Category Archives: Cooking

Kitchen adventures!

don’t think about it too hard

So you know how I really love slow-made home-cooked beans and think that it’s nice to take your time and make your own stock and your own liqueur and your own salsa and everything?

Well. Sometimes you just want to bring a pile of tasty food together and neither work nor think too hard to do it.

Enter the loaded baked sweet potato.

It’s embarrassing how easy and delicious this meal is. And it’s so good, you can even feed it to company. It’s fun to set out all the little fixins in little dishes. I like setting fixins out in little dishes.

Go buy

  • 1 large sweet potato per diner
  • your favorite kind of bacon, buying at least 6 slices for two people (general rule: buy as many slices as you think you’ll need and then buy two more)
  • an avocado
  • sour cream
  • fresh salsa–pico de gallo or another refreshing sort found in the refrigerated aisle, if you don’t have something homemade in your fridge (and if you don’t, it’s really easy to make, but that’s something for another blog post)
  • cilantro
  • chives (it is a baked potato, after all)
  • red onion
  • corn chips
  • cheese of choice for shredding (or, for the ultimate shortcut, shredded cheese)
  • a lime
  • hot sauce of choice
  • 1-2 cans fat free refried beans. CANS. It’s okay. I promise. Nobody else has to know. But we do tend to tell everyone we feed them to–we seem to maintain a full disclosure kitchen policy. Our favorite has become Rosarita Fat Free Traditional. The commercial says they’re authentic, anyway. (Oh man, that commercial is so wrong. Aaaand I can’t stop laughing at it.) This, however, is what happens when you empty the can:

I swear to god.

Laugh. And then stick tortilla chips into the bean monolith and enjoy. Don’t think about this one too hard.

Stick the potatoes in the oven and get that bacon cooking using your favorite method fifteen or twenty minutes later. We like to array the bacon on a cooling rack that fits inside a rimmed baking sheet–the fat that doesn’t render becomes airy and light and smoky, somehow, when it’s baked. Putting the bacon on a rack tends to result in quicker cooking times.

For us, the bacon usually takes about 25-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. The sweet potatoes take more like 45 minutes to an hour. Definitely get those going the minute you get home. Note that you can’t really bake a sweet potato incorrectly, or for too long. Lately, I stab them a few times with a knife to let steam release, rub a thin film of grapeseed/canola/high heat oil on them (half teaspoon each potato, maybe), and lightly dust them with salt. I bake them uncovered in a glass baking dish. But you can also put them un-lubed in any kind of baking dish you have. Or wrap them in tin foil and throw them directly on the oven rack. Or microwave them. Just make sure you stab them first. Especially if you put them in the microwave–otherwise they light on fire.

My dad did this once when I was 5. I saw flames in the microwave and ran to the basement to find him. The smoke alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but there was fire in my house and that was scary, so I chased him down and asked him if I should stop, drop, and roll. I can imagine his take on the conversation: “Whatever for?” Well, Dad, because there’s a pretty blue flame emanating from your potato in the microwave, and Mrs. Lange said to stop, drop, and roll if there was fire on you.

And that is why you always stab your potatoes.

Pretty much everything else is assembly. Heat up the beans. Chop the chives. Cube the avocado. Coarsely chop the bacon. Put things in pretty little bowls if you want, or just stick a spoon in the damn sour cream container.

Topping the potato is fun. I like to put the beans on my potato first, followed by sour cream and chives and cilantro and then salsa and hot sauce and bacon and avocado on top. Jesse likes a small amount of beans directly on his potato and then a lot of beans on the side, with chips.

loaded goodness

But you see how this is post is more about an idea than an actual recipe or meal plan? Like, basically, if you know how to make bacon and a potato, you could have just stopped reading when I suggested the concept of the loaded baked sweet potato. Which I’m sure is not something I came up with originally, or first, or whatever.

What this post boils down to, pretty much, is that sweet potatoes stuffed with bacon and things are good, and that it’s okay to eat fat free canned refried beans.

But wait–let me just tell you one more thing. You now probably have a few little containers of leftover fixins. Some extra chopped cilantro, some salsa, some onion, and maybe even some bacon and avocodo… BEST OMELET EVER the next morning.

like omg best omelet

But don’t just take my word for it. Go to the store.

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welcome home chili beans

I’m going to tell you about a special pot of beans.

the team

First, the occasion: my mother and stepfather have moved here. Let’s try that again: MY MOTHER AND STEPFATHER HAVE MOVED HERE. They’re living in an apartment not 15 minutes from my house. This is the first time I have ever lived in the same city with my loving, thoughtful, dangerously witty fisherman stepfather, and it’s the first time in over 10 years that I’ve lived in the same city with my inspiring, intuitive mother (who, for the record, usually manages to out-fish my stepdad). So last Friday, we had a small family gathering to celebrate their arrival. We had some champagne to drink. Hence, I had a pot of beans to assemble.

A pot of beans, though? How do you elevate a pot of beans to something worthy of such an auspicious occasion? You take your time, tasting as you go, and you enjoy the process. And why choose beans when the bounty of the Pacific Northwest is available at the seafood shop just across the bridge? Because in our world, beans are a true comfort food. They’re all about coming home. And because my mom said, “Just throw something in a pot. One pot. Keep it simple.”

Welcome Home Chili Beans

Serves 6 big eaters with leftovers for a nice lunch or two.

Takes about 4 hours if you’re making your own stock and doing everything the day of serving. 3 hours if you’re an efficient multitasker for a living, like me. You could probably do this in the span of 1.5 hours if you’re using canned beans, boxed stock, and like to feel rushed. OR, if you roast your squash and garlic and make your Umami Bomb and Chile Stock a day ahead, and your beans are soft and ready, shit–this could take you like 45 minutes total. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure cooking experience.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 2.5 pound butternut squash (or an equal quantity of sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 0.5-0.75″ cubes
  • 3-4 slices of uncured bacon
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1.5 pounds of dry black beans, soaked overnight/forever until soft OR like three or four cans of black beans with some of the liquid reserved (OR, if you’re like me and find that soaking dry black beans overnight does next to nothing, pop 1.5 lbs dry black beans in a pressure cooker with water to cover by several inches and cook on high for 22 minutes, using natural release method to liberate your beans)
  • The strays in your fridge/counter. Mine yielded 2 small leeks, a little red potato, and 1.5 cups of mildly seasoned cooked chicken breast. I’d totally use the chicken again in another iteration.
  • a couple bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder–Now, if you have some nice powdered ancho chile, use it. If you have the crap from the spice aisle with the green lid that just says “chili powder,” use it. You don’t have to be a chili powder snob here. You’re already using dried chiles in this recipe so you’ve got some some cred. And just note that each powder has its own potency. You’ll have to add this one to taste, and that’s okay. Each pot of beans is a unique snowflake.
  • Lots of stock.Well, probably at least 4-6 cups depending upon how thick or thin you want your beany goodness. You want a good quality low-sodium chicken broth in a box or better yet, a chicken or veggie broth you’ve made yourself at home. I used something I’m going to call my Odds and Ends Chile Stock… scroll on down to the notes below to see how I usually do it. I’m probably not giving it enough credit for the deliciousness of this pot of beans.
  • 1 recipe Pot Bean Umami Bomb, below
  • salt
  • pepper
  • mild vegetable oil–olive, canola, or grapeseed

Okay. Take heart. This is not a difficult recipe by any means, but it does require a little time and assembly. First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Now is a good time to get the stock going on the stovetop as outlined below, if you’re going that route. Toss the cubed butternut squash in 1-2 tablespoons of oil and prepare a head of garlic for roasting as well.  Pop these into the oven and let them go for 30-45 minutes, checking in occasionally to ensure that your squash is not burning. When the squash is cooked to your liking (I like mine just shy of burnt), pull everything out of the oven and set aside. And try not to eat all the squash while you do everything else.

While your stock is finishing up, dice your carrots, celery, and onion (and save those ends for more stock!). Finally, slice your bacon into strips widthwise. If you’re like me and want to use the same pot for the stock and the beans (mom said to use just one), finish your stock and pour it elsewhere to get your pot back. Heat the pot on medium high heat. Add the bacon. Cook until it reaches your desired level of crispness. If your bacon has put off more than a tablespoon or two of fat, spoon some of it out into the jar of bacon fat you keep in your fridge. (I’m just assuming you have one by now). Add the onion, celery, and carrots and saute until the onions are starting to turn translucent and the carrots are beginning to soften. Now, add the chili powder, coriander, cumin, bay leaves, and a teaspoon or two of salt. Continue to saute as the spices get aromatic and coat the sweaty vegetables. If you’re doing cubed chicken, add it here, along with any other fridge strays. Then add your beans and mix everything up. Slowly add stock while stirring so you can see exactly how thin you’re making your chili. I probably used about 4 cups of broth and a cup of pot liquor (the thick inky liquid left over from cooking my beans). If your beans weren’t quite soft enough, simmer this mess until they’re to your liking.

Once your beans are soft enough BUT NOT BEFORE, dump in your Umami Bomb and add salt to taste. A squirt of lemon juice at this point is a nice touch, too. The thing is, if you add acids like tomatoes and lemon juice before your beans are soft, they’ll be a bitch to soften.

Let everything simmer and mingle for a while. Half an hour. However long it takes to get your in-laws and parents wrangled around the table with drinks in their hands. Taste for salt and add if you need to. Set out an array of fixins. Mine included:

  • rough-chopped cilantro leaves
  • sour cream
  • diced raw red onion
  • shredded cheddar
  • lime wedges
  • broken corn chips–oh man, we had a random bag of Fritos hanging around. Heaven.

Avocado would be great here, too. Damn. Now that I type that, I realize I should have had it. Just gonna have to do this again.

I set the pot in the middle of the table–the big, functional, less-than-gorgeous pot– along with my biggest measuring cup to use as a ladle, since I find that our ladle is tiny and I’d rather not have to scoop fifteen times to get the serving I want. Whatever. It wasn’t about the pot, or the measuring cup.

I do not have a pretty food blog-y picture of the finished product. I was too busy with the champagne and the broken chips and the warm fuzzies. My mom and stepdad, my mother- and father-in-law, Jesse, and me: the six of us fit snugly around our table. But before we sat down, while the beans finished, we traveled as a cluster from living room to kitchen to dining room. We just wanted to be near each other, sharing stories of cross-country road trips, of sketchy motels in Wyoming, of leaving the Midwest.

~~~

Odds and Ends Chile Stock

Ingredients

  • 2-4 ounces whole dried chiles–New Mexico, guajillo, or ancho are good choices. Anchos are my favorites for their sweetness and quiet smokiness. You can find these at lots of upscale grocery stores–Whole Foods, I’ m looking at you–but you’ll find them cheapest at your local, well, cheapest grocery store. Rainbow, Festival… I got this bag for $3.99 at the Albertson’s down the road. And I live in a 90% white suburb. If you’re in Minneapolis, there’s a Rainbow on (East) Lake that I’m really missing for shit like this.

"chili" pods

  • 1-2 gallon freezer bags full of discarded vegetable ends. The bruised top layers of onions. The butt ends of carrots and celery and squash. Cloves of garlic that were so tiny they were impossible to chop without causing homicidal rage. Kale spines, cilantro stems. If you’re not saving these bits already, it won’t take you very long to fill up a bag. Keep it in your freezer. If you’re not saving ends and want to make your own veggie stock, break up a couple large carrots and two stalks of celery, and quarter three or four large onions.
  • a couple bay leaves
  • 6-10 whole peppercorns
  • rind of a hard cheese, like parmigiano reggiano (optional, but it adds an incredible layer of oomph to your stock)

Heat a very large (6 quart or more) pot over medium high heat. Remove and discard the stems, veins, and seeds from the chiles. Drop them in the hot pot and let them soften and release their aroma, but don’t let them burn. Give them 3-5 minutes, moving them around to prevent outright searing.

heat em up

Next, plop in your veggies. They can come straight out of the freezer. Fill your pot with enough water to submerge all the solids. Throw in your bay leaves, peppercorns, and cheese rind if using. Raise the heat to a very bare boil and then immediately turn it down to a low simmer–so low that you see a bubble rise to the surface every second or two. Walk away for at least an hour. When I made mine last week, I think I let it go for two hours. You can’t really overdo it.

it's not altogether that pretty

Once your stock has simmered long enough, it’s time to remove the solids. Try to save the chiles; the rest is great for a compost pile. The chiles will sort of look like slimy roasted red peppers. Reserve them for the Umami Bomb we’ll talk about next. Don’t waste your time or your cheesecloth straining the stock further to clarify it. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Pour finished stock into freezer bags and, if you’re up for it, label the bags with the dates/what kind of veggies you used, especially if you had some pungent ones in there. Stock made of brussels sprouts leaves might not work in all applications, for instance. The stock can be stored in the freezer for a very long time.

Pot Bean Umami Bomb

This little concoction is something that will add a nuanced layer to any pot of beans or chili you’re putting together. Umami is the savory meaty flavor of glutamates and nucleotides that is so often the missing element when you taste a dish and find it lacking “something.” Crescent Dragonwagon seems to use this technique a lot in her delightful cookbook Bean by Bean: to ensure a nice round flavor, she mixes up a cup or two of some umami-rich ingredients and adds it to the main pot towards the end. Kind of feels like cheating, but hey. Here’s my version, and it requires:

  • the spent chiles that you reserved from your spent stock veggies (or 2-4 ounces of chiles you heated on the stovetop and then steeped in 1 cup of boiling water–chile tea!)
  • 1 can tomatoes (diced/crushed/whole makes no matter; fire-roasted is great, if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • half a teaspoon of fish sauce
  • 1 head roasted garlic (make it this way and you’ll feel very clever)
  • a tablespoon or two of tamari/gluten-free soy sauce

Blend all of the above in a food processor/blender until smooth, and keep it at the  ready.

make some things last

Spring blows by. Two weeks ago I bounced on my toes about the first farmers’ market of the year.

And then it came and went! And the cherry blossoms bloomed on the waterfront and I saw them but didn’t take pictures and then they were gone. I just painted my toenails but they grew out and are all chipped and that felt like yesterday that I was leaning over my feet with the little pink paintbrush.

So I pickled some spring onions. Take that, Father Time.

Pickled Spring Onions in Lime Juice with Avocado Oil

Inspired by my Rachel, at whose table I first experienced this zingy condiment, and a blog she turned me on to, the fabulous Laylita’s Recipes

Ingredients

  • 8 medium spring onions–for me, that was 2 bunches. The pretty ones with purplish skin, if you can get them. Slice them fine fine fine with a sharp knife or mandoline, up to the light green stemmy part. Save the hollow green parts for something else, like a garnish for some simple catfish filets or put them in your sweet potato hash.
  • Juice of at least 10 limes. Go crazy with the juicer. If you don’t have a good juicer (we have this puppy which stood up to the task nobly), give up now or go get one.
  • 2 tablespoons of avocado oil. If you don’t have avocado oil and this sort of froofy ingredient splurge is not on your list, a fruity or even mild olive oil will also work nicely.
  • About a tablespoon of kosher salt, divided

Method

1. In a mixing bowl, toss the sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and half of the salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. They’re spring onions, but they still have a bite–these first couple steps will help calm it down some so that you won’t get heartburn by just looking at this stuff.

2. Cover the onions with lukewarm water. Let sit another 5 minutes.

3. Rinse and drain the onions in a colander. Give them a little squeeze to let them know you care.

4. Back in the mixing bowl, add the rest of the lime juice and your oil. Add the rest of the kosher salt and mix well to combine. You can put the mixture in a pretty jar or cover the bowl and stick it in the fridge… and you’re done!

I put this lovely condiment on fried eggs, beans and rice, fish, chicken, rice cakes with cottage cheese (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it)… all of the above. Have fun. Slow down.

delicious transformation

I’ve been thinking about transformation lately. Whether as a political catchphrase or self-help focus, change visits us no matter if we’re ready or open to it. Last year, we moved. We’ll probably do it again this year. My career, my nurse-self, morphs every time I walk into a patient’s room. I’ve grown sassier, and my sense of humor that becomes more and more twisted with every passing week.

I love it.

Transformation is part of what makes us human. It’s no wonder that our experience as a species shifted as we learned to cook–those first caveman kebabs opened some major doors.

When it’s time to celebrate a birthday, or a holiday, or a rare Sunday night in which we’re all free, Sandra and I tend to do some culinary transformations of our own. Plans develop mere hours before the meal needs to be on the table. No carefully drafted menus here. “What about stuffed mushrooms? And some other vegetables or something?” After a brief telephonic brainstorm with my beloved sister-in-law, I’m off to Costco.

Let’s see. This time, the occasion was my mother-in-law’s birthday. This meant steak–for her. Fish for the rest of us. She gets to be the Steak Queen. Not that we all need an animal protein; “if all I had for dinner was stuffed mushrooms and green beans, I’d be happy,” said Sandra. Noted. But Jesse picks out a piece of salmon for everyone.

Here’s what we brought home: giant onions, baby portabella mushrooms, steak, salmon, mixed greens, pomegranate arils, crumbled feta, French-cut green beans. Sandra brought cake and ice cream. And her creative mind.

I started by preparing the onions. The food processor made gloriously short work of slicing them, and they went straight into a Dutch oven with some olive oil to carmelize on low-medium heat. At first, the pot totally overflowed with onion slices. After a few minutes,

they slouched. The quantity of onion juice in the pot rivaled the quantity of the onion shreds. I kept moving.

I gently washed the mushrooms and de-stalked them. The stalks and a few whole mushrooms (this was a Costco-sized package, after all) took a spin in the food processor while some onion and garlic sizzled in olive oil.

After a few minutes, the shredded shroomies met the onion-garlic sauté. Some salt and black pepper joined the party; moments later a handful of craisins and walnuts jumped in too. I threw in some dried chives and 1/4 c white wine (the chardonnay the in-laws were sipping, in fact) and let the whole thing simmer for about 10 minutes. The wine reduced and the whole mixture began to turn a warm wood-brown. Finally, I tossed in a half a cup each of fat-free cottage cheese and cooked brown rice. Poof. Filling.

Sandra filled the patient little mushroom caps and popped them into a 350° oven. 20 minutes later, they came out crisp and toasty on top.

Meanwhile, the onions kept melting.

Sandra prepared the salmon steaks, rubbing them with mayonnaise and Penzey’s 4/S Special Seasoned Sea Salt and covering them with lemon slices (seriously!). The thick cuts went on the grill on foil-covered grates. She rubbed the New York strip steak we’d picked out for Cheryl with her favorite hickory-smoked salt and set it to grilling a few minutes later. Meanwhile, I parboiled a load of green beans and whipped some olive oil, walnuts, and a couple strips of lemon rind in the food processor. Just before bringing the beans to the table, I tossed them in this mixture.

The salad came together quickly: the greens, the pomegranate arils, the crumbled feta. I toasted some pecans in a tablespoon of sugar and a couple teaspoons of butter in a nonstick pan and and set them on the side. A quick vinaigrette and ta-da. So simple it felt like cheating.

I attribute this to Sandra’s wisdom and sublime kitchen flexibility: everything ends up on the table at the same time. The salmon,

the steak,

the sides.

The whole process–and I’m nothing if not process-oriented–took and hour and a half, maybe. Big raw onions turned into a little bowlful of mushy sweet onion jam. Disparate ingredients became harmonic salad. Raw steak became… slightly less raw, as Cheryl loves it “red but warm.”

This time in the kitchen, with our modicum of power over the culinary metamorphosis of these little things, imbued me with a deeper perspective. A readiness to abide as our year, our life takes shape.

Seriously!

Shut up. I know it’s irrevocably cheesy. Over-the-top New Age self-help-y. BUT. You try it, and just tell me you don’t see anew that we really can participate in our own delicious transformation.

Nope. You can’t.

Booyah.

dinnertime stir-fry with sexy sauce

Say you’ve been running errands all day. You’ve been all over Hell’s half-acre; east of the Willamette, west of the Willamette, north and south of Burnside. I-5, 405, 82, 205, and 43 to boot. And then you get the call: “Can you handle dinner?”

It’s like a video game: you must create a healthy, flavorful dinner substantial enough to satisfy the needs of 2 big carnivorous men and their wife/mother. And it’s gotta have enough green veggies to satisfy your cruciferous cravings. AND you have to have it on the table in 1.5 hours and you have to get to the grocery store first. GO.

In order to defeat this dinnertime boss, I fall back on an old favorite: the stir fry. I used to eat a bare-bones version of this for lunch every day back in the Veggie Co-op in sophomore year; no thickening agent in the sauce, which was mostly soy and Bragg’s. And no chicken, of course; for protein, I had tofu if I was lucky enough to  find some. I didn’t give a second thought to technique, but these days with the help of Lynne Rosetto-Kasper’s insight and instruction, I think I have a fairly good idea of what I’m doing (or at least what I’m supposed to be doing). Click over to that link and listen to the audio clip about the art of the stir fry, linked under the “Episode Rundown” heading.

So. Let’s get started. You’ll need the following hardware: wok (or, in our case, big glorious All-Clad wedding present; though a wok would be a hell of a lot cheaper), big knife for veggies, knife for chicken, 2 cutting boards, small saucepan and whisk. That’s it. Oh, and a  tea kettle and a big bowl.  And you can also get out your mandoline slicer and your Microplane zester to deal with the ginger. (Getting married was the best thing that ever happened to our kitchen.)

So here we go!

First, prep some rice noodles. You must have a starch on which to plop your stir-fry. Put a package of rice noodles in a big bowl and cover with just-boiling water. Test periodically until al dente, which should take between 3-4 minutes. Strain and toss with a little peanut oil to keep the noodles from forming a congealed rice brick. Easy. Set aside.

Next, assemble the Sexy Sauce (so named because a friend told me once that if I wanted to get up close and personal with someone, all I had to do was serve them something covered in this stuff).

  • tamari (or soy sauce, if you’re not worried about the gluten–or the flavor, but that’s another entry entirely)
  • 1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root (keep it in the freezer–so much easier to grate frozen!)
  • 10 drops fish oil
  • dash(es) red pepper flakes
  • juice of 1 lime, if you’re feeling crazy
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch

Throw everything EXCEPT the corn starch in a small saucepan and set aside.

Now, grab your veggies and chicken. We go straight for the boneless skinless breasts, by which I am otherwise unimpressed. But trust me, this is where they belong. As for the veggies, go crazy. We like to use baby bok choy when we can find it. We always use broccoli because a) I love broccoli and b) it’s a flavor sponge. I’ve been known to use kale, green beans, zucchini, red cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower–you name it, you can probably throw it in here with good effect. Anyhow, here are the basics:

  • boneless skinless chicken breasts (for the 4 of us, with plans for leftovers, I pick up 2-3 pounds)
  • 1 big onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (Jesse likes to whack the garlic with the onion to peel it. Occasionally this results in projectile garlic.)

  • 10-ish leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 2-4 heads of baby bok choy, chopped
  • 2 or 3 heads (do we call them heads?) of broccoli, cut into bite-sized trees
  • 2 handfuls bean sprouts
  • few handfuls baby spinach leaves
  • several tablespoons of peanut oil
  • chopped peanuts (optional garnish)

And now you’re ready to get going.

1. Butterfly your chicken and slice it into thin strips. Season with coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

2. Set your wok/skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the peanut oil and swirl to coat. After a few seconds, the oil should be shimmering. Add the chopped chicken and enjoy the sizzle. If you’re strapped for time (and that’s a big part of why you’re making this dish in the first place), you can chop your veggies while the chicken is cooking. No, I don’t always prep everything before I get going. Lynne Rosetto-Kasper says that you should, and I’ll forgive her for it. But if anyone tells you that you absolutely must prep each ingredient before you turn on a burner, they’re full of crap and don’t know how to live. The most exciting improvisation and invention-by-necessity happens when you realize halfway through that you don’t have an “essential” ingredient. Fly by the seat of your panties. Unless you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner or trying to woo someone.

3. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a plate and cautiously wipe out your pan with a paper towel. Add a little more peanut oil to the pan and throw in your veggies. Now, a note on veggie chopping: if you’re using something firm that takes a while to cook (say, carrot), slice it thin. Since you’re throwing in all the veggies at once, you need to cut them in such a way that they’ll cook at relatively the same speeds. With a little trial and error, you’ll figure it out.

4. As your right hand is dumping the veggies into the pan, your left hand can pop the saucepan of Sexy Sauce on a neighboring burner set to low-medium heat. Whisk the sauce a few times to get the peanut butter to make friends and emulsify.

5. Wait. Turn on the radio and after the first full song you hear is complete (change the station if you get Free Bird), add the cornstarch to the sauce. Whisk. You want the cornstarch in at the end because if you throw it in and heat it for too long, its binding abilities will fizzle. Trust me. I have science.

6. Throw your chicken back in the pan with your veggies to reheat and mix. Smother with the sauce. Remove from the heat and serve as soon as you can corral your people at the table. Pile the stir-fry on your rice noodles and sprinkle some chopped peanuts (raw or roasted & unsalted) over the dish for a garnish.

Fun to eat with chopsticks. Or a fork. I won’t judge. In fact, I usually start out with chopsticks and finish the last straggly strands of rice noodles and sauce with a spoon. Or if the bowl’s shallow enough, I’ve been known to just stick my face in there. Like the dogs.

Anyway.

For dessert?

Watch someone else do the dishes!

chili corn pie!

Okay, friends. It’s getting cooler and it’s getting darker. We’ve got a solid block of NFL football from Thursday through Sunday. It’s time for some real one-dish comfort food. Have I got the thing for you!

Jesse, inspired by this recipe from the delightful Megan over at Cooking Whims, prepared the inaugural version of this casserole/bake/hot dish a few weeks ago when I was at work. I returned home late, at a blurry 2 AM, to find a little white ramekin full of chili corn pie waiting for me in the refrigerator door. It made everything better.

We’ve made it several times since, and each pie is different. What follows isn’t a recipe so much as a template for construction based on our tested variations of Megan’s recipe. (Which means that this post is also a window into my own overenthusiastic stream-of-consciousness cooking style. Oh dear.) First, the hardware. You’ll need:

-a 9×13 deep glass/stoneware casserole dish OR two 9×9 casserole dishes OR a shitload of little ramekins or oven-safe bowls

-beefy electric beaters OR a stand mixer OR a hefty whisk and a brawny arm

-a skillet or two or three, depending on what you want to do with your middle layer

And now for the software–the contents of the above mentioned dish or ramekins. You need several things to bring this pie together: a base layer (which I suppose could be optional), a middle layer (or two or three), a cheese layer (sort of optional), and a cornbread layer. So, my recommendations for the constituents of these layers follow:

Base Layer

You don’t exactly need a defined base, but it provides some pleasing symmetry to this cornbread-topped dish. My most recent iteration of chili corn pie involved a layer of sweet potatoes sliced to about 3/8″ on my mandoline slicer. Lay them in your greased dish raw; they’ll cook to a nice al dente when you bake the whole thing. Or you could do a layer of potato slices, hash browns, cooked quinoa or brown rice, gluten-free crackers, pie crust, beets, cooked spaghetti squash (I am SO DOING THAT next), or other winter squash. Oh my goodness. The possibilities are endless and you truly cannot go wrong. So. Spray your casserole dish(es) or ramekins with some damn Pam and get going.

Middle Layers

Somewhere in there, you’ll need something that can loosely be defined as a chili. Otherwise you’re not making chili corn pie. Use your favorite recipe–a vegetarian chili, an old-school ground beef and kidney bean chili, a ground turkey chili with white beans and bell peppers, a black bean and sweet potato chili with cilantro and white onion–you could even just saute some onion and garlic with salt, pepper, ancho chili powder, and Tabasco and then throw in a couple cans of kidney beans. Chili Is Easy and Quick. And again, you cannot go wrong. You cannot fail at chili corn pie. I’m going to make an assumption here that y’all have, at some point, eaten a chili or bean food that made you Feel Good. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) Make that food. You can use leftover chili. You can make it the day before. Throw your ingredients together in your slow cooker before you go to work. You can do whatever you want. It’s awesome. (That said, my favorite involves a sofrito of onion, garlic, serrano chilis, and tomato paste with black beans, sweet corn, and some diced bell peppers or zucchini. And cilantro. And salt and pepper. And ancho chili powder and Tabasco.)

My recent pie also included a layer of leftover Stupid Easy Shredded Chicken and some shredded cheddar-jack cheese, and it was glorious.

The Cornbread

Back in my pre-GF days, I had been known to contribute to the death of a good pan of Jiffy cornbread. True story. But going gluten-free has opened my eyes to a plethora of amazing cornbread recipes and philosophies. Some think that their cornbread should be sweet as dessert, smooth like custard, and topped with maple syrup. Some want it dense and dry and smoky like bacon. Rachel’s cornbread will change your life, though it may be too moist to set properly in this context. This sweet potato cornbread is a good middle ground between the sweet and custard-y and the dense and savory. But let’s be real. You’re already making chili and you’re slicing sweet potatoes and maybe you’re even making some shredded chicken and a green salad for a side. I’m asking you to bake like crazy, too? You can keep it simple and still get delightful results with a mix. Don’t be ashamed. I’m not Martha and you aren’t either. Bob’s Red Mill has a stand-up gluten-free cornbread mix available, and all you have to do is add milk, eggs, and oil and mix your face off. You can add some sliced jalapeños or sharp cheddar cheese to the batter for an extra kick.

Putting It All Together

Go forth and assemble your layers. The hardest part is getting the cornbread to spread evenly on top of the middle layer–spoon the batter on and spread using a spatula you’ve dipped in water.  Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 25 minutes or until the cornbread is browning on top and bubbling on the sides. If using ramekins or individual bowls, keep your eye on that oven as your dishes may be ready before the 25-minute mark.

I would bet the contents of my piggy bank that you won’t be able to wait for your pie to cool enough before digging in, and you’ll burn your tongue. And you know what’ll make it all better?

More chili corn pie.

I Love Rachel!

A week ago today, I was sitting in my mother’s dining room at a table set with her antique china and a beautiful centerpiece with hydrangeas and yellow roses. I was surrounded by her ladies, friends of mine from high school that I hadn’t seen in years, and a favorite high school teacher whom I hadn’t spoken with in years. She didn’t even know I was dating anyone, let alone engaged.

My mother had more or less demanded to throw me a wedding shower, and though I railed against the idea for weeks she finally figured out that if she went through Jesse, I couldn’t ultimately say no. So it was that a month ago, Jesse informed me that he’d be taking me to the airport on the morning of the 10th and I was going to have fun, dammit.

And what fun I had!! I arrived in St. Louis after eight hours of travel and was immediately taken to Aya Sofia, a Turkish restaurant just across the street from the iconic Ted Drewes. My mom and I slid into the booth at which my stepdad Mark was waiting. I saw three place settings. We picked up the wine list. And then all of a sudden, a tall body approaches our table and I hear, “Would you mind if I joined you?”

IT WAS MY SISTA-FRIEND RACHEL!!! Completely out of her Minneapolis context!!! Surprising my face off!!!

She had already been in St. Louis for a day, helping my mom and Markdad prepare. Grocery shopping, cast-iron skillet rehabbing, recipe-prepping. She planted it next to my shocked face and we proceeded to order a bottle of Junehog and a plate of sarma, fried feta-stuffed phyllo wraps (left ’em for the gluten-eaters), and hummus with slices of tomato and cucumber. We talked–well, I mostly squeaked, as I was too surprised to form sentences–and drank and ate and then I ordered the most amazing lamb I’ve had in this country. Leg of lamb with a white bean sauce, served in a puddle of rice swimming in lamb juices… I was back in Spain. The flavor was so sweet and full and warm. I literally had a dream about it that night. I shot a crappy picture before digging in, but I sure don’t need it to remember how good that meal was, and how excellent the company. Here it is anyway:

The next day, I awoke to the smells of Rachel’s killer cornbread. I was glad to have brought a dress with some give in the midsection.

***

I had the day off on Thursday and decided to make the meal that Rachel had designed and prepared with my mom and Markdad last Sunday. I followed the recipes she posted on her most excellent blog with barely any alterations. See Rachel’s site for the recipes and instructions–she gives kitchen directions like nobody can. As for my adaptations:

Quinoa & Black Bean Summer Salad


Market of Choice had poblano peppers (well, I think these are poblanos) but had them erroneously labeled as pasillas (which are technically dried chilaca peppers). So I’m not exactly sure what the hell kind of peppers I used, but they were poblano-esque. And I roasted them too long–they turned out mushy but still delicious.

All-Time Favorite Sour Cream (Gluten Free) Cornbread


My baking powder was old. So I just used more of it. And I didn’t cook bacon in the skillet prior to pouring in the batter, but I did rub about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat all over the pan. What, you don’t keep a jar of rendered bacon fat in your fridge? (You  should.)

Lime Chicken


Chicken is such a versatile animal. I have a favorite shredded chicken recipe, a favorite roasted chicken recipe, a favorite chicken stock recipe. One of these days I’ll tell you about my favorite way to make quick chicken breasts for weeknight suppers. But anyway, I now have a favorite grilled chicken recipe. Markdad grilled these chicken thighs on his big gas grill; Jesse and I fired up our charcoal briquettes on the Weber the other night. Jesse showed me how it’s done:

1. Coals.

2. Lighter fluid. A LOT of lighter fluid.

3. Flame.

4. Wait for ashy embers.

I cannot say enough about how juicy, chicken-y, and fabulously lime-y these thighs turned out. The combination of olive oil and lime juice is literally genius. The marinade dripped onto the coals and flames jumped up, surrounding each thigh just enough to impart a crispiness and smoky flavor. Thighs are stupid-easy to grill, too, because it’s nearly impossible to overcook them and dry them out. Have you heard Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table wax poetic about the chicken thigh? Get on it.

I served this meal to a chorus of “mmm.” I’ve been eating that unparalleled quinoa salad at work for the last few days and I can’t wait to eat it again tonight. Who comes up with this stuff? Rachel, obviously.