Simple foods

I love simple foods. These are frequently foods that originate in cultures that are old, poor, or both. These are also civilizations that have found ways to fill their dietary needs with these foods so that they don't, you know, die.

This recipe is scalable, either up or down (this is quite a bit of food. I decided to make it on a Friday night with the expectation it would last me at least the weekend). It's the lazy version of this (I didn't make the tortillas or the salsa).

Tacos

Ingredients

• 2 cups rice
• 2 cans black beans, rinsed
• 2 cups salsa
• 1 tbsp hot sauce (optional)
• 1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or jack)
• corn tortillas

Put the rice on to cook. I use a rice cooker, so I use a 1:1 rice:water ratio to make it a little bit dry. If you're making the rice in a saucepan, you probably want to go 1:2 rice:water.

In a saucepan, combine black beans, salsa and hot sauce. Bring to a boil then simmer, stirring occasionally.

Warm the tortiallas – you can do this either in a frying pan (a half minute or so on each side over medium heat) or the microwave (about 15 seconds for two).

Onto a tortilla, spoon rice, then salsa and bean mixture, then sprinkle some cheese. I put two in the microwave for an additional 20 seconds to melt the cheese, but that's up to you.

Eat.

Make me chicken soup?

You're sick? You're broke? No energy? You wish someone would just make you some chicken soup?

Quit your whining. Here's how you do it, on a budget, and quickly.

You'll need:

• 6 drumsticks ($1.42) [You could splurge $5 and get a whole chicken, but I'm trying to keep it cheap for you].
• 1 can of chicken stock (69 cents)
• 1 large onion (99 cents)
• 1 large potato (79 cents) [optional]
• 4 carrots (50 cents)
• 2 celery stalks (30 cents)

[With the drumsticks and the potato, we're at $4.69.]

Put the chicken in a pot, skin and all. Pour the chicken stock in there, put some water on, put it on high heat.

Peel the onion, and chop it into quarters (it will separate), and drop it in the water. Peel and chop the potato, add it to the water. Chop the carrots and celery, add them to your soup.

With me? We're at, what, 6 minutes, and less than $5?

Here's the tough part: wait until it comes to a boil. Stir.

Turn the heat down to medium and cover, then go take a 2-hour nap (seriously, you're sick, you need the rest).

When you wake up, pick up each drumstick with some tongs, the skin and meat should more or less fall right off the bone (you may have to encourage it with a fork). You can toss the bones, and it's up to you whether you leave the skin in the soup or not (it's got kind of a strange consistency, you might want to pull it out).

You're all set to eat, now. Get better.

Recipe: Pasta with seafood cream sauce

Can I just brag for a moment how amazing I am in the kitchen? OK, I'm done. Now, read on. Unless you have an eating disorder, as you will get fat just reading this recipe.

You'll need:

1.5 sticks of butter
1.5 pints of cream (or half-and-half, whatever)
8oz water
8oz sharp cheddar, chopped up into manageable pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
Broccoli, chopped
Salmon, cut into bite-sized pieces
Bay scallops
Shrimp
Salt, rosemary and basil to taste

Melt the butter. Sauté the garlic and onion. Add a half pint of cream, and bring to a simmer.

Add the cheese, stirring, then add the water. Stir until the cheese melts. Add the broccoli.

Add the rest of the cream. Add salmon, shrimp, scallops, and spices. Keep at a simmer until shrimp and seafood are cooked. Serve over pasta.

Enjoyed with a 2006 Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay (PDF).

Pasta with chicken in vodka cream sauce

I took my first shot at vodka cream sauce this weekend. It was the result of still having about a cup left sitting in the fifth of vodka I'd bought for a party three years ago.

This was easy, and it came out awesome. Also, the alcohol is boiled out, so don't sweat that if you decide to try to make it.

You'll need:

• olive oil
• garlic
• vodka
• cream (about twice as much cream as vodka)
• diced tomatoes (I was feeling lazy so I used a 16-oz can)
• basil, thyme, oregano
• I like it spicy, so I also added some chili paste and crushed red pepper

Roast the garlic in the olive oil. Drain some of the liquid from the tomatoes, and add it to the pot. Bring to a simmer. Add vodka, cream, and spaces, bring to a boil, then bring it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for a while so the alcohol boils out.

Cook the chicken in the sauce so that it absorbs the flavor.

Pour over pasta.

Note: I roasted whole cloves of garlic and left them in. I happen to enjoy my garlic, so no big deal if I had forked a clove of garlic instead of a small piece of chicken. If you're cooking for guests, maybe you want to crush the garlic, or fish it out before adding the vodka and cream.

Dinner, the way it should be, with recipes

Amy, Dwayne, Libby and I did a long, slow dinner last night.

It's been my experience the past few years that doing dinner has meant arriving, sitting down for a drink and warm-up conversation, sitting down to eat, clearing the table, and regrouping for a cookie and a sitcom before wrapping up. Total time? Maybe two hours, probably less. It's a rather minor investment in time.

My guests arrived around 6:00 last night, and we sat down to appetizers. There was a bit of a warming-up period, as Libby had not yet met Amy and Dwayne. After maybe an hour and a half, we sat down to dinner. After clearing and doing a partial clean-up, we moved on to dessert, and everyone moved on a little before midnight.

That's how dinner's meant to be done.

Recipes

I'm presenting you these recipes as ingredients lists and preparation instructions. I do my measurements by taste, and I do my cooking by feel, so you'll have to have some confidence in the kitchen to follow these.

There were two eggplant appetizers, medallions and babaganouj.

Eggplant Medallions

Eggplant
Beefsteak tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar

You need to give yourself some pre-prep time for this. Slice the eggplant, and place it on a paper towel. Lightly salt it, and cover it with another paper towel. Let it sit for about 45 minutes. This draws out some of the liquid.

Bake the eggplant for about half an hour, then let it cool to room temperature.

On a serving tray, lay out slices of eggplant. Cover with balsamic vinegar. Top each slice of eggplant with a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, and a leaf of basil.

Serve chilled.

Babaganouj

Eggplant
Tomato
Roasted red peppers
Spanish olives
Olive oil
Water
Garlic salt
Rosemary

Purée everything in a blender. Serve cold with crackers or bread (we used Triscuits).

Served with two beers: Hennepin and Three Philosophers.

Dinner included a salad, topped salmon, asparagus and rice. It was paired with a 2007 Lindemann's Bin 65 Chardonnay. We decided universally the wine was mediocre, and we're not recommending it.

Salad

Mixed spring greens
Radishes
Grapes
Grape tomatoes
Walnuts
Feta cheese

Dressing: Balsamic vinegar, honey, oregano, basil

Salmon

Sauté Atlantic salmon filets in apricot nectar, Guinness, brown sugar and cinnamon. Top with topping (below).

Topping

Sauté chopped Cortland apples, walnuts, onions and raisins in butter and cinnamon.

Asparagus

Steam asparagus stalks in water seasoned with oregano and cloves.

Rice

Season brown rice with masala spices (usually a combination of cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and others).

Libby did dessert, Armagnac-prune-chocolate cakes topped with Armagnac whipped cream and Armagnac-soaked prunes. You'll have to watch her blog for the recipe (I'll update here when it goes up).

Dessert was served with American Honey, a bourbon-based, honey-flavored aperitif.

Simply Cooking: Dinner, with recipe

You may not know this about me: I'm a good cook. Also: I like personal twists on simple dishes. And so, here was dinner tonight.

I'm not going to give you measurements, since you'll do this to suit your quantity needs and taste preferences, but it's really easy.

(a) Steam some white rice
(b) Bring to a simmer: red beans, corn, salsa, cayenne pepper, black pepper, crushed red pepper (I like it spicy, can you tell?)
(c) spoon some rice into a bowl, put some of your beans and corn over it, and top with shredded cheese
(d) eat

Any questions?

The weekend in food prep; plus, an engagement


Beans getting ready for a pot of meaty, spicy chili. I slow-cook my chili; it takes a minimum of 30-something hours to be complete, and I generally make enough to eat for a week, and give some away. If you're local and you'd like some, feel free to leave a comment, and we'll figure out how to get you a serving or so.

Amy and Dwayne are getting married(!). They held a house-warming yesterday, and Dwayne proposed not long after Amy's parents arrived.

They really are an interesting couple. In addition to being a real racial mix – he is the son of a black man from the U.S. and a white woman from Poland, she is the Korean-born adopted daughter of a white couple – they are very different people with tastes that overlap in the right places.

When Amy invited me to the house-warming, she asked me to make stuffed jalapeño peppers.

Here is what they looked like before they went into the oven:

The steps are easy to remember; the preparation is not simple. They are stuffed only with cream cheese.

To do this, soften the cream cheese (I just leave it out of the refrigerator for a while), take the seeds out of the peppers, and put the cream cheese in the peppers.

I then put them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

Seeding and stuffing the peppers is something that takes some practice. I wore gloves this time, because usually when I make them, I deal with some level of pain for a few days, with oils from the pepper invading tiny open wounds, like dry skin or paper cuts.

Wearing gloves also gave me the idea that I could just stick my fingers in the cream cheese and fill the jalapeños that way. It turned out to be much easier than the spoon or knife methods I'd previously experimented with.

I went about half-and-half fancying the peppers up; I like them as they are, so I left them that way. Others I laid on a piece of roasted red pepper, added a Manzanillo olive (stuffed with pimiento) and a Buffalo-flavored cheese curd, for this result:

It went over fine, but I think I'm going to stick to just the peppers in the future.

I'll try to remember to get a photo of a bowl of chili up when it's finally ready to eat. Be warned, though: No, you can't have the recipe.

Tuesday night dinner


The lack of saturation on the cell phone photo doesn't do dinner justice.

Andrea's garden had quite the yield this season, and I was the happy recipient of some of the late-summer variety: red and yellow tomatoes, cucumber, squash, beans, a few peas (and also some recently canned peaches, not included in dinner).

The tomatoes, beans and peas were cooked in: (roughly) 2:2:1 butter:brandy:Southern Comfort, with mustard seed, celery salt and chili paste to taste. Cucumbers and squash were simmered separately in a little bit of olive oil with mustard seed and celery salt.

All veggies were combined and served over steamed white rice.

Eaten with a glass of Just Peachy by Swedish Hill.

Yum, as it were.