Homemade Comfort

Rough times here, long story, nothing that impacts me personally but impacting my work life and, as a result, I’ve been working looooong hours.  So last Saturday, in a few hours of at home time, I decided to make chicken tacos which always feel like a comfort food to me.

I took it a step further and made my own tortillas.  I can not recommend this more.  They were easy, didn’t take much time and were so delicious.  Soft, flaky, thick- just the kind of comfort carb I crave when things are hard.  So, when times are tough, pull together the simple ingredients and make yourself some tortillas to serve with soup, chicken or even solo.  Yum.

Flour Tortillas

Ingredients

2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Directions

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

photo 1Combine the water and oil in a measuring cup.  Don’t bother trying to mix it- we all know oil and water don’t mix…

photo 2Pour the liquid into the flour and stir.  You’ll have a kind of shaggy dough.

photo 3Once it’s mostly combined, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth- maybe 12 times or so- adding flour or water as needed to make a soft, smooth dough.

photo 4Let it rest for about ten minutes.  Then shape it into a sort of log shape.

photo 1Divide it into eight pieces.  I did this by cutting it in half and then cutting each half in half.  Then I divided those in half… you get the idea.

photo 2photo 3Flatten and using a rolling pin, roll each piece into about 7- 8 inch circles.  I suck at this.

photo 4I can’t ever make true circles and if I were going to make tortillas on a regular basis I might think about investing in a tortilla press.  For now I’ll just go with the imperfect shape.

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat.  Spray with nonstick cooking spray or lightly oil it.  Once the pan is hot, throw in one tortilla.

photo 5Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the underside starts to brown and blister.  Then flip and cook another minute.

photo 2Keep them warm in a low oven until you are ready to serve them.  Fill with cheese, beans, meat, veggies, whatever.  Or eat plain. They are really good. Y’know, if you like carbs.

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5774

L’shanah tovah!  Happy new year!  Once again, Rosh HaShanah is upon us.  This year it came so very early.  So early, in fact, that it is still 80 degrees and no one feels like eating fall food.

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Family photo for the new year.

Which is handy since this year, for the first time in at least ten years (probably more), I did not host a gathering for the holiday.  I started adjuncting (is that a word) at a new college yesterday and was not able to either cancel my class (first one of the semester) or manage to cook for all.  I had thought maybe a brunch today but most of those who would attend were working (naturally).

So it was just a small family dinner this time.  I made a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed greens (leeks, kale and spinach with garlic), cole slaw (I had some cabbage to use up) and cauliflower. Not really holiday food.  But the desserts…. those involved the apple and honey that the holiday requires.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_15I made individual upside-down honey apple cakes and a honey walnut apple crisp.  Neither were particularly fancy or pretty but both were pretty delicious and homey feeling.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his How to Cook Everything book– but I have the app on my iphone– it was free or very, very discounted at one point- and it was ok.  Kind of bland so if I were to do it again, I’d probably up the apples and maybe incorporate them into the batter as well.  The apple crisp was a total improvisation.

Either way, I wish you all a new year filled with joy, laughter, happiness and love and free from pain, sorrow and hardship.  Happy 5774!

Mini Honey Apple Upside Down Cake (Mark Bittman)

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

2-3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

a few tablespoons of honey

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and use it to liberally grease the muffin tins- along the sides as well as the bottom.  You may not use all the butter but there should be a good amount in the tin when you’re done.  Sprinkle the brown sugar in the bottom of each muffin slot.

Peel, core and chop your apples.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_14MIx them with the honey so that they are coated.  Sprinkle these into the muffin slots on top of the brown sugar.  Set this aside.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_13In a medium bowl, mix the salt, sugar, flour and baking soda.  Technically, Mark suggests to mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and to add them gradually to the dry ingredients.  I did not do this.  Instead, I dump the wet, unmixed, into the bowl and then mixed it all that way.  Either way you choose, add the buttermilk, eggs, and the rest of the butter (melted) to the dry ingredients and beat until combined.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_11Pour the batter into each muffin tin, ensuring that all the apples are covered.  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_6Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Run a knife or soft spatula around the sides of each muffin to loosen them.  Then, place something large, like a sheet pan over them.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_4Flip this over.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_3Each little cake should release.  If it doesn’t, sort of wiggle and shake the pan and if that still doesn’t work, use the soft spatula to scrape out the rest and sort of put it back together with your fingers.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_1Let them cool a bit before you eat them as the sugar/butter/apple combo is the temperature, roughly, of molten lava.

I had lots of apples leftover and so made a sort of shallow dish apple crisp.

Improvised Apple Crisp

Ingredients

1-2 peeled, chopped apples

few tablespoons of honey

dash or two of cinnamon

1/2-1 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar (white)

1 stick of butter, cool, sliced into cubes

Directions

Toss your apples with the honey and cinnamon.  Add the walnuts and place into a shallow-ish baking dish.  I used a pie plate.  (Full disclosure- I forgot I had walnuts and added them in on top of the apples but under the topping.  If I did it again, I’d mix it in with the apples so this is a case of do as I say, not as I did!)

My HipstaPrint 995575301_10

In a small bowl, mix the flour and sugar. You can add some cinnamon here, if you like.  Cube your butter.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_9

With clean hands or a pastry cutter, add the butter.  Mush it around until it’s sort of sandy and pebbly feeling.

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Spread/sprinkle the topping over the walnut-apple mixture.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_7Bake at 425 for 10-20 minutes or until the top starts to brown.  Turn the oven down to 350 and bake until the apples are tender.

My HipstaPrint 995575301

Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

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After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

photo 4

Kiss Me, I’m (1/4) Irish!

Living in Boston means that St Patrick’s Day is a true holiday. There’s the parade in Southie, the green beer everywhere and the long standing tradition of corned beef and cabbage. I’ve heard, though I am not sure it is true, that there are more celebrating the day here than in Ireland itself.

In my younger, before children days, I’d go my favorite Irish bar, conveniently located a block from where I lived at the time. The Hippo and I spent many an afternoon there, talking with Mike, the older Irish bartender, who would tell us we were too pretty to put up with crappy guys or that we were too cute to stay single for long. St. Patrick’s day there was like any other day but more crowded and more green.

Now that I have two kids, three jobs, two pets and assorted other responsibilities, my bar days are pretty much over.  I am ok with this, as I never really took to green beer anyway.  I’ll be spending the day of the parade at the ballet (talk about a 180!).  Tonight, however, I celebrated through food, making corned beef and my own version of colcannon.  I share it with you in case you, too, have moved past your green beer days.

photo 5

Corned Beef and Colcannon, 1/4 Irish style

Corned Beef

1 first cut brisket (I use the Wellshire Farms one) with the seasoning packet

Enough water to cover

1/2 cup brown (or dijon but brown is better) mustard

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup water

Directions:

Throw the corned beef along with the seasoning into a slow cooker. Cover with hot water so that the meat is submerged by about an inch.  Cook on high for 8 hours.  Take it out and put it on a sheet or broiler pan.  Let it start to cool a bit and heat your oven to 350.  In a small saucepan, combine the mustard, water and sugar.  Cook over medium high heat for about five minutes, so that it starts to reduce a bit.

photo 2Brush some over the top of your meat and put the meat in the oven.  Cook for about half an hour, basting every five to ten minutes.  Take the meat out and let it rest for about five to ten minutes before slicing.

Colcannon (sort of)

Ingredients

4 potatoes, peeled and sliced into even pieces

1 stick of butter (yes, I said a stick)

2-3 tablespoons sour cream or plain greek yogurt

1/2 onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

several handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and dried

Directions

Place potatoes into a saucepan and cover with water.  Add a generous amount of salt.  Boil over high heat until potatoes are soft.  Drain and add the potatoes back to the pot.  Mash them.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, taking care not to let the garlic burn.  Add the spinach and mix until it wilts.  Dump the whole thing in with the potatoes and mix well with a large spoon.  You may need to add a bit of milk or more butter or sour cream/greek yogurt to get the texture you like.

photo 1We also made brownies, at the toddler’s request.  photo 3They were great- fudgy and sweet and just the right amount of crunch on the top. We used this recipe.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Don’t forget to wear green and be safe!!

 

Copy Constant

One of my favorite people in the world writes one of my favorite food blogs in the world, The Hungry Hippo.  Her resolution for 2013 is to make more of the recipes from the cookbooks she owns.  These are cookbooks I love and I will sit for hours and browse them when I visit her (I can do this because she’s the one playing with my kids while I do).  She posted this recipe a few weeks ago (from a Parisian cookbook, no less!) and I could not wait to try it.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Gratin

Ingredients:
2 cups of broccoli
2 cups of cauliflower
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of flour
1 1/3 cups milk (I used whole)
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup cheese (according to the Hippo, the recipe called for gruyere, she used 1/3 C cheddar, 1/3 C parm and I used what I had in my fridge.  I think it was jack and cheddar, maybe?) plus some extra for sprinkling
about 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
salt and pepper
sprinkle of nutmeg (I skipped this)

Directions

Wash and chop your veggies into same size florets.

IMG_4732 Put some water on to boil and once it has come to a rolling boil, add the florets.  Cook them for 1-2 minutes.  Take them out immediately- you don’t want them to get mushy, just slightly less crisp.  IMG_4734Set them aside and work on the sauce.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  When it has melted, add the flour and whisk together, letting it cook for a minute to get the raw flour taste out.  Slowly whisk in the milk and let it thicken. Take your pan off the heat and add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking while you do.  Try to avoid making scrambled eggs in your sauce.  Add the cheese, again, whisking while you do so that it will melt evenly.  Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if using).

IMG_4736I used ham in mine, even though the Hippo did not.  I cubed a ham steak.

IMG_4733Then I added it to a hot frying pan to brown and crisp it over medium high heat.

IMG_4735Butter a casserole dish and add your veggies.

IMG_4737Sprinkle the ham around to fill in the spaces.

IMG_4738Pour your sauce over this.

IMG_4739Mix your breadcrumbs with some of the cheese and sprinkle on top.

IMG_4740Bake at 400 until the top is golden brown and it’s heated through and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

IMG_4741This could be a side dish but with the added meat, it can also be a lovely main dish.  The egg yolks add a silkiness to the sauce that isn’t there in a basic white sauce.

IMG_4742It was good for a cold night.

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Go To Foods

As you can see, it’s harder for me to post these days.  Work is so busy and both kids have hit strange sleeping phases which pretty much eat up my whole evenings.  This too shall pass.

The direct result of this is that I end up cooking the same old standbys for dinner.  I’m not so creative in my cooking when I have exactly an hour from when I set foot in the house to when my kids will begin to melt-down without eating.  Especially when that hour is also time for keeping the almostthisclosetowalking baby off the stairs, out of the dog’s dishes and off of his sister’s hair (he has a hair fetish.  I have no idea why.  If he can pull hair he is the happiest child alive and he will go to great lengths (ha!) to reach any available hair).

My most recent go-to food is from a blog called Brave Tart.  It is written by a CIA trained pastry chef, Stella Parks, who lives in Kentucky and has her own restaurant.  Her desserts have won awards and she has a number of posts about re-creating those processed desserts of our childhoods- fruit roll ups, keebler fudge strips and nutter butters, to name a few.  She also has this dish which is so, so good.  I’ve made it about ten times in the last two months.  It’s quick, easy, healthy and delicious.  I could not recommended it more.

Oyakodon (as written by Brave Tart)

Ingredients

1 large onion

2 Tablespoons of oil (Brave Tart says to use a neutral flavored oil, I like sesame or peanut)

2 Tablespoons of sugar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth (you could use vegetable or beef)

4 eggs

2-4 cups rice, cooked and hot (I use Jasmine)

Optional:

1 cup shredded (cooked) chicken or meat (this time around, I had none)

1-2 cups of vegetables (I used sugar snap peas and spinach because that’s what I had)

Directions

Peel and slice your onion.  Heat the oil on medium heat and let the onion get slightly golden- should take about 15 minutes.

photo 1

Wash and slice up your vegetables.

photo 2

Once your onions are golden (not browned), add your vegetables.  I didn’t add the spinach right away because it would have gotten too wilt-y.photo 3

Once your vegetables are tender, add the sugar, soy sauce, and broth.  You can add the meat here as well if you’re using it.

photo 4

Let this cook over medium heat for a few minutes.  I added my spinach at this point.

photo 5Let this cook until the spinach is wilty.

photo 1In a separate bowl, crack your eggs and whisk them together.  Pour them into your pan along the side and let them sit for about a  minute.  You can then start to scramble them into the broth.

photo 2Meanwhile, cook your rice.  I do it in my rice cooker.  I’ve also used day-old rice as well, heated up, and that’s been fine too.  Put some into a bowl.

photo 4With a slotted spoon, fish out the meat and vegetables and spoon them over the rice.  Pour the broth down the side of the bowl (in order to maintain the most clumpiness as possible).

photo 5It may not be that pretty but oh, it is just so delicious.  I may even make it tonight.

Comfort

Over the last week or so I’ve been craving comfort food.  For me, that means things like mashed potatoes, stews, soups and sugar.  Lots of sugar.  More on that later.

To be comforting, I made the Braised Short Ribs from Dinner: A Love Story, my new favorite cookbook and website.  They were delicious and may make it into the comfort food rotation.IMG_4415I also did my holiday baking.  That fulfilled the sugar needs.  This year rather than making for individuals, I made for groups.  That is, I brought cookies of all kinds to the guidance department meeting, biscuits and scones to the elementary team meeting and cookies and bars to the front office.  I tried Ina Garten’s Chocolate Chunk Blondies which were so. good.

IMG_4416

I also made Walnut Snowball Cookies.  Which were also full of buttery, sugary goodness.

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All in all, it was a week of comfort food.  I am now on vacation so will try to get a few more posts up- a tip on pomegranates and a yeast-free pizza dough.

Until then, I hope you are enjoying your holiday season.

Love Story

When I started my pre-doctoral internship, I did it at a site an hour and fifteen minutes from my house.  I figured I could do anything for a year.  In the end, I worked there for over three years and it was one of the best experiences of my life.  What I learned both professionally and personally has stayed with me over the years.  I could go on and on but what I want to tell you about now is one of the people I worked with there.

J. was the other predoctoral intern with me.  I met her for the first time on the day we both went for a tour.  My first impression was that she was gorgeous and clearly incredibly smart.  As the months went by, we became closer and closer and I began to admire her even more.  She was a mother and had given birth to her son at a young age. She was blessed with supportive parents and while her child’s father did not stay in her life, she raised her son and graduated from high school, college and graduate school (predoctoral internship, remember)?
J. was (and still is) kind, compassionate, smart, loving and always ready to see the best and have faith in  those around her.  She will always give those in her life second and third and fourth chances and will always encourage them to do their best.  As you can imagine, this can be both a positive and negative quality.

When I knew her best, J. was involved with a man she’d met a few years prior.  Their relationship was difficult with extreme highs and lows.  They became engaged a few months after I did and they were guests at my wedding.  J. and I began to lose touch after that when she left our common workplace.  We spoke a few times and through our emails and facebook, I saw that she had broken her engagement, met someone new and moved across the country after marrying him.  From all that I can tell now, this was the best decision she ever made.

She and her new husband are incredibly well suited, incredibly happy and, I must say, incredibly beautiful.  J. has found a happy ending to her love story.

But nothing in life is that cut and dry, black and white.  While she’s happy now, she could only get there by taking the path she did.  Her relationship with her former fiancée was difficult but had some good points as well.  One of them was this stew.  She posted about it on Facebook recently and it looked so good that I immediately emailed her, demanding the recipe.  She responded with some guidelines and I went to work.

I cooked a dish that I have never eaten.  I have no idea what it should look or taste like but it did end up being delicious.  I used J’s guidelines and searched the internet for cachupa rica.  This is what I ended up with- the wrong kind of corn (couldn’t find samp so had to use hominy), no plantains but, in the end, still delicious, filling and hardy.  Good for a cold day.  Plus, it made me think about J and her love story the whole time.  Made me happy.

Cachupa Rica (with deepest apologies to all Cape Verdens everywhere)

Ingredients

6 cups golden samp (I used plain hominy because I couldn’t find samp)

4 cups of beans (I used canned kidney and pinto)- You could use dry and soak them with the samp beforehand.

Meats of your choosing.  I used:

chicken thighs (about 4-6 boneless, skinless)

bacon (I used a package)

Chorizo sausage

country stye pork ribs

1 large onion

Lots of garlic

2 peeled carrots, cut into chunks

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

between 6-10 cups of chicken broth

Directions:

I made it all in one pot.  J. makes it across several.  Because I used canned hominy and beans, I didn’t need to cook them separately.

Start by chopping up your bacon and browning it in a large pot.  Take out the bacon once it is crisp and add your sausage (chopped).  Let that brown up as well and then take it out and set it aside with the bacon.

Season your chicken with salt and pepper.  Add them to the pot with the bacon/sausage fat and brown them as well.

Once they’re brown on each side, set them aside with the bacon and sausage.

Finally, brown your short ribs in the pot.

It’s a lot of meat.  (insert dirty comment here)  Now, chop up your onion and garlic and brown it in the pot with all the fat left from the meat.  Maybe not all.  Maybe drain a bit of the fat, leaving about a tablespoon.

While the onions are cooking, peel and roughly chop your sweet potato and carrots.

Add them to the onions and let them brown a bit as well.

Once the veggies have started to soften and brown a little, add the hominy.

Add the beans and meats back in and then cover the whole thing with chicken broth.  Let it simmer over lowish heat for a long time.

J.  suggests making a sofrito of onion, garlic and tomato paste which you can then add for more flavor.  She also suggests a bay leaf or two (removed before serving) and some coriander.  Not my favorite flavors so I left them out.  J. also reminded me that if you were using samp and dry beans, you’d want to let them get good and tender (about an hour) before adding the veggies and meats back in- otherwise they’ll get too soft and be mushy.

Serve with lots of broth.  Mmmm.

J also suggests frying some of it the next morning (minus the broth), letting a good crisp form on the hominy/samp, and serving it with fried eggs.  I could see that being delicious.

200th Post

Not only is this my 200th post, according to WordPress, it is also the post that follows my Julia post, which was chosen to be “freshly pressed” by WordPress.  So, no small amount of pressure here.  It’s sort of paralyzing, really- should it be a Grandma recipe?  A family story?  A long over-due letter to my six month old son?

Yipes.  The pressure….

After much thought, I’m throwing caution to the winds and giving you a recipe from my father.  On this blog, I talk a lot about my grandmother who was a fantastic cook and poke fun at my mother, who was not.  I’ve written a bit about my father before but perhaps now I can say a bit more.

My dad and my mom divorced when I was 8.  They had been married 13 years and together for many years prior to that.  They were college sweethearts and managed to maintain a strong relationship after the divorce.  In fact, they remain friends now. Part of this was due to a mutual desire to co-parent me, part of it is just who they are.

A large piece of it was how close my dad was to my mother’s family.  Dad wasn’t close to his own family after high school and he and my (maternal) grandmother hit it off right away.  In fact, my parents are together- they both say- because when they broke up after college, my dad still spent time at the house with my mother’s brothers and parents.  When my mother pointed out to her family that they’d broken up and so maybe my dad shouldn’t be around all that much, her family replied, “But we didn’t break up with him, you did!”  My parents could see they weren’t going to win that battle and so, got married.

My father’s favorite memories of my grandmother are from when he would stay at the house.  He and my grandmother were morning people and so would sit together at the table, before anyone else was up, and have coffee, toast and chat about everything: stuff they read in the paper, things about the family, random thoughts.  They were very close.

So it’s only natural that my father was the other big cooking influence in my immediate family.  I mostly recall him cooking breakfasts for me but when I was in college, he’d cook dinner for me when I visited.  His range has expanded over the years but I most associate Tex-Mex with my college visits.  This is because we were in Colorado, not New England.

So, it’s no surprise that when he was here last, he cooked enchiladas for me.  He likes to cook when he comes to visit.  I cook with him- much like I did with my grandmother- and we chop vegetables, stir and gossip as we go.   In the end, we’re rewarded with yummy food and another bonding experience to add to our list (which includes wiffle ball games, walking on the beach, cook outs and attending CC  hockey games.  It also includes having “adventures”- which were everything from getting lost to trips to historical places.).

Here he is with my daughter, having an adventure (we visited the zoo). I’m pretty sure I have the exact same photo somewhere, only it’s me and we’re wearing more 70’s clothing.

I give you Dad’s bean enchiladas.  They’re quite good and other than the filling/rolling, not too hard or time-consuming.  You could, if you wanted to, add chicken or another meat but they don’t really need it.  The spice level can also be tailored to suit your tastes.  Dad eyeballed it and may have added a touch more cayenne than we meant to but in the end, it was all good.

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (I don’t like green so we used one orange pepper)

1/2 onion, chopped

28 oz can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups of corn (frozen is ok)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (if you’ve been reading along you will not be surprised by my hiss as I left this out- cilantro is the devil)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2- 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 chopped jalapeno with seeds

1 package corn tortillas

4 cups of shredded mexican cheeses (usually cheddar and montery jack along with others)

1 28 oz can red enchilada sauce (you can actually make your own enchilada sauce without too much fuss- Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe)

Directions

Saute the peppers and onions in a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I’d throw in the onions first and let them brown a bit and then add the peppers. You want them soft but not burnt, crispy or caramelized.  Stir in the tomato sauce and the beans.  Then add the corn and seasonings.

Here’s Dad, adding ever so slightly too much cayenne pepper. Spicy!

You can vary the amount of sauce, adding a bit more if it seems too dry or thick.  Once it’s all combined, simmer over low heat for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil.  Trust me- it makes for easier clean-up.

I was going to add these tomatoes to the sauce but we ended up just snacking on them as we cooked.  Sungold tomatoes may be the best thing about summer.  I’m just sayin’.

Here is where I diverge with my dad.  He says to use the faucet to thoroughly wet two tortillas at a time and then to microwave them on a paper towel for 8-10 seconds.  He claims this will heat and soften them enough to fill and roll them without cracking.  This was not true for me.  Mine cracked anyway.  I usually dip each one in the enchilada sauce and then roll them.  And they crack anyway.  So, I’m open to tips on how to do this without cracking?  I suspect the brand of tortilla as well as its age may be a factor.

At any rate, pour a little bit of enchilada sauce into the baking pan and preheat your oven to 375.  Get your tortillas ready any way you please and spoon a bit of the filling into each one.  Be careful, the filling is probably hot.  I’d say about a solid tablespoon or two should do it.

Add some cheese. Or put in the cheese first.  Either way.

Then roll it up- carefully, as it will crack, unless you’re a wizard or something- and place it, seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have run out of filling.  Or are too impatient to do any more. (If that’s the case, the filling is yummy over rice or pasta or just all on its own).

Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the pan, making sure to cover all the tortillas so they don’t dry out.  Top with cheese.  Lots of cheese, if you’re me.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is all melted, gooey and yummy.

These freeze really well, too, so pop a few into a freezable container and then you’ll have dinner all ready when you’re craving something warm and comforting.

Pioneering

Well, hello there again!  Come on in, grab a seat.  Just move that basket of laundry aside (It’s clean, I promise), and, oh, wait, don’t sit on the crayons, let me move those.  Would you like something to drink?  I have….. milk, water and juice.  Hmm.  Apparently we have no wine or beer.  Anyway, would you like a snack?  I have, um, pretzels, snap-pea crisps and, um, baby yogurt.  Hmmm.  Apparently we don’t have much food.  Well, let’s chat about life.  What’s been going on with me?  Um….  actually, nothing.  Considering how much “free” time I have, it’s surprising how little I get done.  Mostly I spend time with my two kids- one is at daycare most days- and do laundry.  Lots of laundry.  Loads of laundry, if you will.

Sometimes I do watch television, though.  Mostly Food TV, Big Bang Theory re-runs on TBS and, sadly, various shows on Bravo (Millionaire Matchmaker and Tabatha Takes Over have sucked me in, hardcore.).  I recently got to watch an episode of The Pioneer Woman.  Now, I’ve been reading the blog for years and I love her recipes, her photographs and her story of falling in love with her husband (she was a city girl who fell in love with a cowboy and who moved to the middle of nowhere to live with him on a ranch.  She has four children and her life is magical- at least the public face of it.  Anytime I’m fed-up with my life, I click on her blog and daydream about moving somewhere isolated where I can simply spend time with my children and cook.  Then I return to reality.).  But I didn’t love her show.  She comes across differently in her writing than she does on television. Which is not a criticism, exactly, since who knows what it’s like to be on television?  I’d probably come across really differently too.

Anyway, I ended up making two recipes from that show and, who’s surprised, not only am I not the next iron chef, I am also not the pioneer woman.  The soup came out well- I’ll link to both her recipe and give you my take on it below- but the pots de creme did not work for me.  I followed her recipe exactly but for whatever reason, it didn’t set.  This is one of my continual kitchen issues.  Puddings just don’t set for me.  I did manage to fix it by cooking it in a water bath for a few minutes.  It ended up a bit like creme brulee- the top got a bit harder (read: slightly burnt) but the inside was silky smooth.

I may not be the pioneer woman, but I can pretend, right?

The Pioneer Woman’s Corn Chowder & Pots De Creme

Failure first:

The link to her Pot De Creme here.

I followed it exactly but used vanilla rather than grand marnier.  I don’t actually like chocolate and orange together.  As I said, they didn’t set but I fixed that with a bit of a bake in the oven.

Whipped cream will cover a multitude of sins.

Notice the “creme brulee” top.

Link to The Pioneer Woman’s Corn and Cheese Chowder here.

I actually followed her recipe pretty closely but I will admit, I did not measure anything.

I chopped the veggies.

Meanwhile, I cooked the onions in butter. I let mine get a bit darker than recommended.

I chopped the bacon (it’s easier to chop if it’s frozen and I tend to keep bacon in the freezer so that I always have some on hand- everything is better with bacon.) and added it to the onions.

Once the bacon and onions have cooked, add the chopped veggies.

Let those cook a bit as well.  Then add the corn.  I used frozen, the Pioneer Woman used fresh.

Sprinkle the flour over the veggies.

Stir and let the flour cook for a minute or two.  Then add the broth.

As it cooks, it will get thicker and creamy.  Add the milk or half and half or cream or whatever.

After that simmers for about fifteen minutes, add the cheese and let it all melt.

Mmmm.  So good.  The husband loved it (it has bacon) and he’s not generally a soup guy.

I may not be the Pioneer Woman but at least I can pretend sometimes.