GAME DAY CHILI

Every once in a while, we human beings are bold enough to take an idea, a possibility, a “what if” or a “hmm, could we?” and allow it to germinate in our mind, to take us over, to use us and pull us into creation mode.  Then, if we’re crazy enough, we begin to speak our idea aloud—we tell other people, they tell other people.  And before we know it, we are wed to the thing, we are given by it, we find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table (right, Julie?) in our pajamas, working and working but the work almost doesn’t feel like work.  Or at the very least it feels like the right kind of work to be doing.

For me, I find it’s all too easy to watch the news, to read the paper, to look at the world and think “I wish I could help,” to feel deeply for the suffering of others and then put that all aside and move on.  But not Julie van Rosendaal.  She created something, a beautiful something, something I am very proud to be a part of:

Inside this cookbook, you’ll find recipes and gorgeous photographs from some of the best chefs and bloggers on the internet, a group in which I’m honored to be included.  While the book was put together in record time (just under three weeks!), it’s lost absolutely nothing in terms of quality.  Preview a handful of the pages online; they’re gorgeous.

You can purchase the soft cover edition for $25, the hardcover for $50.  Every penny raised from sales will go straight to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, via the Canadian Red Cross & Doctors Without Borders.

I think the Blog Aid cookbook would make a great birthday, housewarming, wedding, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift.  Or just buy it as a statement of faith, a vote on the side of hope and good work, a testament to the fact that one woman’s idea can become food in a child’s mouth, medicine for a wounded man, glossy cookbook pages you hold in your hand.

GAME-DAY CHILI (among other Superbowl food ideas)

I hardly ever make chili the same way twice—depending upon what’s in my pantry, spice cabinet, freezer, & fridge, all kinds of meats and seasonings have made their way into the pot.  Don’t be afraid to mix meats—pork, venison, beef—and change up the type of beans you use (if you use beans at all).  If you have a crock pot or slow cooker, now is the time to drag it out!  It serves perfectly for chili-making.  Don’t worry if you don’t have one, though, you can still brew up some perfectly good chili the old-fashioned, stovetop way.

Every chili has some “signature moves”—mine are dark beer, cinnamon, & a little cocoa powder.  All three of these do a little something to the flavor…you can’t pinpoint what you’re tasting, but it tastes good.  Mushrooms may seem like a strange ingredient, but they bump up the “meatiness” quotient of the chili without you actually having to add meat at all.  Control the heat to match your own preference, and bear in mind that big pots of chili usually get hotter after a day or two in the fridge!

ingredients:

2 lb. ground sirloin

1 cup chopped crimini or white mushrooms

1 onion, diced

3 carrots

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 serrano or 2 minced jalapeño peppers (if you like/can handle the heat!)

4 T chili powder

1 T cocoa powder

1 tsp. chipotle chili powder

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cayenne pepper

½ tsp. cinnamon

4 cups beef stock

1 dark beer (I used Negra Modelo)

1 28-oz. can fire-roasted, crushed tomatoes

2 14-oz cans kidney beans (but only if their presence won’t offend your sensibilities)

2 T Worcestershire sauce

2 T chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 dried ancho chile (you could certainly use another type)

a few dashes of liquid smoke

vegetable oil

potential accompaniments: white rice, spaghetti, tortilla chips, Fritos, cornbread, cheddar cheese, sour cream, scallions

Mix all of the spices in a small bowl.  Bring a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, then  brown the meat, in batches if necessary.  As you cook the meat, add in some of the spice mixture to each batch.

Once the meat has browned, transfer to a crock pot or large, heat-proof bowl.  Drain most but not all of the accumulated fat—swirl in a little vegetable oil, then sauté the onions and garlic for a 3-4 minutes before adding the carrots & mushrooms.

If using a crock pot or slow cooker, once the vegetables are soft, add them to the beef.  Pour in all of the remaining ingredients and cover, cooking for full cycle or at least two hours before serving.  Check for spices & salt.

If cooking on the stove, return the meat to the pot and add the remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least an hour before serving.  Check for spices & salt.

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SUPERBOWL PARTY ROUND-UP

So the Superbowl’s not until NEXT Sunday, but in case you are as much of a crazy planner as I am , I’ve put together some BJG favorites that would work well as fuel to watch the Saints win by.  WHO DAT?

everything's possible via Etsy

Okay, okay, I understand some people are actually cheering for the Colts, but down here you’d be hard pressed to find one.  Houston took in a quarter-million Hurricane Katrina evacuees; 150,000 of them stayed and now call Texas their home. So we’re all pretty damn jazzed that our sister city finally has something to celebrate.

Of course, Superbowl party food tastes good no matter which team you’re rooting for (heck, it tastes good even if you’re just there to watch the commercials.)

Community tradition in the extended family group went like this: Thanksgiving at the Mehra (our) house, Christmas at the Karkeras’, Ganesh Pooja at Priya Aunty’s house, Diwali Party at Chanchala Aunty’s house, & Superbowl Party at Ashok Uncle & Bina Aunty’s.  This final party was a raucous, ornately ritualed affair: touch football games in the morning, afternoon naps for our Dads during which we kids quietly worked on our team posters, face paint and team colors layered on, giant graphs of squares marked off with a ruler, quarters collected as we all placed bets, televisions stationed in every possible room of the party house, including the bathroom.

A room for AFC fans, a room for NFC fans.  Opposite cheers arising like warring choruses as the game wore on—the room shushing instantly as each new commercial aired—Ashok Uncle & Bina Aunty’s dog Sergeant growing fatter by the minute as he vacuumed up dropped or neglected snacks.  Because, did I fail to mention?  There was always A LOT of food.  And you can, too.

margaritas & guacamole

Chex mix

spicy Buffalo shrimp

hummus

Mexican-style pork tenderloin sandwich

stuffed mushrooms

tortilla rolls

molasses cookies

lemon squares

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VEENA’S CHEX MIX

Please forgive me for lapsing with my posts this week, but to make it up to you, I’m letting ya’ll in on a coveted family secret: the recipe for my mom’s incredibly addictive Chex Mix.

Often surfacing around the holidays, this stuff has long been a staple at holiday parties & in college care packages, one of the many things my mom makes which always forces the question, “Oh my god, did you put crack in this?”

I tried my hand at this goodness for the first time the other night and was pleased to find that I was able to replicate her magic pretty easily in my own kitchen.  In a few days, I get to see my mom, spend my twenty-seventh birthday with her and Jill, eat through Thanksgiving, even sleep late if I wish.

There are many, many things, both big and little, for which I am grateful, but today I’d like to acknowledge you, reader of this blog.  Little did I know when I launched this blog just over six months ago that I would “meet” so many kind and generous folks, that so many of you would be interested in what I have to say about food and living joyfully in the world, that many of you would be willing to share your stories, ideas, recipes, & genuine enthusiasm with me.

Thank you.  It has been, and continues to be, a privilege.

VEENA’S CHEX MIX

½ box each, corn & rice chex cereal

1 cup assorted nuts and/or pretzels

1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

1 T each: garlic powder, dried chives, & dried parsley

1 tsp. each, salt & black pepper

oven: 235°

In a large metal bowl, toss together the cereal, nuts, and/or pretzels.  In a separate and much smaller bowl, stir together the melted butter, Worcestershire, and spices.

Pour the butter mixture over the cereal, using a spatula to make sure all the pieces are evenly coated.  Bake the mixture in the bowl for an hour, stopping to stir every fifteen minutes.

After an hour, turn off the oven and let the mixture sit overnight.  Store the mixture in an airtight container—it will keep well for several weeks.

MARINATED CHEESE

This blog post is very late, but there are two good reasons why: the opera & Dolly.

marinated cheese ready

Jill and I just came home from witnessing a marathon performance of Wagner’s Lohengrin which was, unlike many things my students use the descriptor “epic” for, actually EPIC.  Mysterious heroes, accusations of murder, true love, witchcraft, war, revenge, heartbreak, you name it, it’s in there.

I went to the opera for the first time as a high school senior—why, I actually can’t remember (the two competing stories are: won tickets in a raffle or went to fulfill a performance-viewing requirement for my Humanities class), but seeing La Traviata is something I will never forget.  From that night on, I was hooked.

Opera’s appeal is lost on many.  Especially in a culture that places an inordinate emphasis on art needing to reflect “reality” and blurring the boundaries between those two things, the suspension of disbelief that opera requires can feel like too big of a gap to bridge.

But here’s the thing: it turns out human beings still need a grand gesture every once in a while.  We need to get lost in something, to virtually drown in a darkened theatre, cozied up to by the swell of strings, the shatter of voices, the collective gasp of the audience when we realize that the lovers before us are doomed.  We like being made to feel big, ridiculous emotions even though it’s passé to articulate those things anymore.

cheese marinade

Our most intimate concerns on the grandest of stages.  Performances that transcend what most of our bodies can and can’t do.  Myth over reality.  Sometimes I think we need a dose of that, and I’m very grateful I was able to get it tonight.

And to come home to this:

dolly

Say hello to Dolly, our new girl.  She is an old rat terrier whom we adopted via Ratbone Rescues (THE NICEST people) and flew down from Portland just yesterday.  Can I just tell you, this dog was meant to live with us?  I’ve never met a sweetier lap dog who is, at the same time, obsessed with her squeaky toy and impossible to beat in tug-of-war.  Last night she slept under the covers in our bed and cuddled up to me this morning, making it nearly impossible to get up and go to work.  I’m in love.

Needless to say, we’ve been a bit all over the place the last few days, but rest assured I have a wonderful recipe for you today, elegant enough for the opera and also Dolly-friendly (she’s a terrible beggar for cheese).

MARINATED CHEESE

This appetizer looks much more labor-intensive than it actually is, making it ideal for dinner parties or the holidays.  Of course, you can make as much or as little as you like, so don’t rule it out as an “at home” dish, either.

If you celebrate Christmas, you can make this dish especially festive by adding chopped red pimentos to complement the green onions.

served up marinated cheese
marinade ingredients:

½ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar*
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup chopped green onions (scallions)
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper

optional: 1 tsp. lemon zest

cheese:

Any mild-flavored cheese will work, but I like the combinations of white & yellow cheddars or yellow cheddar with cream cheese.  If you’re using cream cheese, it becomes much easier to cut if you throw it in the freezer for a few minutes.

Cut the cheeses into slices (taking into account the size of the cracker you’ll be serving it with).  Arrange the cheese in a shallow dish, alternating the colors or arranging them into a design of your choice.

Place all marinade ingredients in a jar, tighten the lid, & shake vigorously.  Pour the marinade over the cheese, cover the dish with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least an hour, up to 6.  Serve with crackers—we’re really loving this brand right now.

*If you can splurge on a higher-end bottle, do.

eaten cheese

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CARAMEL CORN

Various ways I know I got it right:

•    Jill goes back for seconds
•    My students pay attention
•    It smells the way my mom’s version does
•    Courtney says “oh yes MA’M!”
•    I have no trouble falling asleep
•    Someone asks “Did you put crack in this?”

caramel corn

I actually read a story some years ago about a restaurant in Japan; it had a cult following, lots of regulars, did fine business.  The thing was, no one could really articulate why the restaurant was so popular.  Was it their unique culinary offerings?  Homey atmosphere?  Friendly owners who knew your name & order as soon as you walked in the door?

Nah. It was liquid opium, trace amounts of which the kitchen laced into all of the food, as discovered by the Japanese health inspector.

There aren’t any illegal substances in this caramel corn but it’s so good you’d swear there were.  Make it for weekend munching, mail it to your favorite serviceman or woman, take it along to work as a sweet afternoon snack.  Be warned, though, if you should chose to share it, there won’t be any left for you.

CARAMEL CORN

What I especially like about this recipe is that the caramel isn’t fussy; no candy thermometer necessary here.  When the mixture starts to get dark, take it off the heat.  It’s really that simple!

8 cups plain popcorn*
1 cup mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, macadamias, peanuts, etc.)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter
¼ cup clear Karo (corn) syrup
½ T vanilla
plan or sea salt

Combine popcorn & nuts in a large bowl (one that will clean easily).  Prepare two baking sheets by either greasing or lining with parchment.

Melt the butter, then add sugar and Karo syrup.  Stir regularly until the mixture comes to a boil.  Turn down the heat and watch the mixture, stirring occasionally until it takes on a caramel color (10-12 minutes).

Remove the caramel mixture from heat, then stir in the vanilla with a heat-proof spatula.  Pour the mixture into the bowl of popcorn & nuts, stirring vigorously until coated (much as you would when making Rice Krispie treats).

Spread the popcorn mixture onto the two baking sheets, then sprinkle generously with salt for a lovely flavor contrast.  Let  the corn harden before breaking into clumps.   Enjoy right away or store for up to a week in an airtight container.

*It’s not required to pop your own popcorn, but it’s so blazing easy, cheap, & delicious, shouldn’t you?

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SPICY SHRIMP, TWO WAYS

First off, thanks so much to all of you for your love, sympathy, and good wishes.  It’s amazing how all of that feeling really does travel across space & time to make a difference.  I remember that sensation when my father died; it was as if I could literally reach out and touch the compassion being sent my way from people all over the world.  They were holding me up, buffering me.  Astonishing.

Ganesh

I know that there are much more dramatic, intense, & devastating events than the loss of an old dog; the world is full of so much sadness and hurt that if I think about it too much, it literally impairs my ability to function.  Behind every ambulance siren or news item is someone whose life is changing forever, someone whose idea of a live-able life looks, by necessity, drastically different from mine.

Life can be kind of terrifying, right?  Jill’s getting on a plane this afternoon to fly away to Egypt for a conference, and while I am terribly excited for her, in the moments I allow myself to imagine my life without her I am utterly broken open.  Someday, too, my mother will die and I just don’t know what to do about that.

I also know that it doesn’t do to dwell on these things.  A life of terror and worry is useful to no one and does nothing to thwart the inevitable.  But I do want to be mindful of the preciousness of my days, to balance being blithe and joyful with an ocean of earnest feeling.  I never want to forget that potent urgency I experienced after losing my father, the absolute necessity of living life in this moment instead of planning for “someday.”  For months, I walked around so mad I could spit to see all of these human beings wasting time as if they had time to waste.  The job they found unfulfilling, the relationship they refused to mend, the feelings they wouldn’t share, the project or plan or dream they kept putting off.

Last week, I went to see the Alley Theatre’s very fine production of Thornton Wilder’s American classic, Our Town.  Like many, I saw it first in high school.  Coming to it some ten years later allowed for a potency of reflection I wasn’t anticipating.  The quote my friend Marynelle wrote for me on her senior “goodbye” poster means much more to me now than it did then:

Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?
Stage Manager: No. The saints and poets, maybe–they do some.

While it may be somewhat impossible to get every, every minute, I’m working on more every day.  The lovely purple tulips on my desk, my students who make me laugh, my beloved who sings along to Chaka Khan in her big red truck, my dear friends who delight and care for me—all hang in the balance of what I love and what I’d miss (like Jill & her bff Bonnie):

Jill & Bonnie

Perhaps you are one of those people who revisit the same movie, book, or play every year or every couple of years.  I love the idea of coming back to words and scenes which stay constant while we change, measuring ourselves against them as a kind of yardstick.

Right now I’m planning a re-read of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, to see how/if it will move me, ten years later.  I return regularly to The Bhagavad Gita, of course, and The Tao Te Ching.  Other re-reads I’d like to take on include Little Women (Alcott), The Glass Bead Game (Hesse), & Crime and Punishment (Dostoevksy).

What about ya’ll?

Don’t worry, in all of this “deep” talk, I haven’t forgotten about the food!  Two spicy shrimp dishes here: the first is a favorite of my father’s, the latter certainly would have been, and both are excellent for football watching (Sonya & Jill tested them out a few weekends back).

CHIPOTLE BAKED SHRIMP
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2000

Look for smoky chipotles in adobo sauce on the International Foods aisle, with other Mexican condiments.  You won’t need a whole can, so buy a pork tenderloin while you’re at it for some really good sandwiches.

I’ve made this recipe both with the shells on and the shells off.  Tastes great either way, but shells on is more fun and also messy—you shell them as you eat, slurping up extra sauce.

ingredients:shrimps

1 ½ – 2 lb shrimp

½ stick unsalted butter

¼ cup dry white or red wine

1 ½ T Worcestershire sauce

half a can chipotles in adobo sauce, peppers minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. salt

must serve with: a baguette or other crusty bread, for sopping up sauce

oven: 400°

Melt butter in saucepan or microwave.  Add in the wine, Worcestershire sauce, chipotles & sauce, garlic, and salt. Toss the shrimp with sauce.

Bake the shrimp in a shallow dish for 10-12 minutes.  Serve in wide bowls with plenty of sauce & bread on the side.*

*If you like, you can remove the shrimp from the baking pan & reduce the sauce on the stove before serving.

BUFFALO GRILLED SHRIMP
Slightly adapted from Gourmet, July 2009

I’m not sure what more to say about this except that it’s really, really good.  And that you’ll need a lot of napkins.

For the dip:
½ cup sour cream (use half thick yogurt & half sour cream for a slightly healthier option)

½ cup crumbled blue cheese (I used a wonderfully pungent Maytag)

¼ cup chopped green onions

2 T finely chopped dill

juice of half a lemon

a little buttermilk or milk, to thin the dip (skip if you used the yogurt)

salt to taste

Stir together everything except the buttermilk/milk.  Then mix in a tablespoon or two until you reach your desired consistency.  Personally, I like my blue cheese dip really chunky.

For the shrimp: shrimp, celery, & blue cheese

1 ½ – 2 lbs shrimp, peeled & deveined
½ stick melted butter
¼ cup hot sauce *
olive oil

must serve with: many celery sticks!

I made the shrimp in a grill pan over medium-high heat, but the original recipe calls for an outdoor grill.  Oil either the pan or rack and then toss the shrimp with a little olive oil, salt, & pepper.

Grill until just cooked through, about 7-8 minutes depending on the heat of your grill.

Stir together butter and hot sauce in a large bowl. Add shrimp and toss until they are coated.

As official BJG taste-testers, Jill and Sonya suggest eating the shrimp plain and “chasing” them with celery dipped in the blue cheese dip.  This, they found, was more effective than trying to dip the shrimp themselves.

*We used Louisiana Hot Sauce, Gourmet recommends Frank’s RedHot.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: STUFFED MUSHROOMS

This is one of those “back pocket” recipes; an easy-to-make, hard-to-mess-up crowd-pleaser you keep on hand and whip out when you need something tried and true.  Oh stuffed mushrooms, you have never failed me:

stuffed mushrooms
Mushrooms are an ingredient I tend to buy more of as the weather cools.  Their rich earthiness  seems right, somehow, for fall.  I’ve made these junior stuffed mushrooms many times, for dinner parties, Thanksgiving, and football Sundays, of course.

The best thing about ‘em?  You can pre-make everything ahead of time, leaving the stuffed mushrooms on a foil-covered broiler pan in the fridge until ready to bake off.  They’re also relatively cheap to make (especially if you go vegetarian) and still work with all kinds of variations: use couscous instead of breadcrumbs, add in sautéed peppers for a kick, substitute green onions for regular ones.

Though the little ones are most fun for a party or get-together, stuffed portabellas are wonderful for a weeknight dinner, since you can prep them the night before.  One of my favorite stuffings for big ‘shrooms: chorizo, wild rice, celery, & bell pepper.

At the moment, I’ve got a lot in my back pocket (both literally & figuratively):

-stewing over logo designs (!) for the new-and-improved BJG website I hope to debut in early 2010…printable recipes?  You asked for them, you’ll get them!

-joyous celebration that a cold-ish front seems to finally be coming through Texas

-a final grocery list to attend to, along with a million details and “to-dos” before 45 (count them, forty-five) people descend on our house tomorrow night for the annual Carroll/Mehra Diwali Party!

I hope to share a lot more about the party with you next week; our amazing photographer Sonya will be here, documenting every dish and celebratory moment. Look for lots of photographs, details, & a recipe or two on Tuesday.

We are excited, busy, and hopeful that it will not rain.  Most importantly, I feel grateful to have the resources and time to gather the people I love around me and feed them large quantities of food.

I’ll catch ya’ll on the flip side!  In the meantime, enjoy your weekend.

STUFFED MUSHROOMS
The recipe here allows you to make both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions in the same batch.  If you want to do meaty mushrooms only, go ahead and cook the sausage with the onions & stems.

ingredients: stuffed mushrooms curvy

2 packages white mushrooms, cleaned
1 white onion, chopped finely
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup plain breadcrumbs, store-bought or homemade
grated cheese of your choice (Parmesan, cheddar, Italian mix)
herbs de Provence
butter
olive oil

optional: one link of a sausage of your choice (I used mild Italian)

Remove stems from the mushrooms, reserving a little less than half.  Trim & chop the stems finely, adding them to the onions & garlic.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, combine 3 T each of the butter & olive oil.  Let sit over medium heat until the butter is foamy, then add the chopped vegetables.

Sauté the mixture until translucent, then remove from heat and toss in the breadcrumbs.  Combine the mixture so the breadcrumbs are “wet.”

Fold in about a ¼ cup of cheese.  Season with 1 tsp herbs de Provence, then stop to taste for flavor & salt, making adjustments if needed.

In a separate pan, crumble and brown the sausage.  Reserve it for later—after you’ve stuffed the vegetarian mushrooms, mix the sausage into the remaining filling and stuff the other half.

Place the mushrooms on a broiler pan or baking sheet.  Stuff each mushroom with a small spoonful of filling (of course, bigger mushrooms will take more), mounding the filling just a bit at the top.

At this point, you can cover the mushrooms with foil and stash in the oven.  When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°.

Bake the mushrooms for 12-15 minutes until cooked through.  If you’d like a little crunch, you can turn on the broiler for just a minute or two, but watch the mushrooms carefully!

Serve warm.

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ONION RINGS

My mother, she’s a very wise woman.  When I was still rather young, she impressed on me the importance of my someday finding a partner who loved onions (and garlic) as much as I did.  “Otherwise, they won’t want to kiss you.”*

raw red onion

You see, I love onions.  I love them raw, I love them sautéed, I love them caramelized, baked, roasted, fried, pickled…well, you get the picture.  In all of their pungent, tear-inducing, breath-polluting glory, onions hold a prominent place in my culinary heart.

Growing up in an Indian household, as I did, onions (or piaj) were a regular feature on the table, raw and sliced thinly as an accompaniment to rice, daal (lentils), dahi (yogurt), and kheera (cucumber).  I learned to love the wet bite of onion as a foil for spicy, complex dishes, a way to slice through grease and access the tastebuds.

Quickly, I started eating my piaj with a lot of other, non-Indian things: pizza, hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese.  I know.  Some of you are out there gagging (like blog photographer Sonya, who is no fan of the raw onion), but hopefully even the biggest onion-skeptic can appreciate these:

fried onion rings
Behold the onion ring, a thing of beauty!  It comes in many variations (shoe-string, tempura-battered, jumbo-sized, etc.) but like most fried stuff, even a bad onion ring is a tempting one.

I’ve been an onion ring connoisseur for a long time, often preferring them (gasp!) to French fries when eating out, but had never tried to make them on my own until a few months ago.  Needless to say, in a household where I am lucky to have met & settled down with a fellow-onion-lover*, they were a hit.

Jill proclaimed them the best onion rings she’d ever eaten.  And girlfriend’s from Louisiana, so she knows her fried foods.  These are, I admit, a little bit labor-intensive.  But hot damn!, they are worth it.

ONION RINGS

These rings, as you can see, do not sport a heavy jacket of batter.  Rather, they’re lightly coated and extremely crisp.  I use a three-layer breading: flour first, then buttermilk, then cornmeal/breadcrumbs.  The secret is using one hand for the buttermilk step and the other hand for the last step.  If you don’t, things will become gummy realllll fast.  Be sure to have everything set up before you begin!

ingredients:

1-2 red onions (more if you’re feeling extra-ambitious)
flour
buttermilk or regular milk
yellow cornmeal
Panko breadcrumbs (look for them in Asian/Japanese aisle)
Tony’s or another all-purpose seasoning
Salt & pepper

A fair amount of Canola or peanut oil

Pour oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches 2-3 inches up the sides.  Heat on medium high while prepping the onions.

Peel the onions and cut off the ends, discarding.  Slice carefully into thin (¼-inch) rounds.  Separate out into individual rings, then place in a large Ziploc bag.

Dump between ½ – 1 cup of flour in the bag, depending on your quantity of rings.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.

You’ll need two wide and shallow bowls.  In one, pour in the (butter)milk.  In another, mix equal amounts of cornmeal and breadcrumbs.  Add 1 tsp. of Tony’s seasoning and stir to distribute evenly.

Now, for a trick: drizzle a small amount of buttermilk into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture, then rake through it all with a fork.  This will create small clumps which, when fried, will equal extra-crunchy goodness.

Part One: seal the Ziploc bag with the onions and flour inside, then shake the heck out of it, coating all of the rings.

Part Two: Transfer between 4-5 rings (depending upon the size of your bowls) to the buttermilk mixture.  Muddle them around with your LEFT HAND to get them wet.

Part Three: Transfer the same rings into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture.  Press down with your RIGHT hand to coat one side, tossing some of the mixture up and around to all sides.  Don’t worry if the rings aren’t totally coated.

Part Four: Fry away!  Your oil should be hot and shimmery at this point, not smoking.  (Remove from the burner to cool if it is.)  Test your oil with a single ring—the oil should immediately bubble around it.

Add a small handful of rings when the oil is ready, keeping an eye on the heat.  If the onions brown too quickly, turn the heat down.  After a few batches, though, you may very well need to turn the heat up to compensate for loss of heat.

Fry the onion rings in batches, approximately 2 minutes on each side.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and serve hot.  They’re excellent plain, but also go nicely with ketchup, Sriacha, aioli, ranch, etc.

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TORTILLA ROLLS

My apologies, dear reader.  I am so very behind.

My commitment is to blog every Tuesday and Friday, but today I find myself running rather late: to post this, to meet friends for drinks, to clean up my house before company comes.  It’s been a heckuvaweek for this tired teacher, but I feel encouraged knowing that I can present you with these:

tortilla rolls with salsa

My mom’s famous tortilla rolls, adapted by yours truly.  When you read over the ingredient list, you may think “Uh, that sounds weird.”  But rest assured, they are CRAZY DELICIOUS.  Never a one left behind.

These are infinitely adaptable (olives? ham? fresh herbs?) and perfect for football watching.  It’s just so satisfying to dunk things, like fries into ketchup, chicken nuggets into honey mustard, tortilla rolls into salsa.

Since I work in a Jewish school and we’re off Monday for Yom Kippur, day of atonement, consider my tortilla rolls an offering of repentance.  Once you try them, I bet I’ll be forgiven.

PS: We’re reading Fahrenheit 451 in class right now, Ray Bradbury’s classic vision of a futuristic, television-addicted society in which books have been banned to protect citizens from the “danger” of ideas.

As part of our fantastic class discussions, students have been batting around the idea of banned books and the power of reading, how society controls and shares information, etc.  So, we’re curious: what book has had the biggest influence on you, made an impact, changed you in some way, made you think? It can be from middle/high school, college, or more recently.  Any book works!  We’re compiling a list and would love to add yours.

TORTILLA ROLLS

Buy the freshest tortillas you can; they’ll be softer and more pliable, thereby rolling easier.  If you’ve never bought corn relish before (and really, why would you have?), grocery stores tend to stock it in one of two places: with the marinated artichoke hearts or with the olives, usually on the highest shelf.  You won’t need the whole jar, but fear not, the stuff will keep forever in the fridge.

ingredients: tortilla rolls platter

8 oz. cream cheese, softened (use reduced fat if you wish)
½ cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup corn relish
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley (if using fresh, increase to 1 T)
fresh flour tortillas

accompaniments: salsa of your choice

Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl, blending thoroughly (you can easily do this a day or two ahead).  Smear a large spoonful or two of the mixture onto a tortilla, spreading thinly and leaving a border around the edge.  Roll up the tortilla tightly; place on a platter.

Repeat until all of the cream cheese mixture is gone.  Cover the plate of tortillas with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes to firm them up, making them easier to cut.  You can also leave them longer like this, just make sure they are covered well.

When it’s time, slice each tortilla roll-up into half-inch rounds with a sharp serrated knife.  Re-arrange on the platter and serve with a bowl of salsa.

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FEELIN’ KINDA SUNDAY: MOLASSES COOKIES

It’s raining in Memphis, and I may have to make these cookies today.

molasses cookies stacked

Since I work in a Jewish school, today was a half-day for Rosh Hashanah (L’Shana Tovah, ya’ll!), which I decided to take all the way off so I could fly home for a few days. As many of you know, I spent most of the summer here with my mom, writing, blogging, eating her amazing food, and few weeks ago, I realized that I just couldn’t hold out until Thanksgiving to see her again. So here I am. This is a strictly “Mom-visit” weekend, which means I have kept my plans secret up until now so as to avoid the flurry-of-plan-making that inevitably occurs. There are many people I love here, many people I’d love to see, but Veena takes priority. With one exception: these boys.

boys

I’ve written previously about how my sense of family has much more to do with love, proximity, and knowing than about blood and marriage. That’s why I claim John and Henry, my dear friends Kate and Stephen’s twins, as mine even though I’m not related to them in any way, shape, or form. As John put it this summer, I’m their Nishta.

The story of how I came to be their Nishta has very much been on my mind of late. You see, Kate was my teacher in high school. She taught me World Religions as a junior, and my locker was fortuitously located across a narrow hallway from her office. I thought she was so, so cool and lovely and smart and kind and I did what some of my students do for me now, finding every possible reason to ask her a question, to linger after school, to bring her little gifts and notes and read the books that she suggested and work really hard in her class.

It’s a wonder to me, looking back on it, that I didn’t drive her totally nuts. Even more a wonder that we grew to be friends over time, via emails and letters and packages and long talks over chai. I got to know her husband Stephen, who is pretty fantastic in his own right; I got to play fairy godmother for one very magical summer, a role I reprise every time I’m in town. I cannot overestimate the space that her generosity takes up in the file cabinet of memories from that time of my life. Her attention and encouragement, which I know from experience require heaps of patience, gave me a great deal of space and comfort.

Kate can and should be credited with many things: planting the seed for me to be a Religious Studies major, dismantling my irrational fear of poetry, gifting me a first-edition Annie Dillard, and sending me off to college with the excellent advice: “Drink the beer while it’s still cold.” And so I show my gratefulness to the world by reversing the roles, sitting behind my desk while students fill my room after school, reaching out for handfuls of snacks, advice, hugs, love.

As for Kate, well, there’s really no way to adequately thank her and her family for allowing me so intimately into their lives. I mostly just show up with love, joy, and gratitude, as I will tonight when my mom and I go over for dinner. There will probably also be some molasses cookies in tow, and hopefully they will manage to say all of the things that language feels inadequate for.

molasses cookies with milk

MOLASSES COOKIES

These are taken from an NPR story my mom sent me years ago. I had been trying to perfect a recipe for molasses cookies, but quickly discarded my own efforts because this is really the only recipe you need. I’ve bumped up the spice quotient because, well, I’m brown. I like spice!

Plan ahead to make sure you’ll have adequate chilling time for the dough, which you can leave overnight if need be. Also be sure to watch the cookies carefully in the oven—they’ll still seem mushy to you when you take them out, but will firm up when cooling, leaving a perfectly chewy cookie behind. They won’t last long, I guar-an-tee.

ingredients: molasses cookies before baking

3/4 cup melted butter

1/4 cup molasses (grease your measuring cup with baking spray before pouring, it will save you clean-up trouble!)

1 egg

1 cup sugar, plus extra for dipping

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. salt

Combine the melted butter, sugar, molasses and egg in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly before sifting the dry ingredients into the same bowl and mixing again. Chill dough at least two hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll them sugar. Place them on a greased cookie sheet VERY FAR APART—they will spread a lot! Flatten each one with a fork, making a cross-hatch pattern to encourage the cookies (can cookies be encouraged?) to promote even spreading.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until flat and dark brown. Cool on racks, as the cookies will be very delicate until they’ve cooled a bit. Perfect with a glass of milk or milk-substitute!

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