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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SLOW COOKER CARNITAS

There’s been a slew of slow-cooker talk among my friends lately, and I’m pretty sure this means that we’re all getting old.

slow-cooker carnitas | Blue Jean Gourmet

Don’t get me wrong, though–slow cooker old is not a bad kind of old; slow cooker old is practical and thrifty, and it’s practical and thrifty precisely because you’ve learned that these attributes are not nearly as un-cool as you thought in your naive youth.  Slow cooker old is the kind of old that means you have the wisdom to realize that you can’t actually plan out your whole entire life—the way you thought was possible when you were thirteen—but, that you can actually plan out your dinner ahead of time, prep it before you go to work, and sit at your desk with the knowledge that your food will be all but ready for you when you get home.  It’s a triumphant kind of old, this slow cooker age.  I like it.

My slow cooker is most often used to cook beans, make stock, applesauce or something similar (I did an apple/pear butter last week that Shiv loves), and to tackle larger cuts of meat, like this pork shoulder.  Like many others, I discovered the slow cooker in graduate school, when money was tight; the aforementioned beans & homemade stock were easy ways to feed myself cheaply, as were the less expensive cuts of meat that benefit from the long braise that a slow cooker provides.

Though I love to extol the virtues of the slow cooker, I’m far from an expert.  I know that there are many more ways I could be using it, and I’d love to hear from y’all about how you utilize yours.  Let’s have a slow cooker conversation that our younger selves would look upon in horror.

If I’m going to be a sellout, at least I get to bring these carnitas with me.

PS: I’ve updated ye olde book information page with links to a few new things!: a guest column I wrote for Memphis’ paper, The Commercial Appeal, and a video of the chapel talk I gave at my alma mater, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, last week.

 

SLOW-COOKER CARNITAS

As with pretty much all slow cooker recipes, this is more of a method than anything else.  The ratios what matter here, more than exact measurements, since what you’re going for here is essentially to cook the pork for a long time, with some liquid so it doesn’t dry out, and in the presence of whatever flavorings you’d like to impart.  Therefore, feel free to improvise; some folks I know use water instead of stock, and others apply the rub to the pork ahead of time.  Others cut the meat into chunks before putting into the cooker, but I didn’t find that to be necessary, given the size of my shoulder (if yours is lots bigger, you may want to give that a try, and you will probably need more liquid).

Some people buy boneless shoulders, but I always prefer to cook with a bone, because it adds so much flavor; trust me, you won’t have any trouble removing the bones when the meat is done cooking, because it’s basically going to fall apart (in the best possible way).  Finally, do NOT skip the broiling step; it’s what makes the carnitas taste like carnitas.

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ingredients:

1 pork shoulder roast (also called “pork butt”) – mine was right at 2 lb., bone in
2 cups chicken stock
juice of one orange
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. ancho chili powder
½ tsp. chipotle chili powder
½ tsp. salt

Combine the cumin, oregano, chili powders, & salt in a small bowl.  Rub all over the pork shoulder before placing the shoulder in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Cover the shoulder with sliced onion & garlic; pour liquid around the shoulder, cover and cook on “low” for 10 hours.

When you’re ready, remove the shoulder from the slow cooker and shred with a fork, removing any bones (but not the fat! ).  Scatter the pieces in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until little bits and pieces of the pork begin to brown and crisp up.

Serve with tortillas and the accompaniments of your choice.  Ours were: queso fresco,  guacamole, pickled red onions, & fresh salsa.

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BIRTHDAY THE SECOND: CEVICHE

It’s my blog’s birthday!  Happy birthday, blog!


In addition to being Blue Jean Gourmet’s birthday, today is also Cinco de Mayo: this is no accident.  Of course I started my blog on a day that serves as an excuse to eat and drink some of my favorite things.  That was good thinking on my part.  High five, self.  High five.

I’m amazed at how much can change in a year, or in two.  The length of my hair, the color of my dining room, the amount of time I spend on Twitter, my concerns and worries, my growth as a teacher, my skill as a cook, the intimacy and trust in my relationships, the new people I am blessed to know.  You know how folks will say “Oh, I would love to go back to…” and then insert “high school” or “college” or some other past period in their life?  Not me, thank you.  I have gained too much, am entirely too grateful to be the person I am now and not the person I was back then (shudder, cringe), and can’t imagine saying goodbye to even the smallest piece of that perspective, even if it meant getting to sleep really late on weekends.

To have had this blog (and you people out there!) as a constant over the last two years, meeting you here week after week, being able to look back on this archive of life’s ins and outs–it’s simply incredible.  Looking to the year ahead, I plan to keep telling stories, sharing food that I think is delicious, working with Sonya to deepen our craft, and breathing life into this toddler of a blog with some new ideas and a lot of guest posts.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Thank you for being part of this conversation and a very meaningful part of my life.  Your presence is humbling and cheering; I hope you will stick around!

BLOODY MICHELADA

If you’ve never had one of these Texan concoctions, you’re in for a treat.  Refreshing on the hottest of days, micheladas are a snap to throw together with things you probably already have in your pantry/fridge.  There’s no one “recipe” for this drink, though the consistent elements are similar to that of a Bloody Mary: salt, spice, & lime.

This weekend, I took things one step further and made micheladas using leftover, homemade Bloody Mary mix from last weekend’s brunch.  Of course, you can make them minus the tomato part and they will still be delicious!  Note: the drink is traditionally served over ice, but I prefer to freeze my glasses instead.

ingredients:

1 beer of your choice
2 fresh and ripe tomatoes
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce (adjust according to your heat tolerance)
juice of 6 limes, plus extra lime wedges/wheels for garnish
celery salt

Rim the edges of the glasses you’re using with celery salt, set aside.  Core the tomatoes and place in a blender along with the Worcestershire, Tabasco, & lime juice.  (I left the skins on for texture).  Whir until you’ve achieved a thick but still pourable liquid.

Fill your glasses with ice, if using.  Pour about a ¼-cup of the tomato mixture into the bottom of each glass, then pour the beer over and garnish with lime.

CEVICHE

Jill taught me to love ceviche–it’s one of her absolute favorite things to eat.  And though I had never made it before last weekend, I have eaten so much of it that I had a sense in my mind of the tastes and textures I was after.

Luckily for me and other Houstonians, knowledgeable fishmongers and the freshest, most beautiful fish abound around these parts.  Last Saturday, I bought myself some gorgeous mango snapper and wahoo from the man they call Professor Fish Heads, and went home excited to prepare ceviche in a way that would do the fish justice.  I dare say I was successful!

I’ve done my best to recreate how I made my ceviche, but bear in mind that it’s not a dish that requires precision or exactness.  Feel free to swap in citrus for the mango, thinly sliced carrot for the radish, or jalapeno for the serrano.  My only specific exhortation is this: fry your own chips!  I much prefer the flavor of a flour chip to store-bought corn, not to mention the former is much sturdier and can, quite literally, hold up to the fish.  Simply cut flour tortillas into wedges, heat up a pot of vegetable oil, and fry until lightly browned and puffy.  Super delicious.

ingredients:

approximately 1 lb. very fresh fish (snapper is the classic choice), cubed (1/2 inch is my preference)
½ cup fresh citrus juice (I used a combination of sweet & regular lime)
thinly sliced red onion
thinly sliced radish
Serrano pepper, seeded & very thinly sliced
diced ripe mango
plenty of cilantro
avocado for garnish
salt & pepper

Combine the fish and citrus juice in a shallow plastic container fitted with the lid.  Add the onion, radish, Serrano, mango, salt, and pepper, and stir gently to combine.  Cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours, popping in periodically to stir the mix, evenly exposing all of the fish pieces to the citrus juice.  Over time, the juices will “cook” the fish and you will see it change from pink and translucent to white and opaque.

When ready to serve, check again for salt & pepper and garnish with plenty of fresh cilantro and avocado and serve with chips.

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GOAT TACOS

I’ve wanted to make these for a long time.

In July 2008, Gourmet magazine published a very fine piece of food journalism from Ian Knauer and Alan Sytsma.  In it, the men visited Madani Halal, one of our country’s many halal butcher shops, which carry out the slaughtering and processing of animals in strict accordance with Islamic law.

Halal is a kind of equivalent to the Jewish system of kashrut, or kosher, both signifying what is “permitted” or “clean” to eat.  In accordance with halal standards, all animals must be treated humanely in life—grass-fed only—and slaughtered swiftly in death, one quick cut of the carotid artery coming on the heels of a prayer of thankfulness to Allah for the nourishing gift of the animal’s flesh.  It is a dignified, compassionate, and demanding way of doing things.

The men who run Madani Halal are a father-and-son team, Riaz Uddin and Imran Uddin.  In the article, Imran asks the chefs to choose a goat, which he then slaughters himself, falling silent for prayer beforehand and sweating afterward.  “Do you ever get used to that?” the visitors ask.  “No,” he responds.

Imran goest on to tell Knauer & Sytsma that he hopes halal can become a bridge by which Americans can learn about and accept Islam.  Though their client population is only 65% Muslim, the rest overflow from other immigrant communities, he admitted “We lost a lot of customers” after 9/11.  They faced skepticism from the neighborhood when they acquired more property to expand the shop.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Jill and I both know Muslims; she has worked with many closely.  She has traveled to countries with large Muslim populations, like Egypt and Jordan and Turkey.  We have been invited to many a beautiful dinner spread, breaking bread with our Muslim friends as they break their Ramadan fasts.  And so, for me, there is a huge crevasse of cognitive dissonance between these people I know and the very loud screaming voices I hear about all Muslims can’t be trusted, are of the devil, who hate America, should made to be carry special ID cards.

Someone please explain to me how we manage to so easily lump together a religious group that constitutes a population of 1.5 billion people.  Who constitute practically every ethnic group and nationality, who are spread all over the globe living radically different lives from each other.  How on earth can anyone justify writing off a mass of people this way?  As if they all thought and acted in exactly the same manner, because they fall under the same religious umbrella.  I sure hope I’m not expected to claim the world’s population of Hindus as representative of my thoughts & beliefs.

I was born and raised a Hindu, inheriting a group of folks who have clashed with Muslims in India for years, each group lobbing back-and-forth their irrational hatred, their violence, their fear.  Of course, the irony is that if my parents had been born just some forty or fifty miles to the West, I might well be a Muslim myself.  And then what?


GOAT TACOS

adapted from Gourmet

To make this recipe, I had to find my own halal butcher, which was easy to do here in Houston.  I wondered but did not have the courage to ask aloud if it was difficult for the proprietress of the shop to be in the presence of food all day as she fasted for Ramadan.   I got myself a goat leg.  I drowned it in a smoky tomato-chile sauce and baked it off for three hours, shredded it as it cooled, wrapping it in tortillas alongside my friends.  I recommend you do the same.

This recipe is a project, certainly, but the results were as delicious as I had hoped.  I will certainly be making it again, most likely as a dinner party dish, since everything can be prepped ahead of time.

ingredients:

3 ½ to 4 lb. goat leg, bone-in*
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems removed
2 dried ancho chiles, stems removed
1 lb. tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. vinegar
½ tsp. cumin seeds
5 whole peppercorns
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves

oven: 350˚

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, dropping in the chiles.  Simmer until the chiles are soft & pliable, 10-15 minutes.  Drain the soaking water and drop the chiles into a blender.  Add the rest of the ingredients (except the goat leg!) and blend until smooth.

Place the goat leg a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt.  Pour the sauce over the goat meat, turn to coat, then cover the entire dish with foil.

Braise for 3 to 3 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender.  Remove from the oven and cool.  Once the meat has cooled enough to handle, shred with forks and return it to the sauce-filled baking dish.  Discard the bones.

Now whole dish goes back in the oven, covered again, to cook for another half hour.  Towards the end of the half-hour, wrap the tortillas in foil and toss them into the oven to warm.

Serves a crowd (8-10) and keeps well.  If making ahead, reheat in the oven to serve.

* Ask the butcher to cut the leg into pieces if you don’t have a roasting pan big enough to fit it.

accompaniments:

corn tortillas
crumbled queso fresco
salsa verde
cubed pineapple
sliced radishes
cilantro
lime wedges

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CHILAQUILES

Say it with me…chee-lah-KEE-lehs.

Being a book worm, English teacher, & general language nerd means I have a pretty decent vocabulary.  But there have been times—many an embarrassing time, in fact—when I have run across a word that I know the meaning of but have NO idea how to say aloud.  Like at a restaurant, for example.

I hate feeling like an ignorant dweeb when I want to order a dish but don’t know how to pronounce it.  Luckily, I find that a gentle shrug and point at the menu generally results in help from a good waiter or waitress.

Once I learned how to say “chilaquiles,” I was all over ‘em.  This simple and satisfying Mexican dish is a easy to make for a crowd on weekend , and it also makes an excellent breakfast-for-dinner.  You don’t have to top your chilaquiles off with a farm egg fried in bacon fat, but I did.

CHILAQUILES

This chilaquiles recipe is of my own making, and may or may not pass an authenticity test, but it’s damn tasty.


ingredients:

corn tortillas
red or green salsa

Cut tortillas into strips or wedges.  Heat a little vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet until very hot, almost smoking.  Add enough tortilla pieces to cover the bottom of the pan and cook on both sides until crisp.  If working in batches, keep cooked pieces warm in a low oven.  Set cooked tortilla strips aside while frying the rest of the rest in batches.

Once you’ve worked through all of your tortillas, return them all to the skillet over low heat and pour in salsa so it nearly covers the tortilla strips.  Simmer for a minute or two, then serve with as many extras as you see fit.

extras:

beans of your choice—black, pinto, refried
chopped bacon, chorizo, or veggie crumbles
queso fresco or other cheese
diced onions
cilantro
fried egg

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KAREN’S MEXICAN RICE & “GRAD SCHOOL” BLACK BEANS

I cut my hair short in high school, for many reasons and for no reason at all.  Convenience, defiance, sophistication, some combination thereof.  It ranged from ear-length to pixie-short until I buzzed it all off my freshman year of college.  Head-shaving was the social experiment that I undertook with my fortuitously-assigned college roommate Rebecca. Bolder and defiant than I could conceive of being at that point in my life, Rebecca was my first true friend on campus (and remains one of my favorite people on the planet, I might add).  Shaving our heads was her idea.

Bless my poor father’s heart—he always harbored visions of me with long, flowing tresses like the hip-shaking heroines of the Bollywood movies he loved to watch.  He was forever making remarks that he found funny but I found annoying, encouraging me to “grow it out!” and “not so short!”  But to my surprise and perhaps disappointment, he handled my shaved head remarkably well, voicing no critiques and even silencing my mother who clearly thought I had lost my mind.

Though I never shaved it again–

a) I’m not cut out to live a renegade lifestyle

b) my head is oddly shaped

c) lack of hair dampened my flirting potential, which truly affected my quality of life

–once my hair grew back, I continued to style it short.  I had no reason to wear it longer and plenty of reasons to keep it cropped: I lived in hot climates (Memphis, then Houston, then Tucson), I like a low-maintenance morning routine, I had been told once or twice that I looked like the Indian Halle Berry.  Why mess with a good thing?

In my first semester of graduate school, my parents proposed a trip to India for my cousin’s wedding.  She was three years my junior and had become engaged to a man that she met herself at another family wedding and secretly “dated” before coming home and suggesting to her parents that he might be a good match for her.  I rather liked this schema: it was spunky and made the prospect of braving a wedding (at which I would be the noticeably older, unmarried, American cousin) far more palatable.  Not to mention, I had not been to India, the country of my parents’ birth, in over a decade, and my father and I had only traveled there together once before, when I was an infant.

A few months before we were scheduled to leave for India, my father asked me to grow out my hair.

“Nito,” he said, after he had so cleverly taken me out to lunch in Memphis, plied me with pulled pork barbecue and worked me into quite the food coma, “What if you grew your hair for a little while?  Please don’t cut it before we go to India.  It will just look better, your relatives will like to see it, not so short.”

I knew that my relatives weren’t the only ones who would like to see my hair “not so short,” but refrained from saying so.

“But doesn’t the nose ring count for anything?” I asked him, mostly teasing since I had pierced it on a whim in college, not out of any deep-seated cultural agenda.

“Maybe a five-point bonus,” he said, keeping the joke.  “But your hair could look so nice!”

He said “could,” as in “doesn’t right now,” which I noticed but also choose to ignore.  Instead, I decided to leave my hair untouched.  After all, I had cut it for no particular reason, surely I could grow it out when it meant so much to my father?

“I’m going to cut it as soon as we get back, though, okay?”

“Okay,” he consented.  “It’s your hair.”


My father died six weeks after we returned from India.  Except for the occasional trim, I haven’t cut my hair since.  I grow my hair for a dead man who carried his hair on his arms and his legs and his chest and his back, but not his head, curling and dark. He would be so pleased if he could see this hair.  This hair, my hair, all the way down my back, long and flowing the way he always wanted.

Tomorrow, I’m having my first hair cut in nearly four years.  Not an arbitrary cut, but one that will help mark my twenty-seventh birthday and which will result in an envelope full of my hair being mailed here.  You see, my friend Rebecca and I have many things in common: we’re giant nerds, know more Disney song lyrics than we really ought to admit, have serious sweet tooths, and love to craft things with our hands.  But the most powerful thing we share is the one we never counted on; losing a parent within nine months of each other.

Rebecca’s mom Karen fought an exhausting battle against cancer for two-and-a-half years, one of those terrifying up-and-down rides full of uncertainty and pain, loss and hope.  My friend put her life on hold to tend her mother’s every need, exhibiting the kind of courage and relentlessness that humbles one who witnesses it.  By the time Karen was diagnosed, right in the middle of our senior year of college, Rebecca had become my family and I, part of hers.  My own father’s death very surprisingly interrupted the trajectory of things; who could have guessed that I would be the one to lose a parent first?

To this day it stuns me, how in the midst of their own sadness and grief, Rebecca and her parents tended to me so unselfishly.  I remember spending part of an afternoon at the hospital with them, not long after my father had died and during a time along the cancer roller-coaster when chemo had stripped Karen’s head completely clean of hair.  She had wigs, but they didn’t come close to recreating her.  The most realistic ones are, of course, the most expensive.

“Your hair is so beautiful, Nishta,” she told me, in a voice I’ll always be able to hear.  “I wish I could wear it.”

“I’ll grow it out for you,” I told her.  “I promise.”

Tomorrow I’ll be making good on my promise at the same time I let go of the hair that feels so connected to my father.  I’m nervous, excited, and proud, and I promise to post some before-and-after pictures on Friday, provided that I don’t become totally incapacitated by all of the food I’m planning to eat between now and then (with a birthday today & Thanksgiving tomorrow, let’s hope I can even fit into my pants on Friday!)

I’m wishing all of you very festive and delicious Thanksgivings, full of people you love and lots of linger-worthy moments.

KAREN’S MEXICAN RICE & “GRAD SCHOOL” BLACK BEANS

Rebecca’s mama made the world’s best home-cooked Mexican rice, and she generously passed on her secret to me through her daughter: 1 ¾ cups liquid for every 1 cup of rice. Her ratio yields flavorful rice with the ideal texture and every time I make it (which is often), I picture her in my kitchen, proud that I’m working her recipe.

This rice makes an excellent accompaniment to so many things, but my favorite pairing is with a big pot of simple, vegetable-laced black beans.  “Grad school food,” I call it, given how cheap it is to make, while at the same time being comforting and tasty.  Feel free to swap in or out other vegetables such as chayote, fresh spinach, mushrooms, etc.

KAREN’S MEXICAN RICE

1 cup long-grain rice
1 ¾ cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, diced or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 T cumin
½ T chili powder
salt
vegetable oil

optional: sliced onion

In a large skillet with a fitted lid, sauté the garlic (plus onion, if you’re using it) in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat.  After two minutes, up the heat to medium-high and add the rice, toasting in the oil until the rice begins to brown and become fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the chicken or vegetable broth, then stir in the spices.  Cover the mixture with the lid and allow it to come to a boil.  Once the mixture boils, dial back he heat to medium-low, stirring periodically until the liquid is nearly gone and the rice is fully cooked.

Toss in the tomatoes and check the rice for salt, seasoning to your liking before serving hot.

“GRAD SCHOOL” BLACK BEANS

2 cans black beans, fully or partially drained*
1 can corn (or 2 ears’ worth of fresh corn, off the cob)
2 carrots, peeled & sliced ½-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
1 ½ T cumin
1 T garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
vegetable oil

optional: ½ or a whole jalapeño, minced
potential garnishes: grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salsa, raw onion, shredded cabbage

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, sauté the bell peppers (jalapeño, if you’re using it) and carrots in a bit of vegetable oil until soft.  Add the black beans, corn, & spices, then mix well.

Cover and turn down the heat to low.  After 10-12 minutes, the beans should be heated through.  Check for salt, then serve over rice.

*If you want drier beans, drain all the way.  For a soupier effect, drain only one of the two cans.

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MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH

This may be my favorite sandwich of all time.

torta al pastor

I mean, come on.  Chipotle-and-honey-marinated pork tenderloin with spicy mayonnaise, melted cheese, pineapple, avocado, & cilantro clearly equals heaven.

Of course, I’m biased in favor of all things Mexican and Tex-Mex.  It’s in my blood.  My mother perfected the Blue Jean Gourmet margarita recipe while bartending in a Mexican restaurant in the seventies.  My father, who worked for that chain of Mexican restaurants, took the three of us on a Texas road-trip for research purposes when I was a pre-teen; we ate our way through Dallas, Houston, & San Antonio, consuming tortilla after tortilla, trying salsa after salsa, and the night we arrived home in Memphis, decided to make—you guessed it!—Mexican food for dinner.

Now I live in Houston, where I’m lucky to have the chance to taste-test all kinds of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, from high-end, award-winning places to less-fancy-but-still-delicious taco trucks that line the city.  And it was here in Houston, during college, that I fell in love with the cheap-but-filling tortas served up at this restaurant.

The torta is a Mexican-style sandwich, typically made on a crusty, baguette-type roll called a bolillo, with myriad possible fillings, including al pastor, or pork, which I did my best to recreate at home a few weeks ago.

Personally, I think this would make an excellent weekend sandwich, because it’s incredibly satisfying but not very fussy. Marinate the pork tenderloin ahead of time, grill it up outside and you won’t even have to heat up your house (bonus!)

sliced pork tenderloin

While it’s cooking, prep your accoutrement and lay it all out so everyone can make his/her own sandwich.  For an authentic accompaniment, try making elote with the last of sweet-summer corn.  Mexico City without the plane ticket, my friends!  Enjoy.

MEXICAN-STYLE PORK TENDERLOIN SANDWICH avocado cilantro pineapple
serves 4

components:

bread (bolillo roll or baguette)

pork tenderloin (1 lb- 1 ½ lb)*

chipotle mayonnaise*

sliced cheese (Mexican-style cheeses with a sharp flavor that will melt well include queso quesadilla, asadero, or chihuahua.  Substitute mild cheddar if you can’t find any of these)

sliced avocado

cubed pineapple

quick-pickled onions*

To assemble, lay the split rolls on a baking sheet and place cheese on one side of each.  Place under a low broiler or on the grill you just used to cook the pork until the cheese melts.

Slice up tenderloin to desired thickness & let everyone “have at” the sandwich making!

*PORK TENDERLOIN

If you’ve never used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce before, PLEASE go out and buy a jar now (they’re cheap!)  Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeños but their flavor is amazing.
chipotle in adobo
marinade:

1 cup chipotle-flavored barbecue sauce
2 T honey
1 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

optional: I had an over-ripe peach which I peeled, pureed, & added to the marinade.

If you don’t have one on hand, throwing in some apricot preserves might make a nice counterpoint to the spice.

Grilling the tenderloin is easiest, searing it first on all sides over a medium-high flame, then moving it off the heat and letting it cook, grill cover down, for about 15 minutes.  Bring the tenderloin inside and let it rest, covered in foil, before cutting into it.

If grilling is not an option, your best bet is to sear the tenderloin on your stovetop, in either a grill pan or other heavy-bottomed pan, then transfer the whole thing to a 425° oven for about 15-20 minutes.

*CHIPOTLE MAYONNAISE

This isn’t rocket science, really.  Mayonnaise + fresh lime juice + a spoonful or two (depending on your heat tolerance) of chipotles in adobo.  Annnnnnd done!

*QUICK-PICKLED ONIONS

quick-pickled onions

I’m an onion lover.  Absolutely adore them any way they’re offered up, raw, grilled, pickled, fried.  In fact, my mom used to tell me when I was little that I’d better marry someone who loved onions and garlic as much as I do, otherwise I’d have a problem.  Thank goodness for Jill or I’d never get any kisses!

I know most people do not share my love of the onion.  However, pickling red onion is a great way to take the “edge” off of the taste but add flavor & crunch to your sandwich.  Pickled carrots, which you can also find pre-made on the same aisle as the chipotles in adobo, are a good alternative if you really just aren’t an onion fan.

Slice the desired amount of red onion thinly.  Bring between ½ cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to a boil, then add an equal amount of white sugar and a pinch of salt.  Add onions and remove from the heat.  Toss in a little cilantro & a pinch of cumin.  Let the onions sit in the liquid until ready to serve.

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BLACK BEAN SALSA

Before I do anything else, allow me to show you a magic trick.

cilantro
Ladies and Gentlemen, right here before your very eyes—one bunch of cilantro, ends trimmed, placed upright in a glass with a bit of cold water.  Doesn’t look like much, you say?  Not very impressive, you say?

Well.  Little do you know!  Arranged this way & covered with the very plastic bag it came home in, I can keep cilantro fresh & useable for a month!  I am not exaggerating!  It IS magic—I love cooking with cilantro (obviously, I am not one of those people for whom it tastes like soap) but I hated having to throw it away after it became wilted & spoiled too quickly.

No longer, my friends!  We can all thank my dear friend Ari’s mom Georgia (yes, she is as awesome as her name) for this tidbit.

Now, onto the recipe at hand…I love black beans.  They’re cheap.  They’re yummy.  They’re versatile.  AND, they’re good for you.  Summertime bonus!

black bean salsa

This little concoction is great for a potluck/casual party, or just for dinner.  It tastes just as good the next day, with the exception of the avocadoes, which turn an unappetizing, slimy brown.  Ew.

So if you’re planning for a big crowd, make this as-is—there won’t be any left, I promise.  But if you’re making for a smaller crew / want to take some for lunch later in the week / need to mix this ahead of time, I recommend combining everything BUT the avocadoes first.

Then, reserve whatever portion you’d like to have for later & store it in the fridge until you’re ready to add avocadoes & eat up!  I like this dish a little more towards room temperature than cold, so you might want to take it out a bit before you plan to serve.

(If I may be so presumptuous as to suggest—it’s real, real good with blue corn tortilla chips.  I’m especially partial to Garden of Eatin’.)

BLACK BEAN SALSA corn off the cob

2 cans black beans (plain, no flavoring or added salt)

3 of the prettiest tomatoes you can find

3 ripe avocados

2-3 ears fresh corn

2 limes

a handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

optional: half a jalapeño, seeded & minced

Drain & rinse the black beans in a colander—shake well to rid of all liquid.  Shuck the corn & cut the kernels off into a large mixing bowl.  Add the black beans to the corn, then cube the tomatoes and add them as well.

Add the juice of both limes, cumin, salt, & jalapeño, if using .  Stir everything together & sprinkle in cilantro.  If serving immediately, add cubed avocados & fold gently.  Taste & add salt if needed.

Serve with chips or as a side.  Also excellent with grilled fish or meats.

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BLUE JEAN GOURMET IS BORN: GUACAMOLE & MARGARITAS

Salud! L’Chaim! Cheers!

cheers-bright-light1

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.

margarita-solo-avec-lime3

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

guacamole-serving-bowl

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!

chips-margaritas2

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