Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Iron Chef: Lunch!

"Well, judges, here we have Cheese Two Ways: a feta-garlic-toast alongside a cheddar quesadilla wedge, and served with a  peanut-studded clementine salad and pineapple garnish. Enjoy."
Necessity Laziness is the mother of invention. Because here's the thing: I can get through a week of making school lunches, but just barely. In the cartoon version, the green, palm-swaying oasis of Saturday would be, like, three feet from me, but I'm stuck in the desert of Friday morning, parched and ragged and clutching empty lunch boxes without a single idea left in my head. I will manage to eke out one final lunch (Cheese and crackers? PBJ tortilla?) before collapsing.

Only then, to my everlasting horror, the children seem to expect to eat lunch during the weekend also.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" I don't say. But here's what I do say: "Iron Chef lunch!" This is a contest that the children organize entirely on their own, whereby they are allowed to use anything in the house (leftovers are fair game) to make lunch for themselves and each other. Sometimes they seem to have a time limit ("10 minutes left!" they call to each other) and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they judge each other (amazingly, it is always a tie) and sometimes they don't bother, although there is always much discussion of presentation and flavor. Sometimes they have friends over and break into teams. Sometimes there is a mandatory ingredient everyone needs to use. They appear to have intuited that if they cover apricot jam with honey and rainbow sprinkles and call it lunch then the authorities will be brought in to shut down the entire operations, and so they prepare reasonably wholesome meals. And the grace! The flair! The utter stylishness with which they accomplish this! I cannot recommend enough that you let your kids have at it. But you have to be prepared to leave them alone, or I think that the whole thing won't work. Even if it means that they garnish toast with croutons or think that a salad needs "just a weensly more pickles." Plus, you maybe have to watch a little bit of awful tear-streaked food-contest TV first (you can do this on Hulu).

"Judges, I present you with Red Grape and Dill Havarti Crostini, with cashews, mint, and a strawberry vinaigrette."
"Judges! Enjoy this Cheese Plate. Garlic toasts, digestive biscuits, brie wedges, and house-spiced olive oil."
Ben and a small friend add the finishing touches to their Cheese Two Ways "platings."
Meanwhile, Birdy and her friend (and Strawberry) figure out how to glamorize leftover rice.
Which they do successfully. "Here we have a Peanut Rice Salad, with a peanut vinaigrette, roasted peanuts, dried cherries, and a cilantro garnish." It was crazily good.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Checking In Belatedly

I know your thoughts, like mine, have been with Boston and the runners, with the lost and the bereft. It's so sad in every way. I cried watching the celebration after they captured the surviving suspect: I understand the relief, of course, but my God--he's just a kid. It's beyond imagining, that kind of radical alienation from the most basic framework of compassion and fellowship. And then, of course, you must think of all the people, all around the world, who live with violence woven into the fabric of their every day. We ourselves are bodily unharmed and--thank you for thinking to ask--Michael was not running. 

I am posting a meal idea later today. Just checking in for right now, sending love.


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Baked Beans for a Barbecue

Hey. We never said we were trying to win Beautifullest Side Dish. Lay off.
Despite the fact that, some nights, it is all I can do to put Pizza Toast on the table, I love to have lots of people over for dinner. I really do. And as soon as the weather is nice, I like to make burgers and veggie burgers and huge salads and a ginormous pot of (cheap and cheerful) baked beans. Everybody loves them (by which I mean "most people like them pretty much"), and they're great if you're actually too lazy to make veggie burgers, because then you still have a protein to serve the vegetarians! (Sleazy but real, folks.) Also, if you got a pressure cooker like I told you to recommended, this is a very quick and effortless recipe. Otherwise, this is a very time-consuming and effortless recipe, and one that I'm not quite as sure about.

I am not sure why the beans look so weirdly lacquered here. 
A few notes: despite the unconscionable amount of sweetener, these are just about right. Less sweet than many canned varieties, but still familiar in their smoky sweetness. I'm sorry about the sugar. It's kind of the baked-bean thing, but you can eat all your beans unsweet the whole entire rest of the year. Also, I'm sorry about the liquid smoke. You'll feel like you might as well be ashing your American Spirit right into the pot, but it really adds the perfect smoky flavor, I've found. You can substitute smoked paprika or chipotles, but be mindful of the heat potential if you're serving heaps of potentially bean-eating wimps kids. Edited to add: I forgot to mention (thank you, readers, for reminding me!) that the only reason you need to add something smoky here is the absence of bacon. How the mighty have fallen! A year ago, I would have been like, "Chop a pound of bacon and fry it. Fry the onions in its rendered fat." That's what you really should do, if you can.

Baked Beans
Makes tons (10-20 servings)

1 cup of purchased barbecue sauce is a good substitute for the ketchup, molasses, vinegar, cloves, and liquid smoke—although I confess to liking the flavor better in the more-ingredients version. Still don’t hesitate: the beans are delicious that way.

4 cups pinto beans (about 2 pounds) (Navy beans are traditional, but my devotion to big, succulent pinto beans knows no limit.)
3 tablespoon kosher salt (divided use) (or half as much table salt)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 cups water
½ cup ketchup
½ cup molasses
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon dry mustard (I like Coleman's)
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Put the beans and 2 tablespoon salt in a pot and cover them with water by a generous 3 or 4 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat off, cover the pot, and leave them to soak for approximately an hour (a little more or less is fine!). Drain the beans.

Heat the oil in the bottom of your pressure cooker*, and sauté the onion over medium heat until soft and golden, around 8 or 10 minutes.

Add the drained beans to the pot, along with the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt, the six cups of water, and all the rest of the ingredients. Stir well. Seal the lid, bring the cooker to pressure, and cook at steady, low pressure for 35 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the pressure to release on its own.

Now take the lid off. The beans will seem too liquidy and fall-aparty, and you’ll think you’ve overcooked them. Fret not! With the lid off, simmer the beans over low heat for 30 minutes to an hour, until the beans firm up (oddly, they will) and the liquid gets nice and thick. Taste and adjust the seasonings (if they don’t taste robustly delicious, consider adding more salt, vinegar, or sugar). Serve.

* If you don’t have a pressure cooker (which you really should have, if you’re at all serious about beans), try this method instead, based on one in The Joy of Cooking:

Soak the beans, as above, but don’t add salt and don’t drain them. Instead, after an hour, bring them back to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are creamy but still intact. Drain them gently.

Now sauté the onions, as above, in a Dutch oven (or another lidded oven-safe pot), then add the beans, 3 cups of water (instead of 6) and the remaining ingredients (use 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt). Bake in a 250 oven until the liquid is thick and the beans are delicious: 4 to 5 hours. Taste for salt and other seasonings.

This is a nice, inexpensive way to make a huge side dish.
I like that the garlic powder turned away at the last second--so coy and mysterious!
Beans soaked and drained.
Half these onions were destined for the veggie burgers. It was kind of a twofer situation.
This is the watery stage, when you'll be despairing. No worries! They'll boil down nice and thick.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Why the librarian looked at me funny. . .

What? Fuck you, stupid fucking woolly little polar bear. You suck.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

It's that kind of week

Every day I say to myself, "I can't. I cannot make another dinner ever again. We'll have to go out or order a pizza or sit in the sealed garage with the car engine running." And every day I manage to pull myself together and pull dinner (not literally) out of my ass. We are out of whole-wheat pasta and out of canned beans and I have used almost all the root vegetables and the bags of frozen corn and frozen peas; I have one jar left of pickled beans and I can't think of a meal to make out of wild grape jam, even though, yes, there's still tons of it. "I really should shop," I say, and then don't. Last night we ate eggs and toast and clementines; the night before last we had (frozen) corn chowder and popovers; tonight we're eating tempeh bacon and roasted turnips and salad. It doesn't sound bad, and maybe it's not, and I do pride myself on making something out of nothing, but boy I am so sick of cooking with pantry dregs. Sigh. 

If you're my mom: Everything's totally fine! If you're a local friend: You should definitely invite us over for dinner.

This was dinner. No! I'm kidding! There's about to be an explanation.
I do, however, have two words of advice, and one of them's a compound word: butter-toasted breadcrumbs. They are making everything delicious right now, even the scrappiest salads and pastas and beans. I keep a huge jar of them in the freezer, and whenever I have stale odds and ends of good bread, I grind them up in the food processor and add them to the jar. Then they're available for any of your breadcrumb needs, but my favorite is to fry some in butter (add a clove of garlic if you like) until they're nice and crispy, which takes longer than you might imagine, then use them to top pasta, kale slaw, even a bowl of soup that needs a little crunch.

That's it. Except for Iota, which is an incredibly tiny and fun game, like a cross between Set and Qwirkle. It is a new favorite around here.