28. M’s Fiesta Chicken/Arroz con Pollo

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One of the best summer jobs I’ve had was a job where I worked with a music therapist, translating her lessons into Spanish. I got to know people with totally different lives from mine and got to know M, the music therapist I worked with. Working with people who spoke Spanish, mostly from El Salvador and Mexico, we got to know the truly authentic Mexican food in the neighborhood, even when it was basically being served out of a small shack. I grew to appreciate a simple combination that seems to dominate Mexican food: fresh veggies roasted well, rice and chicken, and cheese laced with spicy peppers. The dish called Arroz con Pollo captured my heart and I decided to try to simulate it with my own twists.

While many people use broccoli or onions with this dish, I chose a red and a yellow bell pepper and put them into the pan to fry while I worked on the chicken. I use butter as my oil, which I think adds flavor and you don’t need a lot of it to make the whole thing feel rich. I also threw on a pot of rice.

The real piece of work was a pepper jack cheese sauce that made everything else a bit spicier and definitely creamier. I started with a basic roux, added in equal parts coconut milk and sour cream (you could use other things, but that was what I had in the house). I took about a cup of grated pepper jack and added it bit by bit while whisking until I had a thick, spicy cheese sauce that was perfect for topping my arroz con pollo. It looked so bright and wonderful, white and red and yellow, that I called my version Fiesta Chicken. It got the Husband stamp of approval and I had it for lunch two days after, which is saying something given my lack of interest in most foods the second day.

While I winged it based on what I had in my fridge, this recipe for Pepper Jack Sauce might be a good guide for you: https://www.cabotcheese.coop/cabot-pepper-jack-cheese-sauce

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27. L’s Spanish Omelette (Tortilla Española)

tortillaIn preparing for a dinner party (which has yet to happen; rescheduling was necessary), I made dinner for Husband as a chance to try a difficult trick. Any dinner that requires two frying pans used in tandem merits a trial run, I thought.

I was using a recipe-by-memory that I learned from my friend L. L and I met in college but became close while we were living abroad in Spain. She and I encouraged each other to go jogging more, to eat more chocolate, and to cry when things were difficult and lonely and new. I woke up next to her whenever the long metro ride back to my own apartment or to hers was too long after a late night talking and laughing. My last night in Spain, I slept in her apartment because I couldn’t handle thinking of heading back to the States where she wouldn’t be there. I have not had a closer friend since, to be honest, and while my new life is full of interesting and exciting elements of work and marriage, I miss her desperately.

We attempted all kinds of dishes, but because she was dating a Spaniard, she had access to some little-known secrets of Spanish cooking via his mother and grandmother that I could never have managed on my own. Tortilla, like pretty much all Spanish foods, doesn’t rely on fussy spices or exotic ingredients for its wonderful flavor; it’s just heat, quality eggs, chopped onions and potatoes, and as much olive oil as you want. The hardest part is keeping the tortilla from sticking to the pan and then also making sure that it flips well into the second pan. I do it over the sink, and don’t sweat it if things look a little messy afterwards.

I have eaten slices of firm-on-the-outside, soft-and-liquidy-on-the-inside tortilla in cafes all over Spain, but one evening with L we managed to make one turn out perfectly and we proudly served it to a friend who was visiting town and to my roommate. We were so proud, there in our little 5th-story living room, and I felt echoes of it as I flipped a tortilla in our kitchen. “What’s that?” Husband asked. I got to tell him a bit about Spain; he’s still learning about me and about my life there. Husband has never been out of the country (which I’m trying to remedy, but it may take some time) and when we were just friends I think he was in awe of the adventure that Spain was for me. Now, I think, he sees the ordinary-ness of it too: just a slice of thick, eggy goodness with enough olive oil to make you drool.

I used 6 eggs, one small onion, three small potatoes, and 3/4 cup olive oil, and it was a little too potato-ey in the pan I was using. My biggest advice is to slice the potatoes thin-thin and to cook them on their own for quite a while before you put the eggs in; while this may not be traditional, by cooking them through before I added the eggs I got the onion flavor deep in the potatoes and ensured against any crunchy starchy spots. If you’ve made tortilla, feel free to use the comments to share your tricks and tips. Never mind me while I scarf down some more.

26. The H’s Chicken Pot Pie

The whole H family have been in and out of my life since I met Husband. They are his aunt, uncle, and cousins, and they are fun – always with a smile, a story about recent travels, a kind word. I took a few meetings to really get to know them because I always saw them during a huge family gathering where I would be introduced to many people, often for the second or third time: by the time they were attending our wedding, though, we had the pleasure of speaking various times, and I knew they were passionate folks with lots of interests and plenty of travel stories to tell. I have to admit though, I was grateful for how homey the pot pie was, not a flight to an exciting new place but instead a walk through memories instead.

 

The process of making this pot pie was simple, as much comfort food is, but it makes a lot of food and it heats up so nicely the next day. The best part of fresh out of the oven is definitely the crust, which is out of a box and I don’t begrudge it that, because I’ve messed up a decent amount of pie crusts in my time. The combination of crisp and creamy is excellent and I am also comforted by the piles of veggies that go into this pie (alongside the creamy potatoes and milk).

 

I’ve been overstretching myself quite a bit lately, telling myself I’m never doing quite enough. Pot pie tells me that I’m fine, and that even if I need to clean some things while it is in the oven, and probably missed an email or a text message while I was stirring the mixture together, but lately, the prospect of getting to cook, especially soothing processes like making a pie, bring me to a place of not caring quite so much about all the things I should be doing. Providing food, at least, seems to be enough for a little while.

The H’s favorite easy Chicken Pot Pie

about 2 cups of cooked cubed chicken (occasionally check with can of chicken!) 2 cans cream of potato soup 1 bag frozen mixed vegetable (corn green beans carrots and peas) about 1 soup can of milk (mixture should be of moist consistency) 1 tsp thyme (important spices!) also pepper to taste.

Roll out Pillsbury pie crust. Oven 400 degrees; mix above and put in pie. Bake 50-65 minutes. Delicious.

25. W and R’s Turtle Pumpkin Pie

IMG_3898      I write this from my kitchen table on yet another afternoon – it is finally actually warm outside – 70 degrees! – and my friend A, of lentil soup fame, is visiting my home. I’ve been excited to have her for quite a while, and now she’s seen where I live, and like with all visiting friends from past times, I feel a bit nostalgic for the lives we have had in the past, the ones that had us living closer to each other.

This weekend, we returned to some recipes: I made a nice light cucumber/tomato/quinoa salad and we put together some of that delicious taco soup, the leftovers of which I’m scarfing in between typing words. This morning, we made bacon and she came downstairs to eat it and enjoy the morning with us. Food has been a major part of the whole visit, from a visit to our favorite local restaurant upon her arrival, to us dallying in the grocery store yesterday making sure to get food that fits her needs with regards to allergies and intolerances.

In college, I really didn’t care about food; even that far back, A has paid more attention to food than I have. She had to, because so many foods made her feel bad; now that I’m getting into the topic, I realize how much she already knew – she has worked on farms, and she has read labels on food, and just generally been paying attention to the world in ways I never have before. It took marriage, and specifically wanting to be an active part of choosing household nutrition, before I really paid attention. I ate junk food, processed foods, occasional vegetables as a kind of penance – I rarely cooked, enjoyed eating out extensively, and didn’t regulate what I ate except based on hunger and what made me happy.

When I am thinking about those years, there are a few food memories, but many of them are from later, as I became more of a cook. Still, it is good to have A in town to make me thoughtful about things.

I am finally making headway on the delicious stack of dessert recipes I’ve been trying to attack lately for the blog. I wanted to make something that was milk-free, given that A was visiting, and I had ingredients to make a pie that had been recommended to me by Great-Aunt B and Great-Uncle W. I decided I’d make a substitution – 1 cup of watered yogurt instead of 1 cup milk – since A can have yogurt and the pie would work well for her otherwise.

The main gist of the pie is this: pumpkin mixed with vanilla pudding. This is a brilliant idea, because vanilla pudding is a perfectly adequate treat for dessert, and pumpkin is a vegetable that actually makes the pudding taste better. With spices mixed in, all I had to do was put some caramel from J and T and pecans in the bottom of the graham cracker crust, and more caramel and more pecans on top of the fluffy pumpkin mix. Then an hour in the fridge, and you will have a delicious, soft, veggie-full pie that still is substantially sweet.

My kind and lovely great aunt and uncle gave me this recipe even though they weren’t able to travel to the wedding, and it makes me wistful for eating pie at their house in the South, telling stories late into the night the few times we got to visit them as children. It seems fitting to have a visitor now to share stories with.

Turtle Pumpkin Pie – no baking!

1/2 cup and 2 tbs. caramel ice cream topping

1 graham cracker crust

1/2 cup and 2 tbs. pecan pieces

1 cup cold milk

2 packages (3.4 oz) vanilla instant pudding mix

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

1 tub (8 oz.) cool whip thawed and divided.

Pour 1/4 cup caramel topping into crust and sprinkle with pecans. Beat milk, pudding mix, pumpkin, and spices with whisk until blended. Spread into crust. Refrigerate 1 hour – top with remaining cool whip and nuts. Then drizzle caramel topping over top.

Dinner Party 2 and Daydreaming of Spain

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It doesn’t come up as often now, but when I first moved back to the United States after living in Spain, I think I annoyed the people around me with how much I talked about it. Just like that friend you have who lived in Colorado or the Finger Lakes or some other ridiculously spectacular place, I felt myself saying “oh that reminds me of…” all the time and connecting back to a place that, for all the memories, was now very far away.

Lately, I’ve been daydreaming specifically about the flavors of spain: the combination, for instance, of crusty bread toasted and layered with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and just the lightest sprinkling of salt. I’ve been daydreaming of the overwhelming freshness and cheapness of veggies and fruits, of sangria made from overnight-soaking sliced fruits in red wine, of slices of spanish omelette with firm egg on the outside and a gooey wad of potato and oil in the center, nearly liquid. When I look at my fridge in the United States, so many of these flavors are still possible, still right there: I eat eggs and potatoes in so many forms here. However, there is something about the combinations, about eating them under a beating mediterranean sun by a plaza in Cadiz, or of leaning back in the metal-framed chairs that most terrace restaurants had, and just oozing into my meal. I don’t think I’ve been relaxed since I’ve moved back, not really, and it has been years.

So the second dinner party (coming up soon!) carries a tapas theme – I will tell my invitees to bring any food that would be reasonably easy to cut down to tiny portions, but it was my chance to try some of my favorite flavor combinations again, to make a true Spanish tapas feast. It looks like turn-out will be low (I am friends with lots of teachers, and they travel elsewhere on spring break), but so many of the best times in Spain were with only a few others, sharing many foods that came in portions. This style of eating, dubbed “para picar” in Spanish, or “to nibble,” instead of ordering an individual meal for each person you order many different things and everyone tries a bit of each. It is pretty much the definition of a potluck, even if it is more common as a snack-type meal in Spain, and I’m pretty excited to see what tapas-like foods my friends bring.

I will be making (unless my ambition outpaces my ability/time), tomato toasts and spanish omelette, as well as a simple chicken and veggie paella (not traditional; more like a paella-flavoring chicken and rice dish); I’m also going to attempt a fried eggplant with honey and goat cheese that was hands-down my favorite tapa in Madrid, but I have never tried it before. When I write about these recipes, they will be connected to people I shared them with (S, and L, and A, and E are sure to make appearances) not with the people who gave me the recipes, but in my effort to look further and farther with this project, I think this will still be in the spirit of how food and cooking connect people.

24. A’s Soldier Kisses Cookies

My great grandmother is rather direct; she is originally from Finland and spent years as a missionary before marrying my great grandfather. I remember my childhood visits to her as being punctuated by many desserts and at odd hours: one morning, my mother awoke to find her own grandmother and her two children gleefully eating bowls of ice cream for breakfast with brownies on the side.

When I called her to talk about some changes in wedding plans, she told me that there was a word in Finnish that meant determination but was literally translated as “willing to walk through snow.” She said matter-of-factly, “That is what you need for a marriage to work.” I thought about the piles of snow I see in the winter and how uninterested I usually am in soldiering out; this seemed a slightly unforgiving view of marriage. Still, I was glad to have someone be a realist instead of asking variations of the question “Are you sooooo happy?” It seems important to get that real-world advice, the need for determination, before a wedding. It feels like the wedding is less of a fairy tale and more my actual life.

She gave me a recipe for one of the many sweets we ate as children, a fluffy pecan merengue cookie that she called “Soldier’s Kisses.” I thought they weren’t going to set up well because I used one egg white and it just seemed a bit soupy, but when they came out of the oven, they were rich and sweet, chewy in the middle and crisped on the outside, and perfect as a part of breakfasts in honor of all the time we spent being unhealthy as children.

I would probably modify them to include a second egg white, just to have more umph to the merengue, but the below recipe worked.

A’s Soldier Kisses

1 egg white
1 cup brown (light) sugar
2 cups pecan pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp vanilla.
Beat egg white and sugar; add other ingredients slowly while mixing. Drop in spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the edges are done. (I’ve also seen online that some folks just preheat the oven and then leave the cookies overnight in the oven to harden; experiment and see what you get both ways!)

23. D’s Kahlua Cake/Brownies

D is a person who understands the need to improvise. He’s travelled to more countries than I can count, and when Husband says, “oh yeah, I talked to D today, he’s going to Mexico” I am never surprised. He’s climbed over craggy cliff-faces, biked around hairpin turns, and generally adventured his way halfway around the world. Which is why I had to laugh when I saw his cake recipe was a modification of a box recipe for Devil’s Food Cake. I have no doubt it was good, but because I had a rather old brownie mix in the cupboard, I used that instead.

I first met D when he came over for a game night about a month into my relationship with Husband. I’d heard a lot about him; he’d grown up with Husband, they’d been on so many adventures together, so I was pretty anxious to like him. He turned out to be a pretty avid board game player who was quite excellent, and a bit of a teaser. I could see how Husband and D had influenced each other’s personalities, and how at ease they were together. A lot of folks aren’t lucky enough to keep friends for a long time due to outside circumstances, but the ability to maintain good friends for years and years was one of the things that cemented my decision that Husband was a great guy.

As for my brownie-mix pursuits… let’s not even go there. Basically, I made brownies, added mint flavoring, cooked them barely to done (they taste like fudge), and put a chocolate chunk in the middle of each one while it was still warm. Was this truly in the spirit of the recipe? I don’t know – but telling the story of it would probably make D laugh.

(I promise I’ll have more recipe-oriented and food-oriented posts soon!)IMG_3894

Kahlua Cake

 

Devil’s Food Mix

1 cup sour cream

4 eggs

¾ cup oil

6 ounces chocolate chip

 

 

  • Mix two minutes
  • Flour the bundt pan
  • Bake at 350 degrees, 55-60 minutes.
  • Enjoy your marriage!