May 31, 2011

Black Bean Vegetable Chili


Yesterday was Memorial Day, and we know we were supposed to be out grilling meats, but we actually did our grilling a day early. On Sunday we had a few friends over for skewers of Middle Eastern seasoned lamb, chicken, zucchini, and onions, with Israeli couscous and tzatziki sauce. Our friend Andrea made pita chips (homemade pita chips! Delicious!) and hummus, and our friend Kathryn brought over this amazing Summer Strawberry Cake from Smitten Kitchen. 

So, having had our fill of meats and beer (and strawberry cake), we now bring you one of our favorite veggie recipes. I've been making this since my vegetarian phase in high school, when I abruptly announced to my parents that I was no longer eating meat, and that they would have to completely change their cooking and eating habits to accommodate me (that last part was implied; I, being 17, had not really thought about how my decision would affect anyone else). My parents were very good sports about it, and we started making some of the meatless recipes from The New Basics Cookbook. Fortunately everyone enjoyed them, and I kept this recipe in my repertoire from my earliest cooking days (actually I made this for dinner for a bunch of friends, including Michael, when he and I were just friends in grad school) to now. Michael and I find that we always come back to this one. It's so flavorful and satisfying, and the perfect use of so many tasty summer vegetables. Although I was only a vegetarian for about a year, and the decision was rather hasty, I'm glad that I did it, because I think it changed the way I think about meals and meat. Before that, my idea of a meal was based around a meat, with some sides. This chili (and the New Basics vegetable lasagna) made me realize that a filling, hearty meal can be based entirely on vegetables, and I've been cooking with that in mind even since I started eating meat again.

May 23, 2011

Best Hash Browns


Just before I moved to California, where I met Michael in 2005, I was living in a small town in Brazil, teaching English at a language school. While I was there, I ate a lot of papayas (and papaya ice cream), learned how to play the guitar, introduced my Brazilian friends and family to chocolate chip cookies, and got in the habit of eating churrasco with my lovely host family every Sunday. I also spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time talking about things that we don't do in the U.S. Here are two of my favorite misconceptions about American life:

1. All Americans eat eggs and bacon for breakfast every day.
2. All Americans live in two story houses.

OK, the first one I got, no problem - I know that we have a worldwide reputation as bacon-and-egg fiends. But the second one was more puzzling to me, until I finally figured out the obvious culprit when someone said "but on TV, everyone in America always lives in a two-story house!" Ah-ha. And if you think about it, it's true; picture any family sitcom set (Full House, Cosby Show, Married with Children, Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and there is, inevitably, a staircase featured prominently in that big living room where everything happens. And usually, that same family gathers for breakfast for some humorous exchange before the kids head off to school, and the mom is cooking a full breakfast of eggs and bacon. Most of us here in the US probably don't spend too much time thinking about how other countries are constantly receiving images of life in the US in the form of television and movies, and although they know that television and movies are not reality, when they're the only images you have of something they're hard to ignore. 

May 13, 2011

Pea Pesto and Ricotta Crostini


Today we bring you - more pesto. And more fresh ricotta. What can we say - it's spring, and there are so many delicious green things waiting to be blended with cheese and oil and happily married with fresh ricotta. This time around we used peas, because they are so fresh and sweet right now, and we put the pesto on little pieces of toast and called them crostini (there was some debate about that, and some research on the difference between bruschetta and crostini, but what's in a name, anyway?), but we're sure you can find many uses for this fresh green spring spread.

May 10, 2011

Brown Butter Ricotta Muffins


As we've mentioned, we've been really into fresh ricotta recently, and when we get some to toss with pasta and broccoli or to spread on toasted bread with fava beans we often have a bit left over. This, of course, is not really a problem, but it is kind of a fun task to try to figure out what to do with the extra ricotta. This was the situation we were in going into this weekend - extra ricotta! What should we make?

We had some friends over for brunch Sunday morning. It was not intended to be a Mother's Day brunch; this just happened to be the day when everyone was available, and none of this group has a mother living nearby. However, one of our friends is in the early stages of motherhood, with her son due in a couple of months, so we celebrated her this morning with  a cauliflower and caramelized onion tart, lots of the fresh berries that they're practically giving away at the market these days, excellent bagels made by one of our friends, and...something with ricotta.

May 6, 2011

Tomato, Tapenade, and Spinach Grilled Cheese


Americans have a great love for grilled cheese sandwiches, as evidenced by the existence of an entire restaurant dedicated to the grilled cheese in San Francisco, and an annual grilled cheese invitational competition in LA (thanks to our friend Elizabeth, a great appreciator of cheese, for sending us that one). It's pretty easy to understand our grilled cheese obsession - you can't go wrong with cheese melted on bread, especially if that bread has also been browned in a pan with butter. And we're not the only ones. In Mexico, there are quesadillas. In France, there are cheese-filled crĂȘpes, but the French also went ahead and took the concept of the grilled cheese to the next level by adding bĂȘchamel to make a Croque Monsieur, and all that plus an egg to make a Croque Madame.