Monday, February 28, 2011

Smoky Saucy Chickpeas with Spinach

We were eating dinner with friends on Friday, and their son sighed and said, "I love beans. If I could, I'd eat beans every night." I watched Ben and Birdy to see if their pleasant good natures would crack open to emit a geyser of steaming culinary rage and boredom: "Are you crazy? We eat beans every single night! And it totally sucks!" But no. Just a mild: "Wow, you should come live with us, then!" Indeed. We eat a lot of beans. And by "a lot" I mean: a lot. Especially since I got my pressure cooker, which has turned the cooking of dried beans from a maddening exercise in eternity and hard-hearted chalkiness into a few thrilling minutes of steam and tender perfection. If you eat a lot of beans, I simply cannot recommend enough that you get a pressure cooker. (And, as always, if you have any questions about pressure cooking or the buying of a pressure cooker, please feel free to write me. My second career as a pro-bono pressure-cooker consultant is really taking off!)

The thing is, we eat beans in some form or other--with rice, in burritos, as soup, or just the beans themselves in shallow bowls with grated cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a lime wedge--more nights than we don't. Pintos, black beans, lentils, limas--and, of course, garbanzos, or "butt peas," as we have been known to call them. And these are not typically meals that very readily lend themselves to recipes here, as they are not really recipes at all. Cook a pound of pintos. Season them really well with salt. Serve in bowls with tortilla chips, shredded cabbage, and Smoked Tabasco. But this, below, is an actual recipe that I have been making on and off since Birdy was a baby--which is when I got my first tin of smoked paprika. Back then you had to order it from a specialty food company, and then wait for it to arrive by carrier pigeon--but now I feel totally unapologetic requiring that you use smoked paprika in this recipe because you can buy it at the supermarket! From friendly, regular old McCormick's! If you try making it without the smoked paprika, it will be very good, still--tangy, rich, and delightfully nutrient-dense--but it will be missing that flash of barbeque-hued excitement that tricks your taste buds into thinking they might be eating bacon. In other words, you will know you're eating chickpeas, which are perfectly tasty. But.

Smoky Saucy Chickpeas with Spinach
Serves 4-8
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 30 minutes (canned or pressure cooked beans) to 4 hours (dried beans cooked in a regular pot)

This recipe is adapted from in Paula Wolfert's recipe "Chickpea and Spinach Stew with Spanish Paprika" from the delightful cookbook Mediterranean Grains and Greeens, which I love to look at, but confess to not having cooked from a great deal. I admit that the difference between using to 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas and 1 pound dried is significant: the former will be saucier and spinachier, while the latter will be way garbanzoier. If you like, use 2/3 of the cooked peas for the stew, and save the rest for hummus. I used to serve this over couscous or brown rice, but right now I'm in a phase of serving it plain alongside hunks of fresh, buttered bread. It is delicious.

1 onion, finely chopped           
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 bay leaf
2 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained, or 1 1/2 cups dried, cooked
4 packed cups baby spinach (or, honestly, some or much more than this to tip the balance towards the spinach side of things)
More olive oil

If you're starting with dried chickpeas, soak and cook them until tender. In a pressure cooker, add a generous amount of salt and give them 14 minutes, then allow the steam to release naturally. In a pot, be sure to muster a generous attitude towards the peas and their stubborn desire to not be soft. Either way, pop in a bay leaf or two while they're cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium-low heat and sauté the onion with the salt, stirring occasionally and then more often as it starts to brown, until it's browning and soft, 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, then stir in the smoked paprika and sauté until just fragrant, a few seconds. Add the tomato sauce, sherry vinegar, and bay leaf, taste for salt (you'll likely want to add another 1/2-1 teaspoon) then stir in the drained chickpeas and cook until the flavors are well blended--around ten minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted and incorporated, 2 or 3 minutes. Taste for salt and vinegar--it should be lip-smacking in its tangy goodness--drizzle in another splash or two of olive oil, and serve.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Special Valentine

If there's one thing the kids and I can agree on, it's our love of gender stereotypes. Gosh, we do love them. Birdy enjoys nothing more than imagining herself one day weak and underpaid, teetering around on spike heels that she can just make out below her double-D fake boobs and pink whalebone spank-me Spanx. It's okay that pink's not her favorite color because it *is* her favorite color! I mean not actually, because her favorite color is turquoise, but conventionally, because she's a girl! And if the spike heels get in the way of the karate black belt she is working towards? That's a small price to play for the femininely helpless elegance of a broken ankle. 

To say nothing of Ben and his love of the color blue! Which is at least his 17th favorite color, if not his 16th! He loves blue and all things blue because he's a real boy's boy-y boy-boy. He can hardly wait for puberty when his beard will grow in and simultaneously push out of his facial pores all of the pesky feelings like compassion and empathy that might bog him down in his manhood ascendance to the supreme manly state of feelinglessness and domination and also the utterly natural footballish man-love of watching men tackle each other. Luckily there are no feelings to stir up! Phew.

It is all so good and right. And so, the kids and I were not surprised to see this pair of paint chips at the hardware store.

Sweet Baby Boy and Sweet Baby Girl. Of course. You would not want your customers to get mixed up, and so it's easiest just to make sure they know which is which, kind of like putting signs on the bathroom doors so you don't end up sitting on a urinal to pee. You wouldn't want to *by mistake* paint a room the wrong color and have everyone turn out transgendered and color-gay and whatnot, and so we were very grateful for the help. But imagine our delight when it turned out that one paint company had gone even one step further! 

And that's just for the boys! Birdy's going to paint her room Magenta Vagina or Vulva Rose. She can't decide.

Excellent recipes for two kinds of beets and butternut galette are here.


Butternut Galette with Roasted Onions, Pecans, and Blue Cheese

Here's my tip of the day: a game that Ben and his friend Ava invented (although it doubtless exists already) in which somebody chooses a word (candy, say), and then everyone has to convert it into a kind of acronym-sentence (Clementines and nectarines dangle yellowly.) We had so much fun playing it over dinner last night, and the kids are really good-natured about indulging my misspelled words, so long as I do the accent to go with my chosen spelling. For instance, for Ben's "jelly," they let me get away with the Slavic: "Jellyfish, eels, lionfish live yundervater."  We sat over empty plates and flickering, dying candles long into the night, so involved were we in our loony sentences. I can't recommend it enough. "It's amazing," Ben said, "how much fun you can have with just words!" Tell me about it.

Butternut Galette with Roasted Onions, Pecans, and Blue Cheese
Serves 4 for dinner, or 8 as an appetizer, or 16 if it's a potluck and you cut it very skinny
Active time: 25 minutes; total time 1 hour +

This is a free-form tart the point of which is to use a super-easy and tasty pastry to convert a random accumulation of cheese and vegetables into dinner. There are endless variations, many of which I have tried: pickled beets, blue cheese, and walnuts (yet another use for pickled beets!); apple slices, roasted onions, and smoked cheddar; thinly sliced potatoes (cook these first in a covered pan with olive oil, salt, and a splash of water until just tender), roasted onions, and cheddar. Oh, and the summer ones! Fresh tomatoes (cut in half, squeeze out some of the juicy guts, then slice), basil, pine nuts, and parmesan; corn, roasted chiles, and Monterey Jack. I am planning this week to make one with deeply sautéed cabbage, onions, and a nutty cheese, such as Parano or Gouda--but I thought this might be a little over-the-top Plebian to photograph. "You vill eat kraut pie, yes?"

1 small butternut squash (around 1-2 pounds--how's that for exact?)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
Kosher salt
A few sprigs fresh thyme or a pinch dried
1 smallish red or yellow onion, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups flour (I use half white and half spelt or whole-wheat)
1 stick salted butter, sliced into small pieces
1/4 cup sour cream whisked with 1/4 cup very cold water
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (or 1 heaping cup grated cheese such as cheddar or, yum, smoked cheddar)
1/2 cup pecan pieces

Heat the oven to 450 and line two baking sheets with foil. Trim the top and bottom from the squash and peel it, using a very sharp vegetable peeler or a paring knife. Slice it in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and stringy insides, and then slice it crosswise 1/3-inch thick. On one of the prepared baking sheets, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the thyme, then spread it into a single layer. On the other prepared baking sheet, toss the onion with the remaining oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and spread it into a single layer. Roast the vegetables until the squash is very tender and browning, and the onion is soft and brown--around 15 minutes for the onion, and 25-30 for the squash (I always cook the onion too long at this stage and then it burns later, so I'm trying to stop doing that). Toss the onion with the balsamic vinegar, and urn the oven down to 400.

While the vegetables cook prepare the dough: in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the flour with 3/4 teaspoon salt, then add the butter slices and pulse until the mixture just forms coarse crumbs. Pour the sour cream-water mixture through the feed tube and pulse again until the dough just starts to come together into large clumps. Turn the dough onto a work surface and gather it gently together, then press it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it in the freezer while the vegetables finish cooking.

When you are ready to assemble the tart, roll the floured dough out on a floured surface until it is a thin 12-inch circle (it doesn't need to be perfectly thin or a perfect circle!). Fold the dough loosely into quarters to transfer it to an ungreased baking sheet (simply removed the foil and veggies from one you've already used), then unfold it back into a circle. Arrange the squash over the dough, leaving a 1- or 2-inch border around the edge which you will fold over later. Arrange the cheese and pecans over the squash and then, finally, top with the onions and any of their vinegary juices that have accumulated in the pan. Fold the border over the filling, pleating as necessary to keep its shape; the center will be open.

Bake at 400 for 30 to 40 minutes until deeply golden. Cool briefly, then cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Oh, hello, February! You are looking very snowy this year. Which I love--the snow, that is. Not the ice as much. The ice, for instance, on our roof. The ice dams. We were joking about the whole curse-built-right-in aspect of "ice dams," only I think it's not enough. So we are calling them "ice fucks."

Anyways. If it were funnier, I'd post pictures of our various leaking ceilings and the buckets and the knotted pantyhose full of ice melt out on the roof. Only it's not funny (except maybe for Birdy saying "Why is there a panty-hoe on the roof?") so I'll post this instead:

That's a picture from this etsy site here, where I bought Ben and Birdy spoons for Valentine's Day. Shhh . . . But aren't they lovely? The ones I got in the mail are even lovelier! Beautifully mismatched and sentimental and gorgeous. The woman who made them emailed to ask if they were for boys or girls, since she has some more masculine spoons (?) for boys, and I started to answer her in a complicated way, and then it was just too complicated, so I wrote simply, "Girls. Thanks." Not that Ben wouldn't love to get a silver spoon with a big, er, truck or football or bow tie or cock on it. But he'll have to settle for a pretty one.

What else? Let's see. Will you check out my recipes on Brownies here, and Ben learning how to make a salad here. I can't tell you what a revelation this has been. Now every night he says, "Hey, Mama, should I make a salad?" And I say, "Oh, would you?" And he does. We are thrilled.

One last thing. I can't remember if I mentioned this piece, on charitable giving, that I wrote for Whole Living, but I'm linking to it because writing it changed my life.

Hope you guys are all staying warm and dry and happy. xoxo