CINCO

Damn, I’ve been riding this train longer than I thought.

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A lot of living has happened in the past five years; I guess you could say that of any five years, but a bunch sure has been packed into this particular five.  I went from being 26 to 31, from being in my second year of teaching to my seventh, from teaching sixth grade to eighth grade, and soon, onto eleventh and twelfth.  I became a parent. I wrote a book.

So much witnessing of these big events has taken place here—Jill’s cancer especially comes to mind—and it’s hard for me to remember what I did before I had this space to document and share.  This blog has afforded me countless opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, gifting me a whole host of new people to be connected with and teaching me: about myself, my tendencies, my voice, yes, but also about discipline, about the kindness of strangers (which, it turns out, you actually can depend on), about community and about storytelling.

I had the pleasure of being part of a panel on food writing this past weekend, and in answer to the question “Why food writing?” one of my fellow panelists, David, said it best—food is a lens through which we can examine nearly every aspect of the human experience.  Whether at the global or the individual level, we track our evolution through food, we create containers for our memories, we comfort, we cajole, we delight, we explore, we seduce.

We celebrate.

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In honor of my blog’s little birthday, what the hell, let’s do a little giveaway.  I’m so not on the ball—I realized yesterday that my blogaversary was today, oops!—but I’d really like to say “thank you” for being out there and reading and witnessing.  It still feels like a miracle to me that there are people actually reading this who are not, say, my mom.  (Hi mom!  You’re the best!)  So let’s say this giveaway is open until Friday at midnight, then Shiv & I will head to the Farmers Market on Saturday morning, pick up some of our favorite local products, and mail ‘em out next week, along with a signed copy of my book.  I might even bake you some cookies, you never know.

One of my favorite things ever in the whole world is when someone tells me that they’ve made one of the recipes from my blog, so to enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment letting me know which recipe(s) from this blog you’ve enjoyed in the last five years.  If you haven’t made one of the recipes from the blog, but plan to, you can say that as well.  Or if you’re really just here for the writing and not the recipes, let me know which past post sticks in your mind.  Or you can just say hello.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Jennifer!  I hope you enjoy the little box of treats I sent your way.  Thanks to all of your for your lovely notes; they really mean so much to me.

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CLASSIC GUACAMOLE

recipe barely adapted from Roberto Santibañez, as shared by Food 52 (side note: if you’re not familiar with the “Genius Recipes” feature on Food 52, I can’t recommend it highly enough – the recipes are always winners)

This recipe has become the new standard-bear in our house.  For years and years, I made it the exact same way—the subject of my very first blog post, in fact—but ever since trying this recipe, the Carroll/Mehra clan has sworn allegiance to this garlic-free (!) version.  I think it really allows the lushness of the avocado to come through, without overpowering it.

As the original recipe notes, texture is key, so don’t skip the two-part avocado treatment.  To get perfectly ripe avocados, I’ve taken to buying them unripe, in bags, usually at Costco or Trader Joe’s, and letting them ripen on the counter near the bananas, then stashing them in the fridge once they give just a little and reveal green when you pull away the stem.  Given the sheer amount of guacamole Shiv can eat by himself, when I make a batch now, I have to use AT LEAST four medium-sized avocados to feed the three of us, because he basically eats two avocados worth of guac himself.  Sheesh.

classic guacamole | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

½ small white onion, chopped

½ Serrano chile, minced fine (I remove most but not all of the seeds; if you want more heat, leave the seeds in, if you want less, take all seeds out or use a jalapeño instead.)

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

juice of ½ a lime

½ tsp. Kosher salt or coarse sea salt

4 medium-sized Haas avocados

Transfer half of the chopped onion to a large bowl.  Add the flesh from two of the avocados and mash with the back of a fork, just breaking up the avocado pieces but leaving plenty of structure.  Cube the remaining avocado flesh and add it to the bowl.  Set aside.

Place the other half of the chopped onion, all of the chile, half of the cilantro, lime juice, salt into a mortar and pestle, mashing all ingredients into a wet paste.  Add this to the avocado mixture and very gentle fold everything together, leaving the cubes of avocado intact.  (At this point, the original recipe says to think about properly dressing a salad in a vinaigrette, a comparison I find very helpful.)

Top guacamole with the remaining cilantro, then test for salt, and adjust if needed.

Blog birthdays, previously: #1, #2, & #4.  I somehow managed to skip #3.

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MUHAMMARA DIP

It seems I’m making nice with all kinds of former food enemies—first radishes, then rum, and now red bell peppers.

The alliteration is accidental, I promise, or maybe I’m just getting back to my English-teacher self, what with school starting back up this week.  !!!

Green bell peppers can be found in our backyard garden and then, subsequently, on our backyard grill, and I like them just fine that way, or chopped up as part of the Cajun trinity, or stuffed with Indian-spiced meat, the way my mom makes.  But red bell peppers always just seemed lame to me—especially given how expensive they can be—slimy when roasted, boring when raw—not a fan.

In the last few years, though, given Jill’s travels and the diverse Houston restaurant landscape, my exposure to Middle Eastern cuisine grew and I fell in love with muhammara dip.  Not only is it fun to say (much like halloumi!), it’s also quite tasty.  And so I decided to give a homemade version a whirl.

My fellow teacher & dear friend Courtney sampled my version of the dip a few weekends ago when we photographed it, and requested that I post the recipe ASAP—because we’re both trying to be good about what we eat these days and this is just the type of thing that works perfectly for weekday lunches.  Make it over the weekend and stash it in the work fridge.  Pack some type of bread product, throw in some fruit & vegetables, and viola!  Instant healthy lunch.


(I made some flatbreads to go along with this dip, which I promise to post later in the week—provided the new crop of 8th graders don’t do me in.)

MUHAMMARA DIP

We found that the dip tastes even better a day or two after you make it.  So plan accordingly!

ingredients:

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1 yellow onion, diced
3 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, & diced
¼ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 T pomegranate molasses or homemade grenadine
1 T harissa
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
juice of 1 lemon

While the nuts cool, process the onion, peppers, pomegranate molasses, and harissa in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Strain the mix over the sink, pressing down to release excess moisture.  Dump the pepper/onion paste into a mixing bowl.

No need to clean out the blender/mixing bowl—just dump the nuts right in and pulse until coarsely ground.  I like the texture of the nuts at this point, but if you want a smoother dip, keep on going.  Add the nuts to the pepper/onion paste and stir in the bread cumbs, salt, lemon juice, & cayenne, if using.  Taste for salt and other flavorings and adjust as needed.

Serve, garnished with a little extra cayenne, with crackers, pita, crudités, naan, etc.

GREEN LENTIL HUMMUS & HARD LEMONADE

As Jill recently announced to the whole world in a blog post, we read the Declaration of Independence aloud on the Fourth of July.  Geeky, I know, but we’re both so moved and inspired by our nation’s founding document—seriously, have you ever read it?  It’s grand and angry and beautiful.  They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore.

Of course, once you start reading the Declaration of Independence aloud on the Fourth of July, it’s not like you can quit.  These rituals take on their own weight and significance; they transform into tradition.  And me?  I’m like that dude from Fiddler on the Roof. I love me some tradition.

So share away—what are your Fourth of July traditions?  Or, for friends up north, Canada Day traditions?

GREEN LENTIL HUMMUS
barely adapted from Food & Wine

Admittedly, this play on hummus is not the most beautiful color in the whole wide world…but it tastes delicious, so try and look past that, would you?  If you’re in a chickpea hummus rut, give this one a whirl—lentils are good for you!

ingredients:

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup green lentils
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 garlic cloves*
¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
juice of 1 lemon
salt to taste

optional:

cayenne pepper, for heat
sweet or smoked paprika, for garnish

Bring the stock and lentils to a boil with the bay leaf & cinnamon stick.  Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are cooked through, about 45 minutes.  Uncover and turn up the heat, to cook away the excess liquid, another 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let the lentils cool.

In a food processor or blender, combine the lentils, garlic, tahini, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice, & a pinch of cayenne (if using).  Process until a paste begins to form, then drizzle in the olive oil slowly.  Mix until smooth, then add salt and taste-test.

Serve the hummus with pita chips and/or vegetables, sprinkling paprika on top and drizzling with a little extra olive oil.  Make a day ahead & keep in an airtight container in the fridge.

*I used garlic I had previously roasted and it added a wonderful flavor to the hummus.

HARD LEMONADE

A while back, the lovely Julie van Rosendaal of Dinner with Julie wrote a sweet blog post about an impromptu lemonade stand, including a recipe for this lemon syrup, promising that it made the perfect lemonade easily achievable.  My thoughts immediately turned to the possibilities of a “grownup” lemonade-leave it to my devilish mind.

I used frozen strawberries as “ice cubes” because we keep a giant bag from Costco in the freezer, but feel free to sub in frozen raspberries or blueberries, or make your own ice cubes with mint leaves suspended inside, for a color & flavor twist.

for one serving, I used 2 T lemon syrup, topped with fizzy water, a shot of vodka, & a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

for a pitcher, I’d recommend 1 cup lemon syrup & 1 ½ cups vodka, fill to the top with fizzy water & the juice of 4 lemons.

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MAKE-YOUR-OWN HUMMUS

Hummus has become almost ubiquitous on the American food scene in the last few years—and I think this is a good thing. I love hummus; it’s delicious, good for you, and pretty much everybody likes it. It can even motivate finicky kids to voluntarily eat carrot and celery spears (as vehicles for dipping, of course). Unfortunately, ubiquity often leads to mediocrity and such, I find, is the case for poor hummus.

Too many pre-made versions are slimy and unappetizingly pasty; even the stuff that comes out of some restaurant kitchens is seasoned with such a tame hand as to induce yawning. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Now, great people of the internet, is the time for change.

chickpea goodness

If you own a food processor or a blender, out-of-this-world hummus is within your grasp. All it takes is a few (cheap) ingredients and the willingness to taste-test until you get the seasonings the way you like. Hummus is the perfect dinner-party staple because you can make it wayyyyyy ahead of time and, should you make it from scratch, you will impress the heck out of all of your guests.  I like to make a big batch and take it to work on Monday and eat my way through it all week.

A note about fussiness: you can (and should) make this recipe with canned chickpeas—it will still taste MUCH better than the store-bought variety and can literally be done in minutes. However, this is one place where high-maintenance-foodery does prevail. Starting with dried chickpeas instead of canned will take you to a new level of hummus enjoyment. If you’re up for giving dried chickpeas a whirl (added broken economy bonus = they’re even cheaper than the canned stuff!), please do; I promise it will be worth it.

HUMMUS…MAKE THAT REALLY, REALLY GOOD HUMMUS

special equipment: Cuisinart or other food processor, blender (only the heavy-duty kind)

ingredients:

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1 16 oz. can (approx. 2 cups) chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans /ceci beans*

2 T tahini a.k.a tahina/tahine**

2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tsp. salt (if you soak your own chickpeas, you may need to add more)

½ tsp. ground cumin

juice of 1 lemon

½ cup water (reserve the cooking liquid if using dried beans), more if needed

¼ cup olive oil

optional garnishes—oregano, paprika, or za’tar spice blend
pine nuts (toasted or untoasted)
drizzle of olive oil

Place all ingredients except olive oil in food processor or blender. Process until smooth, adding water as needed until desired texture is reached. Check the hummus’ taste and add extra garlic, salt, or cumin accordingly. Finally, with the processor or blender running, pour in olive oil.
Transfer to bowl and garnish with any of the options listed above. Goes excellently well with pita chips (storebought or homemade), crackers, and any kind of cut vegetable.

hummus with veggies

*If using dried, you’ll need to soak your beans overnight and then cook them for an hour before making your hummus. The chickpeas will double in amount, so if you want to end up with 2 cups, you only need to soak 1 cup of beans. Cover them with room temperature water and allow to soak overnight. You can stash them in the fridge at this point if you’re not planning to use them right away. Drain off the soaking liquid and transfer to a medium saucepan, covering with fresh water. Bring the mixture to a boil and allow the beans to simmer for an hour or until soft. Drain the beans but RESERVE THE COOKING LIQUID! Save it to thin your hummus; it will add more flavor than plain water.

**Tahini is a sesame seed paste most often used in Middle Eastern food. You may need to go to an ethnic grocery store for this, but it’s actually become readily available—check the “International Foods” aisle of your regular grocery store or call around to more foodie-inclined locations. Once you’ve opened it, keep your jar in the fridge for months. Like natural peanut butter, you’ll need to stir it when using again.

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BLUE JEAN GOURMET IS BORN: GUACAMOLE & MARGARITAS

Salud! L’Chaim! Cheers!

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Welcome, welcome, welcome—whether you are an avid foodie, beginning cook, food-blog enthusiast, or just here for the pretty pictures, I hope you’ll find Blue Jean Gourmet to be a fun, un-intimidating resource for really good food and straightforward kitchen advice.  Please make yourself at home.

We’re launching today on Cinco de Mayo–I can’t think of a better occasion!  What other holiday gives me an excuse (not like I need one) to whip up a batch of guacamole and a blender-full of margaritas?  I’m so excited to share these two recipes with you as they are the perfect encapsulation of what the Blue Jean Gourmet philosophy is all about: really good food does not have to be really fussy.  Both of these recipes are a cinch to make with quality ingredients and a little practice.  Sure, pre-prepared guacamole and bottled margarita mix are readily available, but neither can hold a candle to their homemade counterparts.   You’ll wow everyone (including yourself) and never go back to the packaged stuff.

I also love these recipes because they literally tell the story of how I ended up here in the first place.  You see, long ago my newlywed parents worked at a Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee.  My father was the manager, my mom a bartender–I really love the fact that my Indian immigrant mother used to tend bar in a Mexican restaurant in the deep South–only in America, right?

Mom’s good looks earned her many tips and opportunities to hone her margarita-making skills, and my father continued to work for Pancho’s for many years, cementing my family’s love affair with all things Tex-Mex.  When I make my own version of these recipes now, I feel I have earned my place in my family’s rich, weird culinary history.

Since Blue Jean Gourmet is just now making its way into the web-world, please check back periodically for added features and new posts.  You can also follow BJG on Twitter, become a BJG fan on Facebook, or use good-old-fashioned email to contact the Blue Jean Gourmet herself (that’s me!): bluejeangourmet (at) gmail (dot) com.  I’d love to have your thoughts and feedback: is there a food item you would like to see featured?  Cooking technique you want to master?  Let me know and I will do my best to help you out.

In the meantime, invite some friends over and give these recipes a whirl.  You can make Cinco de Mayo last all week!

MEMPHIS MARGARITAS

a well-stocked liquor cabinet

Makes 4 generous servings, doubles well!

8 oz (1 cup) fresh-squeezed lime juice (trust me, it’s worth the trouble)
juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup tequila (the better the quality, the better the margarita)
1/4 cup Cointreau or other orange liquor (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier)
2 T Minute Maid frozen limeade (more if you prefer a sweeter drink)*

Frozen margaritas–Fill a blender with 3 cups of ice.  Pour in liquid ingredients; blend, serve.
Margaritas on the rocks–Stir liquid ingredients together in a pitcher; serve over ice.
To salt glasses–Rub the rim of an empty glass with a lime wedge.  Pour 2 T kosher salt (looks pretty, but regular will do just fine) onto a small plate.  Turn glass upside down and, using a rocking motion, dip the rim in salt, rotating to coat the entire rim.

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IT’S HANDY: Leftover margarita mix keeps perfectly well in a tightly-sealed jar in the fridge.  Cocktails at a moment’s notice!

* This is my mom’s genius secret ingredient–it’s cheap, keeps forever in the fridge, & saves you from having to make simple syrup.

GUACAMOLE

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3 ripe avocados*
juice of 1 lime
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic (less if you aren’t a fanatic like me)
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)
salt
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

First, sprinkle the garlic with a generous pinch of salt.  Using a knife with a wide blade, chop the garlic with the salt at an angle, making a kind of paste–mince the garlic, then smush it with the back of the knife, go back to mincing, etc.

Transfer the garlic/salt paste to a bowl with the onion, jalapeño (if using), and lime juice.  Muddle these ingredients together with a fork.  Next, halve the avocados, removing the seeds and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.  Add the avocados to the lime juice mixture and smash the halves with the back of a fork until the desired texture is reached (I like mine a little chunky).

Unless you are one of those people who think cilantro tastes like soap (and if you are, I feel sad for you), garnish with the chopped cilantro, stirring a bit of it into the mix.   Serve with blue or white corn tortilla chips.

* Okay, avocados.  Sometimes people are intimidated by them, but there’s no need!  I can offer two tricks:
1) Only buy the little, dark, bumpy Haas avocados, if you can get them.  You want fruit that gives a bit when you give it a squeeze–no mushy spots!

2) Ripen them at home on the counter using a paper bag & an apple or a banana.  Apparently, apples and bananas naturally give off gasses which conveniently help avocados to ripen.  I promise, this trick works.  Enjoy!

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