nardellos. Anaheim would be a milder alternative.)

Preheat an oven (or toaster oven) to 400°F.

Lop the top off the head of garlic, exposing the cloves inside and brush the cut edge with plenty of olive oil. Plop it in a small baking dish, cover it and bake for about 25 or 30 minutes. When it comes out of the oven place it, along with an onion cut in half, 1 or 2 bay leaves and a sprig or so of fresh thyme into a double-layer of cheesecloth. Tie the little bundle up with kitchen twine.

Into a 4-quart (or larger) pot – pour in 8 cups of water or chicken or vegetable stock. (We had turkey stock and used that.) Pick over the lentils and rinse well; add them to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Allow to boil for a couple minutes, then skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Add the cheesecloth bag, along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, half of the peppers, and half of the tomatoes.

(To remove skins from tomatoes – on the bottom of the tomatoes using a sharp knife, score a little X. Place tomatoes in boiling water for only a few seconds – you could use the water or stock you’re boiling for the lentils – remove them with slotted spoon. Cool briefly, then slip the skins right off.)

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin or butternut squash and cook until almost tender, about another 20 minutes.

(The sofrito:) While the lentils are cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and remaining pepper and cook, stirring until soft but not browned. Add the paprika and the remaining tomato and continue cooking until the tomato has softened and its liquids reduce. (About 5 minutes.)

At this point, the cheesecloth bag is still in the pot. Not time to remove it yet. Add the onion mixture from the step above. If the lentils seem too thick, add a bit more liquid. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper, tasting as you go. Simmer until the lentils and squash are very soft, about 10 minutes longer. (It’s fine if some of the squash begins to disintegrate a bit.

Remove the cheesecloth bag from the pot and discard all but the head of garlic. Into a mortar put a bit of salt, the fresh minced garlic, the parsley and the saffron. Using a pestle mash it to a paste. Add to it garlic squeezed from the head you removed from the cheesecloth. Mash it all together until very well combined. Add a couple tablespoons of liquid from the soup. Stir well and allow it to sit for 2 or 3 minutes. Stir it into the lentils. Add the vinegar. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or vinegar as necessary. Let the lentils cool for 5 or 10 minutes before ladling over cooked rice. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

~ ~ ~

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chai for two, & two for chai

We read the other day that locally-based Tazo Teas will be pulling up stakes and leaving Portland for a colder and damper clime. (I know, you thought that not possible. Portland gets such a bad rap.)  We’ll still be able to buy their teas of course, but we’ll be sorry to see them go. Having Tazo in our backyard is a bit like a blanket thrown over the back of the couch, or a delicious book on the nightstand – a bit of a comfort –  there, should you need it. The building that houses Tazo is striking in its simplicity, spare in its details, but rich, warm and inviting. Is there something subliminal in its design that makes one suddenly crave a steaming fragrant cup of tea? Wait here, I’ve got just the ticket!

I’m not claiming to be an expert, not by any stretch, but I did learn from one. My friend Amit from Delhi taught me how chai was made in their kitchen back home and I’ve been making it in ours ever since. It’s very simple to do and I predict you’ll never go back to those cartons of chai after tasting this one. Take ten minutes of your time before you sit down to address your holiday cards, or wrap your gifts, or pay your bills. If your attitude is running a bit sour, you might try chai. A hug around your heart, held in a steamy pot. (I know. Ridiculous you say. But only because you haven’t tried it yet.)

For those who’ve never enjoyed the treat that chai is – imagine steaming milk (cow’s milk, soy, rice, coconut – whatever your preference) – into it fragrant cardamom, allspice, freshly ground pepper and grated fresh ginger root – allow it all to steep so that the milk itself is imbued with all the fragrance and warmth these spices impart – then the tea (black or green or a combination of the two) for the last 3 minutes. Strain and serve. Warm your hands, warm your soul.

(And though I’ve strongly advocated for your chai to be served steaming hot, I can tell you that over ice in the summer, it’s refreshingly delicious and wonderful!)

Chai for Two

  • 2 cups milk (I’ll use any milk, but for chai I think soy might be my personal favorite.)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root (see NOTE)
  • sugar to taste (see NOTE)
  • 2 teaspoons tea (see NOTE)

Directions:

Into a medium saucepan, over low heat measure the milk of your choice and water. Add allspice, cardamom, freshly-ground pepper. Grate the ginger, measure and add. Bring the pot slowly to just steaming, stirring frequently. (Don’t allow soy, rice or coconut milk to boil as it will separate which is never pretty.) Turn heat to lowest setting or turn off entirely. Spill the tea(s) over the steaming milk. Stir once then leave undisturbed for 3 minutes. (After 3 minutes, the bitterness of the tea leaf begins to leach into your brew.)

Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the chai of its solids.

This will cool it off some, so return to the pot and gently rewarm. (Again, careful not to boil.)

~ ~ ~

Serve steaming. Or chill, and serve over ice.

See below for NOTES on Ginger, Sugar and Tea. Read more

Mexican wedding cookies

When my brother and his new wife were married at our home this summer, our Mom brought Mexican wedding cookies. Every year they also appear at Christmas. They’re a lovely, buttery little cookie, tasting of toasty walnuts and covered with a dusting of white. They look like a snowball rolled downhill to me and seem so right on a plate of holiday cookies. But, somebody named them first, so Mexican wedding cookies they are.

We’ve had a busy four or five days. We’d feasted on Thanksgiving with fifteen around our table. Friday we finished cleaning up after the feast and then briefly braved the crowds. Saturday, after pulling boxes and boxes from the attic, our Christmas tree was lit and dressed with ornaments collected over years. Sunday, we had family for breakfast before they headed out of town. With no precise plan for the rest of the day, a little slow and easy pre-holiday baking sounded more restful than a nap.

I’d made this snowy little confection recently as part of a cookie platter we took to a party. I do remember pulling the recipe card from its sleeve inside a large binder, but its space was now vacant. I looked in files I keep near by desk, files filled with ideas to sample and recipes I intend to post. Not there. I looked in my cookbooks, thinking maybe I’d used the recipe card as a bookmark.  (Truth is: I looked in each of those places several times, disbelieving my eyesight the times before.) I looked in all kinds of unlikely places too, places I’m a bit embarrassed to confess. (Might I have left it in the laundry room on one of my many trips there? You never know.) But gradually it became clear: Mom’s recipe had gone missing.

Plan B: I’d seen a recipe for the same cookie in a special baking issue of Cook’s Illustrated and I’d wanted to sample it anyway. Thought I’d try it side-by-side my mom’s. The side-by-side would have to wait.

We’ve loved this cookie of mom’s. Trying to prepare myself for the possibility, I thought: No matter which recipe I end up using in the future, I’ll always associate this cookie with mom and the holidays. It will always be her cookie. Until yesterday, I had two unanswered questions: Can we improve upon perfection? and Why should we even try? I’ve explained the why part. Let me speak to improving upon perfection:

The Cook’s Illustrated  cookie is not overly sweet, but neither was my mom’s. And it has a wonderful texture. (Some I’ve tried are a bit dry and with no particular taste.  Again, not my mom’s.)  But where this version shone is in its walnut-ier taste and its supreme tenderness. (The secret: half of the two cups of these healthful nuts are ground, lending their good oil to the mix – and the other half are chopped, providing their softly nutty bite.)  Conclusion:

This cookie is one tender, melt-in-the-mouth, dribble-a little-powdery-sugar-on-your-sweater bite of deliciousness!

And yes, every once in a long while, we may need to update our notion of perfection.

~ ~ ~

While enjoying  a cookie or two with a cup of tea, I combed through some cookbooks that had come down through my mom’s family, some of them from as far back as the early 1900’s. Some of the ingredients, wow! At least a couple dozen updates to “perfection” have to have taken place since then!

Mexican Wedding Cookies

(Makes about 4 dozen)

  • 2 cups (8 ounces) walnuts (or pecans)
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon table salt
  • 2 sticks (16 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) superfine sugar (see NOTE on how to make your own)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (6 ounces) confectioners’ sugar (approximate) – for dusting

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle-and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or use silicon mats.

Using a food processor, grind 1 cup of walnuts to coarse cornmeal texture (10 to 15 seconds.) Transfer to medium bowl. Using either the food processor or chopping by hand, coarsely chop the remaining cup of nuts. (5 seconds in food processor.) Transfer to the same bowl and add the flour and salt.

In a large bowl, either using hand mixer or stand mixer, beat the butter and superfine sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. With mixer on low, slowly add the flour-nut mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape the bowl and beaters, then continue to beat on low speed until the dough is cohesive. (About 7 seconds.)

Working with one tablespoon at a time, press and roll dough together into balls and lay on prepared sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake cookies until pale gold and the bottoms are just beginning to brown, about 18 minutes, switching and rotating baking sheets halfway through the baking.

Allow cookies to cool on the cooking sheet for 10 minutes, then move to cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Using either a bowl or a paper bag filled with confectioners’ sugar, roll the cookies to coat. Just before serving, re-roll and gently shake off any excess.

~ ~ ~

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Giving Thanks

I absolutely  l o v e  what I do!

Just about everything associated with preparing food for the table is a joy for me.

Time spent looking through the lens of my camera or playing with the food,

watching where and how the light falls, thrills me.

Putting a meal on the table for those I love fills me.

I count myself as one most fortunate.

~ ~ ~

But I have a special appreciation for you…

you who show up here

to read…

to imagine…

to sample…to savor

and you who leave thoughtful words behind…

your time is precious…

Please know how deeply grateful for you I am!

~ ~ ~

May this day fill you completely!

love,

spree

Feijoada – Spicy Beans Goan-Style – from India

Installment #4 in our continuing series on Rice & Beans. 

The idea behind this series of mostly vegetarian meals is that if we eat more frugally just once a week, with the money we save We Can Feed Another…(Read about the hunger problem in the November 1st post that introduced the series.)

~ ~ ~

In Goa, the smallest of India’s states and a former colony of Portugal, the people enjoy a spicy bean dish called Feijoada.  It’s made with either black-eyed peas or kidney beans and is traditionally served over steamed rice. Even though Feijoada is sometimes made with the addition of sausage, India has a long tradition of vegetarianism and this dish holds up very well without it.  Black-eyed peas, if you’ve never had them, are much smaller in size, have a more delicate taste and a more pleasant texture than their large red cousin the kidney bean, and it’s the bean we’ll use here.

With all the spices that make up a fragrant curry, and coconut milk that softens and mellows, Feijoada is another hearty and especially delicious dish. 

I made my own curry powder for this – (only because I kind of like playing with spices – you might have noticed) – but you can certainly avoid that step and simply add a mild, good-quality curry you’ve purchased. I certainly would if I were looking to save time.

If you’d like to make your own curry powder –

Fragrant Curry Powder

(makes about ½ cup)

  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg pieces (nutmeg can be broken with kitchen knife or back of heavy pan)
  • seeds from 5 white cardamom pods (or 4 from green)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon red peppercorns (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup coriander seeds (yes, ¼ cup)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 dried curry leaves, if you can find them (Indian grocers and some Asian markets would have them.)
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

Combine all the ingredients except the fenugreek in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook, shaking or stirring often, until the spices are lightly browned and their fragrance is rising. This will only take a few minutes. During the last minute of cooking, add the fenugreek powder and continue stirring.

Remove from heat and cool.  Using a spice or coffee grinder, process the spices until finely ground. Store in a small lidded jar for up to several months.

~ ~ ~

I started with dried black-eyed peas. For one thing, dry beans cost pennies. For another, I like the taste of home-cooked beans better. But again, if you’re short of time, you can find them canned and frozen. I’d recommend the frozen if you have a choice between the two.

If you’re starting with dried beans, soak them in enough water to cover by several inches for at least a few hours. (You can begin the morning of if that’s most convenient.) Discard the soaking water, start with fresh to cook the the beans. Put them in a good size pot, covered by a couple inches of water, no salt, and bring water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer while you prepare the rest of the stew.

Feijoada – Spicy Beans, Goan-Style

(serves at least 4)

  • ½ pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over (or several cans – or – 1 or 1½ packages of frozen)
  • 2 large onion, peeled (cut into large pieces)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small dried red chile or 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • one 1-inch piece fresh ginger (about the thickness of a thumb) peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed, canola, corn or other neutral oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Fragrant Curry Powder or any mild, good-quality curry powder
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored, seeded, and roughly chopped (or about 1½ cups of canned diced tomatoes)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste (see NOTE)
  • Garnish:   Torn cilantro leaves, wedges of fresh lime, and finely chopped red onion

NOTE: Tamarind paste is found in Asian section of many markets, next to curry paste. If you can’t locate it, you can use fresh lime juice to taste, but the tamarind paste also imparts a nice rich color to the soup as well as its characteristic tart.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onions, garlic, chile, and ginger and process until thoroughly combined and resembling a paste.

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lavender lemon mini-scones

We find inspiration in unexpected places sometimes don’t we?

My husband and I went out to celebrate a week ago. I don’t drink many “cocktails,” but when I read the description of this drink I had to taste

Lemon Drop Martini

with a Lavender-Sugared Rim

It was a wee thing. It was a pretty thing. And I liked it. A lot.

I held it to one, but one good turn deserves another, and this is mine:

Lavender Lemon Mini-Scones

 ~ not exactly a celebration, but a lovely lil bite for a slow morning ~

(Truth is – but I don’t want to advertise it – they’re also good wrapped in a napkin, dropped in your pocket, hot mug in one hand, keys in the other, cell phone already ringing as you speed out the door. Scones for a slow morning sounds so civilized and sane though. Let’s go with that.)

Lavender Lemon Mini-Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 5 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • grated zest of one lemon (about 1½ teaspoons)
  • 1 Tablespoon lavender buds (you can find on-line – or in the bulk tea/spice section of better-stocked markets. Or maybe you grow you own.)
  • 1 cup cream + 2 Tablespoons (divided)
  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract

topping: lavender-sugar (optional) or plain sugar or simple lemon glaze

(see NOTE at bottom of post on making your own lavender sugar or the glaze)

Measure 1 cup cream into a small saucepan.

Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon lavender buds onto the cream, and bring to just boiling.

Remove from heat. Cool slightly. Then refrigerate for 2 hours. Using a fine mesh strainer, pour the lavender cream over the strainer into a small bowl.

(Using a food processor gives the surest results.) Measure 2 cups flour, the sugar, salt and baking powder into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse 3 times for 1 second each. Put the butter in the processor bowl and lay out fairly evenly around the blade. Add the lemon zest. Pulse 12 times, 1 second each. Consistency will be coarsely crumbly, some pieces of butter the size of peas.

Empty the contents of the food processor into a bowl. Add the lemon extract to the lavender cream and then add the liquid all at once to the flour/butter mixture. Mix just to barely combine, then turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead a couple times (which really only means use your hands to draw the dough into a ball just so that it holds together.) To make uniformly-sized scones, this is the way that I find works best: Using an 8-inch square cake pan, lightly dusted with flour, press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Turn it out onto your work surface.

Using a sharp knife, score the dough as follows: in half length-wise, then in half cross-wise. Then in each of the four squares, score with an X. Dipping your knife into flour with each cut, cut along the scored marks. (Cutting straight down rather than sawing back and forth allows for more rise in biscuits and scones.)

Place 2 tablespoons of cream in a jar or small container. Using a small pastry brush, brush each scone with cream. Insert each into the mini-scone pan, or place on a baking sheet, about ¼ to ½-inch apart. (The farther apart they are spaced, the crispier they will be.) Dust the bunch of them with sugar or lavender sugar.

Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Overturn scone pan onto a cooling rack and allow scones to cool.

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Turkey Stuffing with Grand Marnier & dried apricots

‘Tis the season when time speeds up. Some of our best intentions, left behind in a rush of wind. I’d planned on preparing this turkey stuffing for you to view before Thanksgiving was upon us and everyone was already noisily gathered around the table. It didn’t happen. It’s still possible that I’ll get that done, but it’s looking less likely with every falling leaf.

And yet, even though there’s no accompanying photo, that didn’t seem reason enough not to share the recipe. So I’ll post it today, and after Thanksgiving I’ll attach photos so that next year you’ll have them. In the meantime, just a few photos from my walk the other day.

If you look at the list of ingredients you may have a feel for what this stuffing is like. I hope so. I can tell you this: Just about everyone who’s tried it has asked for the recipe. People who don’t like stuffing love this stuffing. And that’s all I’ll say.

Turkey Stuffing with Grand Marnier & Apricots

  • 12 cups cubed sturdy bread – cubed in approximately ½- to ¾-inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons dried thyme
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups dried apricots, cut into quarters
  • 1½ cups Grand Marnier (Orange Liqueur) (see NOTE)
  • 2 pounds Turkey Sausage (I like to use a combination – a milder one with apple and sage, and a spicier Italian turkey sausage)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups celery, diced (with some leaves)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon dried sage, crushed between your hands
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, medium diced
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or filberts or pecans (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (you may not use all this)

NOTE: on the Grand Marnier – To cut down on the expense, you might mix one part Triple Sec with two parts Grand Marnier. I don’t think I’d mess with the proportions further than that though. Grand Marnier is just so incomparably good.  (I should be clear here on this point though, I use all Grand Marnier in ours.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the bread, thyme, some salt and pepper and one-half of the oil, and toss together. Place on a baking sheet for 15 minutes in the oven. Transfer to a large bowl or other container large enough to accommodate it.

In a small sauce pan, add the apricots to the Grand Marnier and bring to a boil. Gentle simmer for a couple minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. (As they sit and bathe in the Grand Marnier, the flavor intensifies and they become indescribably delicious.)

In a large skillet, brown the sausage. Add it to the bread bowl with a slotted spoon.

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Caribbean black bean soup with roasted garlic & tomatoes

number 3 in the series we can feed another 

The wind is blowing hard now, tossing boughs of tall fir trees, whipping leaves off trees and sending daubs of bright color flying through the sky. It’s quite a thing to see, even a little exciting, when you’re sitting in front of window in a warm house. The hard rain they’ve told is coming has started to fall.  The temperature is dropping quickly and rain could possibly turn to snow. Honey, put a log on the fire. I’ll serve up soup!

It’s Wednesday, so I was planning on doing beans and rice anyway, per our agreement. But the timing couldn’t have been better. What a perfect bowl of warmth this is!

I usually make this as a straight-up soup and serve either cornbread or a crusty loaf and a salad with it. Tonight though I’m first spooning into the bowl some rice cooked with a bit of cumin seeds and then ladling hot soup over top. It’s a hardy and warmly satisfying meal.

We’ll start with a green salad with red bell pepper, avocado, hot-house tomatoes, tossed in a cilantro lime vinaigrette.

Caribbean Black Bean Soup with Roasted Garlic & Tomatoes

served over rice…

  • 6 cloves garlic, un-peeled & left whole
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
  • 1  28 oz. can plum tomatoes crushed – fire-roasted variety
  • ½ pound black beans, cooked, with their cooking liquid reserved (or 3 cans of black beans)
  • ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper, chopped finely
  • 1 medium to large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted & ground (see instructions below)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ (to ¾) teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
  • freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • salt to taste
  • Prepared rice (either brown or white)

Garnish:

  • sour cream
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • fresh cilantro leaves, torn
  • extra olive oil for drizzling (optional)

If you make this soup in the summer (or it’s summer where you are) you can oven-roast tomatoes, cut side down, drizzled with olive oil, on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven for about 20 minutes. But if it’s nearly winter where you are I hope you’ll be able to find the fire-roasted tomatoes in a can. They’ve got a deep rich flavor that works perfectly in dishes like this.

(You can see my two previous beans & rice posts for guidance on cooking dried beans if you’re in doubt. I’ll repeat again though: Be sure not to add salt until beans are nearly completely cooked, or their skins will remain tough no matter how long you cook them.)

I had these beans in the pantry. And with a name like Calypso they just had to go in this soup. You can either cook a half pound of black beans, or find some cute ones like these, or simply open a few cans of black beans and save yourself the time of cooking them.

Prepare:

If using brown rice, start cooking that first. If using white, begin after you get the garlic roasting in the oven.

Lay the garlic, un-peeled and left whole, on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap in the foil. Place in the preheated oven (or toaster oven) and roast for 20 minutes.

Roast the cumin seed – in a dry cast iron or heavy enamel pan on medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes. Don’t allow them to smoke. A wonderful aroma will likely tell you when they’re done. Either grind them with mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.

In the meantime, put the cooked beans in a soup pot, along with enough of their broth to keep them moist. Warm them on low heat.

In a medium, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, jalapeño pepper, and carrot and sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize. (About 10 minutes.)

Add the sautéed vegetables, along with the cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper and broth to the beans.

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pumpkin chiffon pie

I know you show up here mostly because you like food and because you expect that I’ll talk about food. You don’t come to hear my confessions. Yet several times in recent months I’ve subjected you to them. I sincerely apologize, I do, but I guess I’m not quite done, because here comes another: I have had a lifelong Fear of Pie. Well, it’s not the pie I fear, because that would be silly. Pie, especially fruit pie, is my favorite dessert. It’s the making of pie I’ve feared. You can trust me with the innards of any pie, I think, but the crust? I cringe. My hands go cold and clammy. My mouth goes dry.

I’ve lived with this phobia my entire adult life. I’ve spoken of it here before, and eating a bit of humble pie, I offered a compromise, a more rustic version of pie, the galette. But I’d vowed this year to meet pie head on.

For a very special girl’s 9th birthday, my gift was a series of baking dates together. Sici and I laid them all out, from most basic to — you guessed it — most feared. Kids, as you’ve no doubt experienced, are far more perceptive than we sometimes pretend, and they’re quite adept at picking up our true feelings no matter what words we speak. Point is, I think she knows. I swear, hand on heart, I’ve so not wanted to contaminate another generation with pie fear! But this girl wasn’t about to be contaminated or deterred. She’s a trooper, an adventurer, a girl with a can-do attitude, and I’m taking a lesson from her on this one! With our pie date looming, it was time I practiced.

You’re right, of course. Why would you take a lesson from me on pie crust? Why read another word? You’ve got a point. But here’s my thinking: I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on the subject. A number of sources claim they hold the secret for the perfect pie dough, and I’m not saying they don’t,  but I’ve remained unconvinced.

If you’ve ever read Cook’s Illustrated, you know that they’re renowned for making hundreds of versions of a recipe in their test kitchens in order to arrive at “perfection.” They’ll lay out a case, sometimes quite scientific, and in this instance, I was looking for science — hard scientific evidence, something to bring me back to the Age of Reason. I won’t lay it all out here, because I actually do have a life apart from this and you do too – but if you’re interested, you may be able to  locate a copy of the article Foolproof Pie Dough, published September, 2010.  I’ll give you the recipe here, but the case they made is brilliant and the article very interesting if you’re so inclined.

In brief, the secrets are three:

  1. the fats – mostly butter, and a little vegetable shortening (which I’ve tried my whole life to avoid, but finally succumbed because, for a great cause, we make sacrifices)
  2. the flour – 1½ cups blended very well with the fat, another cup pulsed in ever-so quickly afterwards
  3. the liquid – half ice water, half Vodka (the vodka burns off completely in the baking, leaving no trace of alcohol and no tell-tale taste. Vodka inhibits some of the gluten-formation that occurs when using water alone, thereby ensuring incredible tenderness!)

I summoned my inner-Sici and made the pie dough yesterday. It wasn’t picture-perfect, but everything else about it was. It was flaky, tender, flavorful. I did it! I’m still basking in euphoria.

the crust – Foolproof Pie Dough

(for one 9-inch double-crust pie)

  • 2½ cups (12½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 12 Tablespoons (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch slices)
  • ½ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • ¼ cup cold vodka
  • ¼ cup cold water

1. Process 1½ cups of flour (7½ ounces), the salt and sugar in food processor until combined, two one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening all at once and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. (All the flour will be coated and the texture will resemble cottage cheese. Some very small pieces of butter will remain.) Scrape the bowl with a plastic scraper, evenly distributing the mixture around the blade. Add the remaining cup (5 ounces) of flour and pulse until the mixture is evenly distributed around the blade and the mass of dough is broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty the mixture into an empty bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over the mixture. With a rubber spatula, use a folding motion to incorporate the liquid, then press down on the dough until it’s slightly tacky and adheres together. Divide the dough into two equal portions, roll into balls and then flatten each into a 4-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, or up to 2 days. (Dough may also be frozen, then thawed for later use.)

3. Adjust the oven rack to the lowest position and place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a generously floured board (using up to ¼ cup of flour as needed) into a 12-inch circle about one-eighth of an inch thick. Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll into the 9-inch pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang all around. Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pie plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with the other hand. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

4. Trim the overhang to ½ inch beyond the lip of the pie plate. Fold the overhang over on itself, with the folded edge even with the edge of the pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute the edge of the dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about another 15 minutes.

5. Remove from the refrigerator and line the crust with foil. Fill with pie weights, or pennies. (This keeps the crust from shrinking.) Bake on the rimmed cookie sheet for 15 minutes. Remove the foil with the weights, rotate the plate in the oven and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and set on a rack to cool completely before filling. (And if you, like me, are new to this pie-crust-baking thing, allow the room to fill with appreciative applause – be sure to add your own.)

~ ~ ~

Many pumpkin pie recipes call for pumpkin pie spice. Why buy a jar of pumpkin pie spice, use it once or twice between November and December and then store it away to use again the next year? At that rate, a bottle will last you at least half a decade. I blend my own with the spices I already have on hand and that are replenished fairly often. Nothing stale in this pie! (If you’ll make more than one pie this season, you may want to double the recipe. If you’ve got someone around who appreciates this sort of thing, here’s an idea – take the remaining pumpkin puree, the leftover pumpkin pie spice, add vanilla ice-cream or frozen yogurt and milk, whir it up in your blender, top with a dash of nutmeg and insert 2 straws.)

Pumpkin Pie Spice:

(yields 4¼ teaspoons)

  • 1¼teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon (scant) ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon (gently rounded)  allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly-grated, if possible)


Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

(serves six to eight)

We’ve enjoyed this pie every Thanksgiving for years. Mom would often bring the pumpkin custard pie, and I’d make the chiffon. But (as I’ve already made quite clear) I didn’t do pastry crusts. So this pie always ended up in an alspice-laced graham cracker crust, which though still quite tasty, always left me feeling like I was cheating.

  • 1 baked 9-inch pastry shell
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¾ cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/3 cups mashed, cooked pumpkin (a bit less than one small can)
  • 3 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (or for a delightfully spicier note, 3½)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Garnish: 1 cup heavy cream, whipped with a wee bit of confections sugar and a small glug of vanilla, and sprinkled with a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg

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Black Forest cookies

Ohhh! I feared this would happen. Something deep down in me knew that if I kept going the way I was, this day was bound to come.

Let me back up just a bit. I actually love believing that what lies just around the corner may be even more wonderful than what I’ve already “tasted” or experienced. It keeps me inquisitive, curious, open to new places, new music, foods I haven’t tried before. So when I come upon something that knocks my socks off, I’m mostly delighted (almost solely delighted) – but I’m a tinge (mind you, a very faint tinge) worried or anxious. What could this possibly mean for the future? Could this mean that there’s not better to come? I might as well just throw up my hands in surrender, with the best of life now most certainly behind me!

Today, facing the ingredients and contemplating the possibilities, my anxiety rose. Dare I continue? But I’m a reckless daredevil and so I did!  I made those cookies that I feared would undo me. And those cookies did.

And, if you can muster the courage  to be undone by a cookie- and I so hope you canbake them – eat them  – share them.

I haven’t even told you why, have I? OK, briefly then: a deep chocolate cookie, no eggs to make it fluffy or bloated, no leavening agent to make it light or lofty. A couple simple ingredients – flour, butter, sugar, and just a wee bit of cream cheese – and then! almond extract and Kirsch (cherry liqueur), dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries. And then a drizzle of Kirsch flavored icing.  ~ ~ You see what I mean?

Black Forest Cookies

  • 2¼ cup (11¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 3/4 cup super-fine sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur)
  • 2 Tablespoons cream cheese, cool room temperature
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Glaze

  • 1 Tablespoon cream cheese – room temperature
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur)
  • 1-1/2 cup (6 ounces) powdered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt on low speed until combined. With mixer continuing to run on low, drop in the pieces of butter, one at a time, and continue to mix until the mixture looks crumbly and slightly damp, about a minute or so longer. Add the almond extract and Kirsch (or other cherry liqueur) and the cream cheese. Mix for about 30 seconds, then add the chopped cranberries and chocolate chips. Mix just long enough to  distribute.

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