Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Saved by red beans and rice

To celebrate Mardi Gras, I decided to try and to make gumbo.

I failed.

It wasn’t the fault of the recipe, I just don’t think I’m hard-wired to stand in front of a stove for an hour stirring flour and oil to make a roux—there’s just no pleasure in that for me at all. So since I had the ingredients on hand, I decided instead to make red beans and rice. Now that’s a Louisiana dish I can understand.

At my house when I was a kid, we ate a lot of beans. Weekly, we’d have pinto bean night, bean salad night and red beans and rice night. The latter was my favorite, as mom slow cooked the beans with sausage, lots of spices and love.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

End of winter carrot and raisin salad

The end of February can be a very tiring time. You’re tired of wearing that long, black, down-filled coat that keeps you warm but makes you look like a stack of tires. You’re tired of the sun staying in the sky longer without generating any extra heat. And you’re tired of seeing at the farmer’s market only potatoes, winter squash and carrots. Fortunately, with the carrots you can make a sweet salad that holds a promise of warmer days to come: carrot and raisin salad.

I’m a late convert to carrot and raisin salad. When I was in college I had a friend who would go nuts whenever they put some out on the salad bar. She’d eat bowl after bowl and I’d just be horrified. Who wants to eats shredded carrots with raisins? It just seemed like a bad combination.

And then there were the endless church suppers where you could always find a big bowl of it in potluck purgatory alongside the green jiggling Jell-O and fruit salad made with tiny marshmallows. Nope, carrot and raisin salad just wasn’t for me.

But then, I grew up and my palate changed. I’ve started to enjoy raisins. And I’ve always loved carrots. So one day I decided to take the plunge and make a batch.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cornbread -- how sweet it is

A few weeks ago, I had a lovely lunch at Dovetail, an Upper West Side restaurant that serves what I would call creative comfort food. The meal was good but the one thing that stood out for me (besides the excellent company) was the bread they served—it was a small, sweet loaf made with cornmeal that was by far the highlight of the meal.

Now, I’ve long said that cornbread made with sugar is no longer bread—it’s cake. That isn’t to say that it’s not delicious, but don’t go serving it alongside a bowl of beans or a plate of greens because sweet cornbread is best saved for dessert. (And I'm not alone in this belief.)

That said, while it doesn’t have a role during the main course, sweet cornbread at the end of the meal can be a wonderful thing. And for some reason I’ve always felt like it’s healthier than your usual dessert, even though with all the sugar and butter involved, it’s certainly not as virtuous as eating, say, an apple.

But perhaps my feeling goes back to when I was young. Whenever my family went to Luby’s, I was never allowed to get dessert. But I was allowed to get a sweet corn muffin to eat at the end of the meal, which in my mind was just as good if not better than any other dessert I might have chosen.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A more precise Texas chili recipe

chiliI love to buy chiles, especially when I find ones that are soft and pliant, so fresh you can imagine they were drying in a Mexican field maybe just last week.

I have to be careful, however, when shopping because my storage space is very limited. And the other day when I opened my cabinet, out came tumbling three bags of chiles that hit me on the head. I then realized that I needed to make something that would use up a lot of my supply. Fortunately, there was a big football game and nothing pleases people watching winter sports more than a big bowl of spicy red chili.

Now, I’ve written about chili before and provided you with general guidelines on how I make my chili. I don’t use beans, I don’t use tomatoes but most importantly, I don’t use measurements. It works for me, but can be frustrating if you’ve never made chili and desire more strict instructions.

chiliSo for this batch, I decided to multi-task and wrote down what I was adding to the pot when I made my what I dubbed my seven-chile chili. Of course, there were a couple of mishaps—I added way too many ground cloves in the beginning and accidentally added cardamom instead of coriander during one spice addition. But the best thing about chili is that the longer it cooks, the flavors both deepen and blend into a complex dish where the sum of the bowl is greater than its parts.

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