Curried Pumpkin Soup

I was in NYC last week partially for play, partially for work. Even though my birth certificate says New York, New York, I am not one of those people who loves New York. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy it and that there definitely aren’t parts of it that I wish I could transplant to the Chi or that I wouldn’t even consider living there one day, but when people find out that I spent every summer and holiday there and that most of my extended family still lives there, the reaction is always, “don’t you just love New York? How can you not live there???” It’s hard to explain that I’ve gotten used to the pace of Chicago, the simplicity, the ease of it, but it’s even harder to explain that being there is always a little bittersweet, because everything from the airport to the subway to the pretzel stands to just about every corner of Midtown (and a few in the Bronx, Queens, Long Island and Brooklyn) is part of a memory of a family that is close to existing only in my mind. Our times in New York were filled with so much fun and laughter that it seems impossible that any new times in the city would ever truly compare. It sounds absolutely bizarre, but even amid the tourists and the traffic and the noise and the people rushing past me, I can get so caught up in remembering some moment walking down 57th street with my grandfather or waiting on the #4 train platform with my dad that I find myself just standing still in the middle of the sidewalk trying to catch my breath. And if you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like to have what feels like 5,000 people scream at you at once, I highly recommend stopping dead on a sidewalk in Manhattan at rush hour. Good times.

Before I get way too caught up in family history, I’ll tell you what may actually be the real reason I waiver on moving to the East Coast: the weather. Yeah, yeah, I know, I live in Chicago and it’s cold and windy and blah blah blah. But, y’all, the East Coast is extreme. For real. I had never seen as much snow as I did when I went to school in Poughkeepsie, which is just 1.5 hours by train from NYC. I mean, it was up to our hips from January until April (for all of you wondering, it is too cold in Chicago to snow that much. I’m not saying cold is better than snow, it’s just what I’m used to). And summer in New York? Fuggedabouit. The Chi may be hot and humid, but at least we have a bit of lake breeze to cool us off. I spent many an NY summer trying to stay as still as possible. And right now, as we are 6 weeks away from the official start of winter, I’m reading post after facebook post about how my New York friends are digging out from snow! In October! It’s a balmy 54 degrees and sunny in Chicago (although with the windchill it is 48. Just trying to keep it honest).

Anyhoo. One friend posted a picture of her deck covered in snow and said that she wanted soup, and I realized that I had a pumpkin soup recipe that had, like so many others, been waiting for a good story. I recognize that I haven’t necessarily provided that, but at least I’m posting a holiday specific recipe in time for you to make it before Halloween and, if you’re on the East Coast, at least I have something to keep you toasty over this cold weekend. Baby steps, friends, baby steps.

I love the kick that the curry adds, plus it complements the pumpkin in a way that is surprising given every other pumpkin-ish dish is sweet. I think milk would be a fine substitute for the cream and do not feel a shred of guilt over using canned pumpkin. Also, this could be totally vegetarian if you use vegetable stock/broth instead of chicken stock. The croutons are left over no knead bread, also an excellent way to heat up the house on a chilly day.

Stay warm, New Yorkers! My heart may belong to the Second City, but you know I’ll always have a huge crush on you….

Curried Pumpkin Soup, from The Complete Book of Soups and Stews by Bernard Clayton, Jr.

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed and diced
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree, freshly made (?!) or canned
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch sugar
  • 1/3 teaspoon or more curry powder
  • pinch nutmeg (or pumpkin spice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, if desired
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 cups light cream

Melt butter in medium (3 quart) saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add the pumpkin puree and stock. Stir well to mix. Add bay leaf, sugar, curry powder and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. While soup is cooking, taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Remove from heat and add cream (I’d temper the cream a bit–add a few tablespoons to 1/3 cup of soup slowly to the cream, just to bring the cream up in temperature. When you add the cream to the soup it won’t curdle). Return to heat only to bring temperature of the soup back to hot. Do not allow to simmer–rising steam only. Serve in hot soup bowls.


Polenta with Mascarpone

To say that I’m antsy is a huge understatement.  I think most people would say that I have spring fever, but spring has not yet sprung in the Chi even though we are nigh on April, so that can’t be it.  Or maybe it is. Maybe my internal body clock realizes that it’s [past] time to stop putting on 1746 layers just to leave the house to run an errand and my mind and soul are rebelling.  Who knows?  But, kids, I’m (as Blanche Devereaux would say), jumpier than a virgin at a prison rodeo (hi, Mom! Don’t pass out…).

Like last week’s brownies experiment, I needed something that was so mind-numbingly rote that my brain would shut off and stop sending off flares that would eventually lead me to doing something totally inappropriate.  I should pause here to say that when I get like this–when I get all bored and twitchy–I find myself getting into trouble.  I tend to get impulsive just to have something to do or something different to think about.  Rarely does this impulsiveness include practical things like organizing my closet or checking items off of my to-do list, because seriously, what fun would that be?  Usually I can stop myself from doing truly detrimental things and narrow the field to a haircut or buying a few pairs of shoes, but sometimes I’m led down the path of rekindling so-not-good-for-me-relationships or quitting a job.  True stories.  We haven’t gotten nearly that far this time, so I’m hopeful that the thought of a trip to Cozumel in a few weeks will quiet my mind enough to keep me out of therapy.  Or jail.  Either way.

So, yes, I had to come up with something to make that would occupy my mind for a bit, but that wasn’t so complicated that I wouldn’t do it.  I decided on polenta, because I hadn’t had success with it in the past, so there was a good challenge involved and it only has a few ingredients, so I wouldn’t get discouraged.  A friend mentioned that she’d made polenta using cream cheese, and my mind instantly went to mascarpone, because it has just about the same consistency but is much more yummy.  Plus I’ve always wanted to use mascarpone in something, because it sounds so fancy.  I mean, would you be reading this post if it were called Polenta with Philly Cream Cheese? Methinks not.

Honestly, it couldn’t have been easier.  A total of 5 ingredients (water, cornmeal, salt, sugar and mascarpone) and 30 minutes later I had a side dish that I had to stop myself from devouring like it was my job.  It was also perfect, because it required a fair amount of watching and stirring, and I learned that if you stare at a swirling mass of cornmeal long enough, your mind really will shut off (to the point that the timer may go off for a good minute before you realize it’s yours).  Mission accomplished!  The polenta was creamy and slightly sweet from the mascarpone.  It tasted ridiculously decadent, and even though I just served it with slow cooked beef I did in the crockpot and steamed spinach, I could easily see this making it to dinner party plates.


It was an excellent distraction, which I needed, but unfortunately one cannot stir polenta all day every day.  Any suggestions on ways to keep myself out of trouble are happily welcomed. In the meantime, I just ordered these:

Polenta with Mascarpone (adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2010)

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

Bring 5 cups water to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat. Gradually whisk in polenta, then 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt and sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until polenta is tender, thick, and creamy, whisking often and adjusting heat to maintain gentle simmer, 25 to 30 minutes (I would say that it took about 35 minutes to get it relatively smooth and thick).  Mix in mascarpone cheese. Season polenta to taste with salt and pepper.

Candied Ginger

After an unfortunate run in with some not so happy cold cuts, there has been little but broth, dry toast, crackers and ginger tea/ale cooked or eaten chez moi.  I have watched 11 episodes of Law & Order since Monday (which is fine with me, given that the theme song is my ring tone), but I’m just about done with all of the commercials for weight loss supplements, car insurance and shady law firms.  I did, however, discover that when starved of anything tasty, I will actually crave Red Lobster followed by a Taco Bell chaser (those commercials are shown ALL. DAY. LONG.).  Not sure what to do with that info, but there you have it.  I would also like to try this place called Cici’s or something that has a $4.99 pizza buffet; from the commercials, it appears they have a mac & cheese pizza… Can you tell I need to get out?

Anyhoo. It is well known in my family that when you’re sick, the ginger tea comes out.  Powdered ginger will do, but if you really want to feel better quickly, you have to get fresh ginger, cut it up, smash it down a bit to release some of the oils and then add boiling water.  After drinking about 18936574 cups of tea over the last few days, though,  I really couldn’t imagine drinking one more, but I still wanted the benefits of the ginger.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever chewed on raw ginger, but it’s akin to gnawing on bark rolled in chili pepper.  I wouldn’t recommend it. 

But what could I do with all of the ginger my mother had brought me without having to actually cook?  And then it occurred to me that I hadn’t had any sugar in days and I was starting to get twitchy (don’t even talk to me about the lack of coffee and chocolate).  So candied ginger seemed like a good way to go.  There didn’t seem to be a recipe out there that had less than 7 billion steps, but I settled on Alton Brown’s because it was the most straight forward.

And I have to report that all the happiness of the ginger tea, but with the added goodness of the syrup, is found in the candied ginger.  It’s still spicy, but the syrup softens the sharpness a bit.  I did one batch with an extra sprinkle of sugar, and I actually–shockingly–like it better without, which only means that over the last few days I’ve lost my mind and possibly some of my taste buds. 

I am feeling so much better that I actually turned off the tv for a bit in the middle of a Law & Order episode that I’d already seen 3 times.  Next step is getting out of the pajamas.  Was that an overshare?









Candied Ginger courtesy of Alton Brown via

  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 pound fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar

Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline (I used a sharp knife and my slices were not the least bit even, which I think is more fun). Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.

Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. This is where you’d want to dredge the pieces in granulated sugar, if desired.

Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee (oh, how I miss you, dear coffee!).

Brussel Sprout Slaw–Seriously! It’s tasty…

I’m not even going to try to convince you that Brussel sprouts are yummy and that you should run out immediately and get some for dinner tonight.  I think that people fall into one of two categories when it comes to Brussel sprouts–you either love them or think that they are gross and inedible.  It’s kind of like with cilantro: there is no middle ground.  While I fall into the hate category on cilantro, I’m having a bit of a love affair with the sprouts.  I never ate them growing up, and my first taste was only a few years ago at Custom House, where they roast them in mini-Le Creuset pots and slather them with butter and bacon.  How could it not be lust at first bite??

I’m obviously not alone in my crush on the little cabbages, because they’ve been popping up on menus around the Chi lately.  A few weeks ago at the Purple Pig, I had a yummy grilled cheese sandwich with a side of Brussel sprout slaw that was so happy I actually left most of my sandwich on the plate and inhaled every bit of the slaw.  You know it has to be delish if I’m leaving melted cheese on toasted bread behind.  Their slaw is served with a light vinaigrette and shavings of nutty cheeses, so again, goodness on a plate.

I’ve been talking about that slaw since there was snow on the ground, so I finally decided that I’d try my own version for Easter dinner.  This was tricky, because while I could have lied and passed it off as regular cole slaw so that at least one bite would be taken, who serves cole slaw at Easter?  I mean, eyebrows would have been raised.  But, I just loved the cool green freshness shaved sprouts have–it just sung Spring to me–so I was honest and confessed my side dish intentions.  You can imagine that this was not met with a warm reception.  But promises were made to at least taste it.

I decided on a simple recipe using lemon juice, olive oil, green apples and salt and pepper (and I’ll admit that I made a little bacon to sprinkle on top in case there were true objections to the slaw.  What doesn’t taste better with a bit of bacon?).  I initially thought I could use a grater to get the slivers, but it was far easier to do a chop with a sharp knife.  And, seriously? It was tasty (you shouldn’t be surprised given the title of the post).  It was exactly as I hoped: light and fresh, with just a hint of the lemon.  The apples added a bit of texture and the olive oil (which I added just before I served it), wilted the leaves just enough so that it didn’t seem like we were chewing on blades of grass. 

 And the best compliment: “I never would have known I was eating Brussel sprouts if you hadn’t told me!”  Mission accomplished (and we didn’t even need the bacon).  Just don’t ask me to create a recipe with cilantro.  Never happening…

Brussel Sprout Slaw

  • 1 bag fresh Brussel sprouts from Trader Joe’s (I think it’s 1/2 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of  1/2 a large lemon
  • 1/4 green apple, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop the Brussel sprouts (starting at the top and to about mid-way down to the stem) finely; place in serving bowl.  In separate bowl, mix the olive oil and lemon juice.  Pour oil/juice mixture over sprouts (I did this in batches so that it wouldn’t get too oily–add enough for your liking).  Add the apples and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Fall in love.

Baked Ziti at the Ronald McDonald House

It’s been a long couple of weeks at the Pestle Mortar household.  I’ll totally tell you the story one day over a gin and tonic or 5.  But suffice it to say that there has been no cooking or baking or even grocery shopping, although lists have been written of all the things that I plan on making in the near future.  And! I welcomed Pestle Mortar into the 2nd decade of the 21st century by signing up for Twitter.  Follow us on our culinary adventures, won’t you?  So even though I haven’t been cooking, I’ve been thinking about cooking and thinking about this little blog, and well, we all learned at a young age that it’s the thought that counts, right?

Anyhoo.  Long before life came and distracted me, I had signed up to cook lunch for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House with a friend from law school.  The idea behind the House is that families who have a child in the hospital can stay free of charge so that they can be nearby.  Some families send just one parent, others come with siblings, and they can stay for as long as it takes for the sick child to recover.  Families come from thousands of miles away from home, so one benefit they receive is getting home-cooked meals.  Usually staff will prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, but volunteers are allowed to come and cook any meal, or just make cookies with the siblings staying at the house.  It’s a great place, but, of course, we all wish it weren’t necessary.

My friend, B–whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years, but, through the magic that is facebook, have reconnected with–organized an afternoon with a few of her friends and their young children to make lunch and generally have a lovely afternoon.  Since we weren’t sure how many people we’d be feeding–meals are set up buffet style and families can come at any point to help themselves–we decided to make 3 different kinds of baked ziti (turkey sausage, pork sausage and a completely vegetarian eggplant and spinach one) and lemon cupcakes.  What was great about the whole set up was that there were three different cooking stations, all the utensils and cookware that we needed, and the kitchen was industrial sized, so we never bumped into each other.  All we had to do was bring the ingredients, which B divided up equally, so we all spent the same amount and didn’t have to schlep huge bags of food. 

For some crazy reason (likely because none of them knew me.  Or perhaps they didn’t trust me with their kids, who were on cupcake duty), I was assigned to the vegetarian ziti station.  As we’ve learned, Italian food and I aren’t the best of friends, so it should come as no surprise that I’ve never made baked ziti.  Nor have I ever sautéed an eggplant (let alone cut one up), because I don’t really like it (it’s a texture thing.  For the same reason, I don’t like tomatoes, zucchini or meatloaf. That last one is a little random, I realize, but they all have the same squishy texture to me…).  So here I am charged with creating a vegetarian pasta dish that features one of my least favorite foods and I’m cooking for complete strangers who have a sick kid and need a wholesome meal.  Oh! And when I started, I didn’t have a recipe… Ok, then.

In the end it worked (mainly because B arrived with the recipe before I could do much damage) and it was a hearty, tasty meal that I would duplicate in a minute (I must be honest and say that I couldn’t bring myself to taste the eggplant version, but the turkey sausage one was yummy! I’m such a cheat! But people told me the veggie one was really good…).

As we were cleaning up the kitchen, the families thanked us, which was completely overwhelming, because really, we should have been thanking them for giving us a chance to do something so rewarding with a few hours on our Saturday.  B, her friends and I promised to do this every month and, as lovely as the families were, I know we’re all hoping that we won’t see the same people ever again…

Baked Ziti (via Williams Sonoma @

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Spinach Pesto

After the food debauchery of last week, I needed a total detox from all things heavy, buttery, sauce-laden and sugary.  So, basically anything that tastes good.  I had a wonderful time eating my way through this magnificent city–and would do it again in an artery clogged heartbeat–but I decided to take this week to try to incorporate some vegetables and whole grains and fruit into my meals.  Woo hoo….?

The thing about having so many tasty dishes over the course of a week is that my tastebuds and body have completely gotten used to all of the goodness, so I knew that if I wanted to eat well this week I was going to have to find big, bold flavors to trick myself into doing it. 

Luckily, I was actually craving spinach (strange, I know.  When I was a kid one of my favorite lunches was ground beef and spinach, which my mother would put in my Wonder Woman thermos.  Any wonder that I used to bribe kids with cookies to sit with me at lunch?).  I knew, though, that if I had to come home after a day of work and some [very little] time at the gym and sit down to a plate of spinach salad, I was going to reach for the phone to make a reservation at the closest place serving anything decadent.  But really, how many ways are there to make spinach fun? And quick? And easy? 

For some reason, spinach pesto popped into my head and I’m really happy it did.  Not only did I get to feel all manner of virtuous as I tore up my spinach leaves and chopped my garlic and grated my parmesan cheese, I had a delicious way of eating my veggies and not feel like I was suffering. 

In full honesty, I think you’d have to eat the equivalent of a jar of the pesto to actually get the full benefits of a serving of spinach, but let’s not burst my little healthy bubble, ok?

Making the pesto was easy, and I say this even after I had to use a blender to do it (I don’t own a food processor–something I was really annoyed about at 7 in the morning when I was making this pesto so that I would have it all ready to go when I got home).  I ended up making whole grain pasta and grilling some chicken, and voila! A completely healthy and tasty meal that didn’t leave me feeling deprived or unsatisfied, which would have also made me super crabby.  And no one needs that.

I was happy to have a week of simplicity and goodness.  Especially after I read about Chicago Chef Week.  See you there? 

Spinach Pesto

  • 4 cups washed, torn spinach leaves, stems removed, well packed
  • 3 garlic cloves, halved
  • 2-3 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Place a few spinach leaves, garlic, basil and a little oil in blender or food processor container.  Cover and puree until leaves begin to look crushed.  Continue adding spinach leaves a few at a time with small amounts of oil to blender, using a rubber spatula to help combine pureed mixture.  Add cheese and salt.  Cover and process until mixture is smooth.

Food Challenge #3: Kala’s Quinoa Pudding

Last week, one of my closest and dearest friends, Kala, sent me a food challenge. I point out that she is one of my closest and dearest friends—we have known each other since we were 11—because when she told me that she wanted me to help her find a tasty way to make quinoa, I absolutely wanted to make the best quinoa ever in life because I love her dearly.  When she then told me she had never actually had some that tasted good, I got a little nervous, because I really didn’t want to disappoint her.  When I started looking up recipes online that described quinoa as “nutty,” “crunchy,” “a super-food” but never “delicious” or “yummy,” I started thinking that this was going to be a little harder than I thought. But it wasn’t until I asked another friend what she thought of this ultimate protein and she said, “it’s kind of like couscous, but it has these little tail things,” that I thought that disappointing one of my closest and dearest friends was really not that big a deal. I’m sure that Hallmark even has a card to make up for it. 

Since I have been at a loss for cooking ideas lately, and as the days ticked by without the slightest bit of inspiration, a quinoa pudding started to sound better and better (or at least the idea of it.  Kala and I decided that I’d try to make a variation on rice pudding since she wanted sweet over savory).  I really think it’s difficult to screw up anything that has sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, but I also thought that if anything could, it would be some kind of grain with a tail (I really hoped that that part of the description was an exaggeration, but there it was right on the package—although what my friend called tails are technically called “germ rings.” Even better…). 

I’ve had mixed success with about five rice pudding recipes I’ve tried: either the rice was too hard, too soft, not sweet enough, blah blah blah, so I knew I’d have to find a recipe specific to quinoa, since I wasn’t familiar with its texture or taste.  Surprisingly, there were a number of good ones out there, which means more folks have jumped on the crunchy-almost like couscous-but-with-a-tail bandwagon than I knew (can you tell that I really can’t get over that tail/germ thing?? I mean, really. It’s just too much for me).   All of the recipes I found online said that the quinoa needed to be picked over and separated out and washed thoroughly in unicorn tears, which sounded way more complicated than I really could be bothered with. 

Luckily Trader Joe’s sells boxes of it and I’m going to hope that TJ did all of the hard work for me.

So I open the package and it was literally like putting my head in damp soil, which, since this is a food blog and all, is not the best description for something I’m trying to encourage you to make, but that’s what came to mind and I’m all about honesty here (wait! Perhaps I should cut to the chase and tell you now that it turned out to be super tasty, so that all of this lead up doesn’t have you swearing off quinoa and its goodness before you even try it.  It was yummy! I promise!).  Needless to say that as it was cooking, the earthy smell intensified to the point that when it was ready I said out loud, “I really don’t want to taste this,” and had an internal debate about how on the one hand I really enjoy this blog, but on the other, I’m not prepared to eat just anything for the sake of coming here to tell you about it.  But my New Year’s resolution to commit myself to this little endeavor won out, and I tasted about three grains.  And they were crunchy. But! Also kind of bland and inoffensive (again, strange words to use to describe food, but that made me realize I could work with it). 

Even though I knew the sugar, coconut milk, cinnamon and vanilla mixture was going to work, I really didn’t expect the recipe to turn out as well as it did.  I mean, I had to walk around my apartment for a good 5 minutes after it came out of the oven humming the theme to Rocky to gear myself up to taste it.  And I’m really happy I did, because it was sweet and creamy, with a lightness that made it more appealing than rice pudding, which I love, but will totally cheat on with this quinoa pudding.  I actually had to convince myself to move away from the pan so there’d be some left for pictures.  And, it was even better the next day when all the flavors had soaked in and it was room temperature.

So, yeah, I am smitten with a super-grain.  I had some for breakfast and have been snacking on it as I type this up.  If I weren’t going out to dinner, I’d have a bit more.  I almost feel like I should buy it a card and some flowers…

Quinoa Pudding

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Black Bean Burritos

It’s been a long week, kids.  I don’t know if it’s the let down after the excitement of having a four day weekend or the *&$^(#%^!@ bell ringers on every corner or the tourists stopping to ooh and ahh over traffic lights and jamming up the sidewalks, but I am seriously considering staying home until January 2.  I am trying to get into the holiday spirit, but since I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring a flask of Maker’s Mark to work, it’s slow going.

Of course, cooking has kind of taken a back seat since all I really want to do is have Frosted Flakes for dinner, but last night I really needed something a little more comforting (especially since snow was in the forecast).  I got home late and opened my refrigerator to discover I had the following: olives, mustard, one tortilla, an onion, milk and potatoes.  A survey of the pantry led me to black beans, saltines and brownie mix.  As tempted as I was to just make the brownies and call it a day, I realized that I could make black bean burritos and I instantly felt better (and thank goodness there is a 7-11 downstairs so I could pay $5 for some Monterrey Jack cheese).

I haven’t made this in ages, but years ago when I lived with three vegetarians, I ate more black bean burritos than anyone really ever should.  One of my roommates made up the recipe and it supplemented the rice and soy sauce, canned soup and spaghetti with olive oil and Kraft parmesan we ate on a regular basis (no sodium deficiencies for us, obviously!).

The burritos were incredibly easy and we always had the ingredients in the house, which meant that we’d make them for dinner or as a 4am snack.  We told ourselves that they were totally healthy–fiber! protein! dairy!–and they are until you add half a cup of sour cream and eat 3 of them in one sitting.

It was the perfect thing to have after a long day, though, because the curry and cumin make it taste as though you really put in a lot of effort, when actually it takes 20 minutes from start to finish.

And really? There is nothing better than melted cheese and little bit of spice to make you forget that winter hasn’t even technically started and you still have to do holiday shopping.  Someone pass the Maker’s…

Black Bean Burritos

  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 an onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon hot curry
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • whole wheat tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Add the olive oil to a sauce pan set over medium heat and saute the onions, until wilted.  Add the garlic, spices, and black beans.  Stir and let simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from stove, add the corn (still frozen. Told you it was super easy!) and let sit while you grate the cheese (this will let the corn thaw).

Add a layer of the bean/corn mixture to middle of tortilla, top with cheese and fold into burrito.  Place on foil or cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is melted.  Top with salsa and sour cream (if you actually have either of those things in your refrigerator, unlike me).

Corn Goodness

So Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that there’s no pressure, no presents to buy, no songs to get sick of; it’s just about good food and family and friends and if you’re lucky lots of leftovers. I also love that you can make an entire meal out of the side dishes. Turkey and ham are lovely, but really, they just take up room on the plate when sweet potatoes and stuffing and rice and peas and roasted vegetables are available. For the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my favorite sides that I wish I could eat all the time, but only get made during the holidays (for no other reason than I totally OD on them for a month and then can’t really think about them again for awhile).

A friend of mine used to host a holiday girls’ night where she’d pull out her good plates and glasses, decorate her apartment and have about 10 us over for dinner. Some years it was just before she left to go home to Texas for Thanksgiving; other years it would be around Christmas and we’d do a present exchange.  We were all asked to bring something, and one year another Heather brought this corn dish that I took one bite of and promptly pulled the rest of closer to my plate and guarded it like a prisoner getting extra bread and water (or whatever prisoners eat). It was kind of like a soufflé, but a little denser and grainy, like polenta. I admit that I stalked Heather for the rest of the party until she finally wrote down the recipe for me and when I tell you it is the simplest—and likely one of the best—things I’ll ever post, I’m not exaggerating (like I’d ever do that). She didn’t have a name for it, so I instantly named it Corn Goodness, because that’s exactly what it tasted like—all the sweetness and goodness of corn, baked into this better than cornbread, almost like stuffing, happiness.

It’s insanely easy, but no one has ever tasted it and not asked me for the recipe immediately. It goes with just about everything, so memorize it and keep the ingredients handy, so you can whip it up on a cold day when you need a little goodness in your world…

Corn Goodness

  • 1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 cup sour cream 
  • 1 can sweet fresh corn 
  • 1 can creamed corn 
  • Dash of salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all of the ingredients in bowl.  Stir well until the mix is fully incorporated.  Pour into pie dish (or individual ramekins) and bake for 30 minutes or until knife inserted comes out clean. Cool slightly and then cut into triangles.  Serve warm.

Anniversary Potato Salad

A number of years ago today—I’d have to go into witness protection if I gave the actual number—my mother and aunt arrived in New York City from Jamaica.  They were 11 and 9 years old and had been separated from their parents and brother for four years.  My grandparents left one island where the sun actually provided warmth for another one where the few rays of sun were deceptive.  My grandmother left first, going to Canada and then coming into the United States where she found work in the Garment District and set up a small approximation of the life they’d had in pre-independence Kingston.  My grandfather and uncle followed, and I imagine that the rationale for leaving my mother and aunt behind was that it was easier to start a life in a new place with only one child instead of three.  I have been told this story for as long as I can remember. 

Every year on this day, either my mother or aunt would call the other and wish each other happy anniversary.  Then they would reminisce about how it was so cold, a sensation they couldn’t possibly have ever imagined, and how a few days later it snowed, just little flakes, but enough to make them stop whatever they were doing to watch this magic falling from the sky.  They’d talk about how the American accents sounded so odd to their ears—so flat—but how they were the ones who got teased for their lilting British voices.  The phone call always ended with memories of their first Thanksgiving, just a week after they arrived, with friends who lived in the same building.  First they were served Velveeta and Ritz crackers (imagine never having had American cheese and your first introduction being Velveeta!) and then the turkey and stuffing and ham and the thing my mother remembers most, potato salad with mayonnaise.  As she tells it, the white potatoes (which they’d also never had) were completely overwhelmed by heavy mayonnaise and it was cold and unfamiliar and just so not good.  The texture and the temperature and the very idea of mayonnaise were more than she could handle, and to this day she will make a face when she thinks of it.  Again, I’ve been told these stories for as long as I can remember. 

This is the first year that my aunt will not be here so that my mother can wish her a happy anniversary.  It is the second that my uncle is not here to chime in with what little he may have remembered about his two older sisters on this day.  It has been more than a decade since my grandparents told their version of the story.  Even though they were separated for years, the five of them stayed a family and were finally brought together many years ago today and remained together from that moment on.  There was so much between then and now, more than I’ll ever know, about struggles and fear and being strangers in a strange place where everything was new and sometimes not so shiny.  But I know that they were happy to be together, that they were happy to be here in this country where they made the best of every day, that they loved to dance and laugh and taste new foods (even things like mayonnaise), and that their story—which has become mine—is one of the best stories I’ve ever been told…

 Mustard Potato Salad With Capers (Happy Anniversary, Mom!)

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