Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Eve

The scene: Christmas Eve, Sun Valley, Idaho: single-digit temperatures and feet and feet of snow. Some might call it a winter wonderland. So, it was clearly meant for Mexican food, right? We had my world-famous vegetarian chili (you can feed it to carnivorous men; I swear they won't know the difference, and I'm from Texas, so believe me when I say I know my chili and the men in my life do, too), guacamole, green-chile cornbread, pomegranate margaritas, and Mexican train dominoes. It's a fiesta!!!

First off, the margaritas. Ay carumba, they were good!! We made them by the pitcher, but you could do 'em by the glass as well:

1 part silver tequila
1 part fresh-squeezed lime juice (and I think we squeezed about 15 of them)
1 part orange-infused simple syrup*
1/2 part 100% pomegranate juice

Wipe a lime wedge around a rocks glass and dip in flaked kosher salt. Fill with ice and pour it up! Garnish with lime wedge.

*To make the orange-infused simple syrup, bring one cup sugar and one cup water plus a couple of heaping tablespoons of freshly grated orange zest to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, let cool on the stove and pour through a fine-mesh strainer.

These margaritas pack a wallop of tart, so you can cut them with a splash or two of club soda or 7-Up to give them some bubbles if you like.

Next up- guacamole. I go simple and traditional (no tomatoes). Dice up 2-3 ripe avocados (I halve them, cut a grid right in the skin, and scoop out the cubes with a spoon), add 1/4-1/2 C minced red onion, a VERY generous handful of fresh chopped cilantro, 1 large garlic clove, finely minced, then mashed with salt into a paste, and the juice of one lime. Mash with the fork and for Pete's sake, please don't puree it. It's better chunky. Serve with your personal chip preference (mine is restaurant style white corn tortilla chips).

Now for the chili. It's wicked easy, and you can do it in a stock pot or a slow-cooker. I happen to think it tastes better the longer it cooks, so if you have the time, go for the slow cooker.

In a large skillet (or your stock pot) on the stove, sweat a large onion, chopped, in a bit of oil. Once it starts giving up its liquid, I go ahead and add my spices: chili powder, cumin, coriander, celery seed, paprika, cayenne, and hot pepper flakes. My personal preference is about 4 T of chili powder and 1-2 t of the others- but certainly you can use your own blend (or even buy a packet if that's easier for you). Move this mixture to the slow-cooker, or just keep going if you're cooking it stovetop. Then add 3 15 oz. cans of beans- I use 1 each of dark red kidney, light red kidney, and pinto- 1 large can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes, 1 small can of tomato pastes, and 1 regular can of tomato sauce, and 1 package of TVP (soy crumbles). Seriously, don't be scared- the texture is perfect and no one will know. (If you have to use meat, just cook a pound of ground carcass in a separate skillet before adding it to the chili.) Cook on high until bubbly, then reduce to low for 5-6 hours (stovetop method: bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until all your flavors are melded). Serve over fritos, topped with chopped white onion, fresh cilantro, and grated cheese.

Finally, the cornbread. I got this trick from Paula Deen, I think, and it's simply scrumptious. Make your own cornbread recipe, or use a box (not going to lie- I usually go Jiffy), but when it's time to pour it into its baking dish, only pour in half. Then spread a layer of grated cheese and a small can of drained mild green chilies, THEN add in the rest of the cornbread. Cook like normal but you get an ooey, gooey, tangy surpise in the middle of each bite.

Then play Mexican train dominoes- all 13 hands, and it just gets more fun with each passing margarita. :) Feliz navidad, mis amigos.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas is coming, the (tofu) is getting fat....

I cannot believe it is already December 16th. I am leaving for Christmas vacation in 3 days and tonight, far more important than laundry or Christmas cards or packing ski clothes, is getting together my recipes. I am headed to Sun Valley, Idaho for 8 nights with free reign of the Cooke family kitchen- including Christmas dinner. I am told there is a vegetarian uncle that is absolutely ecstatic that I am in charge of The Meal.

So, no pressure, but I am collecting my recipes, fine-tuning my menu for Christmas dinner, and deciding what else I want to cook while I am there- that is, between my skiing, snow-shoeing, antique-shopping, sledding, sleighing, and all-purpose lounging by the fire reading a book in my long-johns.

So, here goes, Jamie's 1st Annual Vegetarian Christmas Event (you will see some repeats from Thanksgiving, but, with different diners, only my 3 readers will know)

baked brie with cranberries, pecans, and honey
stuffed mushrooms

fresh mushroom bisque

wild rice with sweet potatoes, leeks, cranberries, and pumpkin seeds, which I think I will serve in a hollowed-out acorn squash "bowl"
creamed corn
roasted brussels sprouts with shallots
twice-baked potatoes with chives
mushroom gravy in a red-wine reduction
homemade cranberry-orange relish

apple-onion stuffin' muffins

a lovely apple-pear-ginger crumble

extra goodies:
white chocolate peppermint bark
my Christmas-colored oatmeal-cranberry-pistachio cookies

What is everyone else serving/baking/stewing/mixing? I love the holidays-- but am going on a diet come Jan 1 like everyone else in America. I have gained about 100 lbs.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

best comfort food ever

I have a confession to make. I don't like butternut squash. I'm sorry; I've tried. I just don't. I don't like sweet potatoes with brown sugar and marshmallows, I don't like honey-glazed ham, and I don't like vegetable soup that tastes like dessert (and looks like baby food, but that's neither here nor there). I made some last week as a trial run for Christmas dinner, and it was beautiful- a soft, autumnal color with onion, a slip of apple, and a smattering of cumin, coriander, and chili powder- hoping in vain that the savory spicing would surprise me into loving the butternut squash- and topped with homemade garlic & parsley croƻtons. It was a huge hit- everyone loved it and everyone had seconds. Everyone except me. It's just.... blah. No thank you. I am closing the book on my relationship with butternut squash.

I'll probably still make it for Christmas because it's so festive and well-liked (and will be served in a hollowed-out acorn squash, fancy!), but not to be daunted by my self-imposed failure, I decided to try my hand at a tomato soup the next day. Now there was a winner!! Plus, there's pretty much no meal I would rather have on a dreary winter day than a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich (fried in butter, natch).

Tomato-Tarragon Soup

1 large onion, or 2 small ones- yellow or white, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 yukon potato, peeled and chopped
2 hefty 28-oz. cans of fire-roasted tomatoes
generous splash of a crisp white wine
1 carton of vegetable broth (or chicken, if you're not vegetarian)
a generous amount of dried tarragon (a big palm full or a couple of tablespoons, you could use basil here for a more classic flavor)
salt and pepper

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat a couple of swirls of olive oil to medium high heat. Chop and drop your onions and carrots and sautee past translucent- until they start browning. Take your time- this flavor will really add to your soup. Add a splash of wine to deglaze the pot, and make sure you scrape up any bits that cooked to the bottom. Then add tomatoes (undrained), the potato, the spices, and about 3 C of broth. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until the potatoes are very soft (about 25-35 minutes).

Once the vegetables are all soft, blend with an immersion blender (alternatively, let cool and blend in your blender or food processor, then return to pot). Re-season to taste and serve hot with your grilled cheese (mine was a combination of smoke white cheddar and gruyere) and dill pickles.

This makes about 6 servings, and trust me, it's better the next day, so feel free to make it ahead of time and re-heat.