31 January 2007

Sandwiches make a delightful dinner

Check out the sammichy goodness!

Said sandwich includes:
rye bread
red bell pepper
black pepper
fresh basil

How did I make it, you ask? Well! I sliced everything (except the bread, which was already sliced, and the black pepper, which would be too issueous to slice and besides would not achieve the correct result), then layered all but the basil on my bread and stuck it in the toaster oven for a few minutes. Said basil had to go on at the last minute, so as not to fry it into oblivion. Lo, my result was crispy and crunchy and fragrant on the bread side, yet warm and melty and multitextural on the cheese side, and it was good.

Cooking is not necessarily complicated.

29 January 2007


I mean cut! Yeah.

This kind of thing happens to me way too often, where "once every six months" is still equal to "too often". This time it was particularly appropriate and dangerous, because I was chopping jalapeño peppers! As we all know, hot peppers contain capsaicin, the oil that gives them heat. So it's always awesome when you chop up a bunch of peppers, forget to wash your hands, then accidentally rub your eye. That circumstance actually requires the phrase "oh burn". OW. If you ever do that, an eye bath in milk will help. Water will not, because water and capsaicin oil act shockingly like OIL AND WATER! It's the same reason you want to drink beer and eat lots of yogurt-laden raita while having a spicy Indian dinner: beer and dairy will actually rinse the oil as opposed to repelling it.

Fortunately, the human body is designed with blood pressure, so when you slip chopping jalapeños and cut a good deep slice straight through your thumbnail and half an inch into the flesh beyond, said pressure causes both blood and capsaicin to rush out of your body, flushing out the cut. Clearly, you also want a good dose of hydrogen peroxide, but at least you won't fall over shrieking and swelling instantly. You'll just lose some blood.

This is a good argument for a few things. First, I need to suck it up and learn to hold my vegetables the right way while chopping. "The right way", according to such glorious people as Julia Child, is to put your hand into a fist, palm side down, and hold your onion or whatever with the bottom of your folded fingers. This puts your knuckles closest to the blade. I have found this incredibly awkward, but if it lets me just skin my knuckles as opposed to stabbing myself completely, I think I need to give it a try.

Second, I need to start using a wider knife. My favorite knife right now is 1 inch wide. My grip on the handle is more than 1 inch wide. Therefore, if I don't arrange things well, my fingers hit the cutting board before the entire blade is down, thus encouraging slippage. This is exactly what happened on this occasion. Great job, me! Start using the 2-inch gigantic butcher knife.

So we didn't just end up throwing out a board of chopped jalapeños after the debacle. Instead, we ended up with a delicious spread of refried black beans with rice.

Refried beans have been a standard of mine for a good five years. Even before I was making them from scratch, we had at least a couple cans a week. Big surprise: we were in school. Refried beans were cheap and plentiful, and a pan of enchiladas could easily feed our 7-person house. However, when I tried my first pan of homemade refrieds...well. Let's just say that the canned beans weren't going to cut it anymore. We could tailor the homemade beans to our exact preferences of spice and texture, and dried beans were even cheaper than canned. Besides, the whole process took almost the same overall effort as doctoring canned beans. It was just over.

This time, I made a very slight variation on my basic take: I added corn. Gracious! That is uncalled for, young lady! Perhaps you want to invite that hussy squash over as well!

Refried Black Beans with Corn

1 cup dried black beans
1/2 yellow onion
2-4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño pepper
maybe 2/3 cup frozen corn, derfrosted
cumin, salt, black pepper
butter or decently flavored oil

This could not be easier, although it does take time. First, sort your beans and put them into a large bowl or pot. Cover them with twice their depth in water and leave them for several hours, or overnight. See, you can even sleep while cooking. It's great.

The next day, boil the soaked beans until tender. Usually this takes about an hour, but it varies depending on bean age. You may need to add more water so things don't stick. Then drain the beans, reserving liquid. Or, you know, just pour off any excess liquid on the top, so you have a pot of mostly beans and a cup or so of liquid. It depends on how lazy you are.

Warm a few glugs of oil or a chunk of butter in a wide, deep frying pan. You can use almost any oil here, as long as it has some flavor. I like to use some olive and some peanut oil. Or you can mix oil and butter: it's your call. Chop up your onion and garlic and add them to the pan with a liberal seasoning of cumin. While they're softening, mince your jalapeño finely. Don't cut off your finger. Add the pepper and corn to the pan, stir to mix, and let everything cook on medium until soft.

Defrosting corn: stick your corn in a small bowl or cup, and cover it with hot water. Pour the water off. Repeat once or twice. The corn is now defrosted. It won't actually hurt to use still frozen corn here; it will just make the cooking take longer. So do whatever floats your boat.

When things are looking soft and smell so good you wouldn't mind climbing into the pan with them, add your beans and a cup or so of their liquid. Mash some of the beans into the pan with the back of your spoon. You can mash to any level of chunkiness; it's fine. Bring the pan to a slow simmer and cook down until everything is at the texture you want, stirring occasionally to keep dry bits from sticking to the pan. My refrieds usually take about 15 or 20 minutes, longer if the pan wasn't hot enough. Taste and correct seasoning, then eat.

You can do anything with refried beans: make tacos, burritos, or enchiladas, fry them in quesadillas, or just bowl it up with rice, salsa, and sour cream or (in my case) good thick yogurt. Congratulations: your dinner cost, what, two dollars? It is an awesome dinner. Eat it and be happy.

26 January 2007

Pasta e fagioli

One day in Venice, on the main street of the Cannaregio district, we went to this tiny hole in the wall cichetti bar for lunch. Cichetti are essentially the Venetian version of tapas, which you eat loudly at the loud, crowded bar, and the place reflected as much: it was about twelve by eight feet inside, and featured three tiny tables and a bar at which a few people were standing, hanging out with the waiter. I have no idea what the place was called. John thinks it was "Happiness". We sat down and ordered red wine and tortellini and pasta e fagioli.

Pasta e fagioli. This was perhaps the best food event to happen in our entire trip to Europe, and it wasn't even mine, it was John's! It was tragic. He got a wide, hot pasta bowl of pureed beans (fagioli) mixed with ditalini (very short tubular pasta), and a huge spoon so as to eat it in the most expedient manner. And that is exactly what happened. Expeditious. I got none! NONE. Well, ok, I got one tiny bite. It still remained tragic.

When we got home, I swung into action.

I had a few different ideas for this, based off the three variations in The Vegetarian Epicure I and II. I'd actually read over all of the recipes before, but hadn't made any of them, since each kept the beans in said dish whole. Beans with pasta sounded good, but whole beans? Ugh! Just the thought of them slipping and sliding through the pasta was enough to keep me away. I will eat mashed and beaten beans any day, however, so I combined that with the rest of the original recipe to come up with a perfect version. I also halved amounts so as to get something less than the enormous 6-8 servings promised in the books. So far we've had four, and there's still some left. Ah, twelve tons of food.

Pasta e fagioli

1 cup dried white beans
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 large yellow onion
1 carrot
2 sticks celery
2 half decent tomatoes
1/2 box tubular pasta
water or bean liquid
olive oil
oregano, basil, salt, pepper, bay leaf

Start the day before you want to eat. Yes, I know it is tragic, but there it is. Take your beans, wash and sort, and soak them in double their volume in water. Leave them for several hours or overnight. When they are sufficiently soaked, stick them in a large saucepan with lid, add a couple cloves of crushed garlic, a bay leaf, and a good glug of olive oil, plus water to cover, and put them on to boil until tender. Depending on the age of your beans, this could take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple hours. Yes. Well, this is why you start the day before. When they are tender, drain, reserving the water if you are industrious. Remove the bay leaf and mash the beans and garlic roughly with a fork. If you don't use the blender, you don't need to wash it. Set the beans aside.

In a large, heavy frying pan, warm several glugs of olive oil. Chop your onion, carrot, celery, and remaining garlic finely. Add them to the warm oil. Season with a little basil and slightly more oregano, plus salt and pepper. Stir everything to combine, turn heat to medium low, and try your best to ignore it for the next half hour. This mixture needs to cook slowly so the onion and etc gets sweet and soft, not brown and crispy. Go in the other room and read a book. You can stir occasionally, but that's it.

After a good 20 minutes, get in there with your tomatoes. Bring a small pot of water to the boil (I used the water for the pasta). While it's getting up there, cut two shallow crosses across the bottom of each tomato. Then drop them gently into the boiling water. Leave for about a minute, then fish them out and let cool. The tomato skin should have split, or strained a little at least along the cut you made. Grab a corner of the skin and peel it off. Keep doing it until each tomato is totally bare and fleshy. That's the secret of peeling tomatoes. Chop your skinned tomatoes and add them to the pan. Stir it a couple times, then leave it alone for another ten or fifteen minutes. You may want to turn the heat up a little at this point. I did. I am impatient.

This time, however, you can cook your pasta while the tomato reduces. Cook it, drain it, maybe give it a couple drops of olive oil so it doesn't stick.

When everything is done, mix the beans, pasta, and vegetables all together in one sufficiently large pot. I just used the frying pan, so as to avoid triple dishes. Add either some water or reserved industrious bean water, so as to get things to your preferred texture, and turn the heat up to medium if you haven't already. Correct salt and pepper if necessary, then let it all bubble together until hot and sufficiently amalgamated. I don't think you need more than ten minutes here. On the other hand, I was dying of hunger by this point. So.

Serve in big bowls with some sort of good grating cheese and plenty of pepper. Red wine is clearly an asset in this situation. So is decent bread. So is a nice nap location afterward. This is clearly heavy comfort food, and as such, highly soporific. Ghzxxhmmm.

Burrito Real

First Post! I win cooking!

We are just home from Europe after a long and interesting yet totally exhausting honeymoon. You would think this was a lead-in to comment on oh the this that great little place by the Pantheon! Well, there was a great little place by the Pantheon, but that's not my main topic. My main topic: we came home. We were, as mentioned, totally exhausted, and also, not as mentioned, STARVELING HELP HELP. Airplane food, while actually existing on transcontinental flights, is not enough to actually sustain you in any sort of way once you are off the plane through customs on the train on the SECOND train and walking the mile or so home.

We were starving for our own food that we cooked at our house in our kitchen with our knives and our stove and our own refrigerator. Of course, when we first got home there was no food. So instead we walked exhaustedly up the block to our near and dear and fortunately excellent taqueria, Burrito Real.

Burrito Real and its sister store La Costeña get all kinds of crazy "best burrito in the Bay area OMG I MUST HAVE ONE NOW!" awards, and for good reason. Their burritos are gigantic, fully customizable, and excellent. You get to go along the counter and add whatever strikes your fancy, which, in our case, is refrieds and spanish rice, monterey jack cheese, fresh jalapeño, green onion (they have no idea what you mean if you say "scallion"), guacamole, lettuce, and salsa asada, which is the hottest salsa still mild enough to actually maintain a vegetable savor in with the peppers. The finished burrito must weigh a good pound, and costs something like six dollars, depending on your additions. It is perhaps the most worth it six dollar lunch ever. For instance, I can barely ever finish a full one, and then have to keep the remaining third in the refrigerator until two in the morning, at which point I am noodling around in the refrigerator all "snack snack snack--hey!" and contentedly eat the remaining bits all cozy on the couch watching, say, the last season of Deep Space Nine. It was particularly appropriate after the, er, "burritos" that we had in Helsinki a couple weeks earlier--they were pretty good, considering, and even included a pile of chopped hot red pepper, but were not what anyone from anywhere near the American southwest would ever call "burritos". On the other hand, it was Helsinki! They are excused.

Burrito Real, 580 N. Rengstorff, Mountain View, CA