Friday, January 5, 2024

For A Crowd: Mom's White Chili

Hey! Speaking of missing mom's cooking...

Today I'm posting for posterity a much-beloved recipe that covers a million bases often left vacant in this household, despite a mom's best efforts. What are these bases? you wonder. Off the top of my head, hear are a few:

EVERYONE LIKES IT! Except for like one week when one child, who requested it the time before, changed their mind. Some kids just like to remind you that humans always have the right to change their minds. Even on their birthdays, or visiting grandparents who make white chili because you said it was their favorite, or right when you get to the front of the Velocicoaster line, which you've sweatily endured for something like three hours. And it's true: human prerogative. Anyway, except for that one kid that one week, everyone likes this and asks for the recipe. (And now I can just say, check the blog!)

Makes a lot of chili. I guess that's one of the defining features of chili, right? Lots of it? And yet, I can't take the volume of this recipe for granted. Too much food has never been one of my kitchen problems. We waste little and the children are all quite big and continuing to bigger their bigness and they're quite physically active to boot and, so, they need a lot of food, and yet, despite being aware of this fact on a daily basis - admiring the hems of their pants ascending further from their shoes than is ideal from a fashion/warmth perspective, meeting a straight-on eyeballs gaze where once was a forehead - I find myself vaguely plagued by some misguided Depression-era frugality when I'm at the grocery store, thinking to myself, "should I double the recipe? No. That's a lot of chicken." Or beans. Or whatever. And then, invariably, we don't have enough dinner. It's a thing. But! Here, I don't even have to double it! It's just loads of dinner, in one pot, following one recipe, no multiplication required. Which brings me to...

It's super easy. There's barely even any chopping! No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients. Just your basic staples and some chicken (or no chicken, if you go the veggie route, but then a little more chopping).

Big on flavor, short on time. Seriously. Start to finish this takes 30 minutes, only 15 of which I'd consider "active" time.

Vegetarian option is just as good as the chicken version! I mean, I personally prefer it with chicken. But! If you're not a carnivore, the meatless option is delicious. (I enjoyed it for lunch just this afternoon and, no complaints.)

There are accoutrements! It's like El Ranchito circa 2001, my friends. Need I say more? Oh, I do? On the rocks with extra salt? What do you mean you're closing? I'm picturing an adult male blonde named Ben crashing our party? We met on the internet and he was perhaps in the FBI or was a designer of WMDs? And every second he spent at our table was cringily awkward but also magical, due to a combustive combination of tequila and salt and heaps of jalapeños and onions and the kind of friendship that makes you want time to stand still? (And, scene.) 

(A thought: Taylor Swift laments a lost love like so: You painted all my nights a color I have searched for since. I stopped searching (thanks, therapy!) but can still quite readily, lovingly, vividly conjure a nostalgic longing for my Newport Beach posse. Those nights were a bold, energizing color.)

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I digress! This chili is not Mama Avila's soup, but it is MAMA EDITH's soup! And I don't just mean me, the Edith in Cake and Edith. I also mean my mom, who is also named Edith. (True story!) My Mom Edith makes this soup especially for me when we are visiting one another because it's been a favorite of mine since my consumption repertoire consisted of five very particular things (four of which were refined carbohydrates). My Mom Edith is pretty famous for making consistently, impressively spectacular food, and always more than enough of it.


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Also, did I mention that EVERYONE LIKES THIS CHILI? I really can't downplay that one. You know those admirable folks who have to try out a recipe before they make it for company? Maybe you are one of them, even? Okay, so if you are, take a break this time! Everyone will like your risky new white chili recipe on your first go. I promise! Go get a pedicure instead.

Mom's White Chili
This recipe is slightly adapted from a New Mexico restaurant-specific cookbook (I'll give proper credit after some research!)
Yield: 10-15 servings

4 tablespoons butter or olive oil (or a mix)
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeño, seeds removed if you like less heat, minced (optional)
1 cup uncooked white rice
3 quarts vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 cans (15.5 oz) garbanzo beans, undrained
2 cans (15.5 oz) hominy, undrained (I can only find 25.5 oz cans of hominy, so I use just one of those)
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see below for vegetarian variation)
2 cans (4 oz) diced green chilies (OR, you could use one large poblano chili - dice and sauté with onion and jalapeño)
Salt and pepper

For serving: lime wedges, crumbled queso fresco, pico de gallo, thinly sliced cabbage, cilantro, sliced avocado, tortilla chips

In a large soup pot, melt butter or heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onions, half a teaspoon salt, and jalapeno, if using (and poblano, if you go the fresh route), and sauté for 5 minutes. Add rice and sauté until rice is opaque. Add broth, cumin and coriander, garbanzo beans and hominy with their liquids, chicken, and diced green chilies. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken and shred or dice into bite-sized pieces. Return to the pot. Taste and adjust for seasoning. You might need to add salt, depending on how salty your broth and bean liquids are.

Serve with accoutrements. And a margarita??

Vegetarian Version: Omit the chicken. Add two large chopped carrots and two peeled and chopped parsnips when you add the broth, etc. It's veggie-centric and tasty! 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Resolving to Eat More Vegetables for Dinner: Caprese Orzo Salad

In January, we eat healthier! Here, let me show you.

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This is our go-to lately for healthy meets crowd-pleasing. It makes a big enough batch for five decent-sized dinners (supplemented with another veggie side, in this case roasted delicata squash) and next-day lunches for two. My middle schooler brings it in a thermos to school as a break from the tragic tedium of sunbutter and jam sandwiches, which he has opened his lunchbox to discover in disappointment approximately 840 times in the last 7.5 years. (I just did some actual math to come up with that estimate and now can see why he's over it.)

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I start with a bunch of baby greens, chopped with kitchen shears into bite-sized bits. Then I add halved baby tomatoes, orzo, shallot, a good amount of basil, fresh mozzarella pearls, chickpeas (or sometimes brown or green lentils that I cook for ten minutes in salted water before adding the orzo and shallot) and a drizzle of vinaigrette. Toss and let's eat. Except not so much let's eat right away, because this is a good make-ahead option, so it's more like, toss and put in fridge for folks to grab in between evening commitments, which are many during this thick, frenetic, delightful era we currently occupy.

If you try it, I hope you like it! And I also hope that someday, after my children have fled the nest but before the world's gone post-electric, this website can be a resource to them when they crave mom's food but just can't stomach another SBJ sandwich.

Caprese Orzo Salad
Yield: 6 servings

1 cup orzo
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
5-oz bag baby spinach or baby kale (or any kind of sturdy but soft greens you like, about 3 cups)
1 pint tiny tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked or canned, drained chickpeas
8-oz package of mozzarella pearls (drained if they are water-packed)
Big handful of basil
Your favorite sweetish vinaigrette (or mine, see below)

Optional additions that are nice if you like these things: big handful of parsley, tablespoon of capers, chopped up artichoke hearts or olives from a can

Bring about a quart of salted water to boil in a medium saucepan. Add orzo and shallot and cook until al dente (about 8-9 minutes). Strain and set aside to cool in strainer.

Meanwhile: chop up your spinach and halve your tomatoes. Thinly slice your basil and any other additions you're going with. Put everything in a large bowl, drizzle with vinaigrette, and toss. Taste and add some more salt, pepper, acid (lemon juice or vinegar), or oil if needed.

For my "vinaigrette," I just drizzle/zest/sprinkle all these ingredients on the salad before tossing (amounts listed are best-guesses. Of course adjust according to your palate's preference!)...

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave or date syrup (Trader Joe's sells a tasty, affordable date syrup, which is the drizzle you see in the photos)
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Penzey's lemon pepper (which has salt in it AND which makes everything taste delicious)

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting (egg-free / vegan option)

Good morning! I've got an itch to do something creative but am also kind of low on energy and ideas. So the best I could manage was checking off an item on my to-do list: save and share pumpkin bars recipe.
 
I tinkered around quite a bit to get these right and want to ensure the successful outcome is repeatable. Here's the deal: I often think pumpkin "bars" are mislabeled pumpkin cake - delicate crumb, sort of spongy, airy, etc. All well and good, but sometimes I want a pumpkin bar that's denser, with a crumbly chew I can savor, like a brownie or blondie. Dense baked goods frequently rely on eggs to afford that rich texture without compromising moisture. So all that tinkering was to figure out a blondie-style pumpkin bar, sans eggs. And I think I did it!

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See?

It's got butter in it, and I topped it with a cream cheese frosting. I added some vegan options below though, for anyone who might like those.

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See below, our contribution to the festivities: all the carbs. Also, notwithstanding indications to the contrary, this post has certainly not been brought to you by Ove' Glove and Apple.

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Pumpkin Bars
Yield: 13 X 9" pan (20 v. generously-sized bars)

3 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter (could use vegan butter sticks)
1 15-oz can pumpkin
2 tablespoons molasses

Grease a 9 X 13" pan. (If you want to serve these straight from the pan, just greasing is sufficient. If you want to take them all out and cut them to bring to your neighbor's Thanksgiving dinner, then you might want to line pan with parchment paper for easy removal.) Preheat overn to 350.

Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cream together sugar and butter in your biggest bowl. Add in pumpkin and molasses and beat until smooth. Add in dry ingredients and stir gently until there are no floury streaks left.

The batter will be pretty thick, closer to cookie dough than cake batter. Spread it into a pan and, if needed, use a wet off-set spatula to spread it evenly into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife in the center and seeing if it comes out clean. If it's still coated in batter, bake for 5-min increments until done. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
From All Recipes

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Using an electric mixer, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy and smooth. Add in powdered sugar and cinnamon and mix until you've got a spreadable frosting.

Dairy-free alternatives: use vegan cream cheese and butter and follow recipe above. Or, option two: cream together 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup vegan butter or shortening, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 cup soy milk or other non-dairy milk, one tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta
(inspired by "Baked Feta Pasta" TikTok sensation)

April it is, and characteristically erratic. So far, we've had snowstorms bookend a steamy, sunburning week of highs-in-the-upper-80s. We have lilac buds and tulip blooms and all kinds of green shoots and stalks and tendrils fighting to stake their claim among fifty shades of brown. We've enjoyed wet walks and dry walks and pothole birdbaths and patio dining and a trip to the North Shore and too much birthday cake. There has also been a great deal of dining in. I'm trying to be better at family dinner, historically not where I've brought my A-game. There are just too many of them. Day after day after every day. But! I've recently allowed myself to accept and indulge the great unifying nature of pasta, and that's helped. I resisted pasta as a dinner staple for a long time (refined carbs and all) but the family likes it. It's quick and easy. There is no end to its variations. Inflation hasn't hit it so badly yet. And makes the absolute best leftovers.

Pasta

Last night's pasta was a variation on a theme. About a year ago I first tried out the Baked Feta Pasta that got a lot of press coverage after it broke the internets when it debuted as viral TikTok sensation. (Or something? I don't even know the right words to use when TikTok is involved, or who should get credit for this recipe. I can speak to its deliciousness though. It's delicious.) At any rate! I made this a couple times almost exactly as written (less oil). Last time, as my spouse and I savored the feta tang, and while our children complained it was "too sour," I wondered whether a hunk of Boursin would work just as well, affording a milder, family-friendlier flavor. (My children are pretty picky. They hate my A-game.) I finally gave it a go last night and - YES! - it's delightful. Straight-up silky-smooth creamy. The combination of onions, garlic, lemon zest, and my favorite dried herb blend ensure it's at least as flavorful as the feta version. Everybody wins.

My other changes from the original are these: cut oil in half, used dried herbs instead of fresh thyme (unless it's growing in my summer herb garden, I find thyme a bit too fussy and not-my-favorite-enough to be worth it), went with baby red onions instead of shallot (first local farm produce of the season!!), and added a bag of baby spinach. That's gnocchi in the photos, but I've used whatever shelf-stable pasta is stashed in my cupboards and it's always turned out great. It's kind of heavy, as far as weeknight dinners go, so we ate it with a big green salad last night, and roasted cauliflower or green beans when it was colder out.

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Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta
Serves 4-5

2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
1 small red onion or shallot, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons dried herb blend (better yet: Mrs. Dash or Penzey's wonderful rendition of same: Mural of Flavor)
1 package Boursin cheese* (or 6- to 8-oz block of feta)
10-12 oz pasta, cooked according to package instructions

To finish:
5 oz baby spinach
Zest of 1 lemon
Fresh basil, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss tomatoes, onion, and garlic with 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 9X13" baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and dried herbs. Make a space in the center of the mixture and put the Boursin cheese there. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil on the cheese. Bake for 40 minutes or so, until tomatoes have started to burst a bit and the Boursin has browned on top slightly.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and cook your pasta. Coordinate the pasta cooking time with your sauce-in-the-making. You'll want the pasta to be done just a minute or two before the tomatoes and Boursin. Reserve a cup of pasta water before straining.

Remove baking dish from oven. Add pasta and baby spinach, top with lemon zest, and stir until spinach wilts, and the Boursin and tomatoes turn into a creamy sauce, coating pasta. If you'd like the sauce thinner, add some pasta water, two tablespoons at a time. (I did this with the feta, but found the Boursin version was saucy enough on its own, and did not add any pasta water.) Sprinkle with basil leaves before serving.

*Tip: put the Boursin in the freezer while the oven preheats (10 minutes or so). That firms it up so you don't lose any bits with the foil encasing it.