Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Big, Fat Mexican Dinner

A few weeks back, I did a belated birthday dinner for one of my closest friends.  When I have friends over, it’s usually ALWAYS cook’s choice.  Its my chance to try out new stuff, revisit old favorites, play with new techniques and flavors and, most especially, make those*big ticket* high yield dishes like stews and braises and baked pastas and so on that I normally don’t make just for myself.  That pesty leftover issue, you know (plus the fact I don’t want to have dogs that weigh 300 pounds, because *THEY* would gladly relieve me of my leftover burden).

That changes for Birthday Dinners.  If I’m cooking for you for your birthday, you get to choose the entire menu.  Them’s the rules.  It’s your day, it’s all about you, not me (for once, because usually it IS all about me, all the time, which probably explains a lot, actually…).  Or, when it’s not all about me, it’s all about Rosie.  That Princess thing she’s got goin’ on.  Unless it's your birthday, then it's all about you.  Clear?

So, when presented with the “what do you want me to cook for you for your birthday?” question, Lupe chose Mexican.  Yes, Lupe.  Yes, she’s Mexican.  Talk about performance anxiety !

When I said, “anything in particular…” she said no, but Mexican was it.  OK, so the rules bent a bit, since I still got to choose the particulars.  We were all happy.  I got to play; Lupe got what she wanted for her celebratory feast.

What shook out was pretty damned good, too, especially for a Polish girl from Chicago.  We had carnitas, with two homemade salsas, homemade refried beans, red rice and homemade corn tortillas.  For dessert, we veered away a bit  (OK, a LOT) from Mexico, because I was looking for something light and tangy, since I figured the meal would be a bit on the, shall we say, rich side.  The carnitas, salsas, beans and rice were new recipes (well, new for me to use, they actually came from an 8-year old "Bon Appétit" and have been waiting in the wings ever since….).  The tortillas are my standard, and the dessert I’d made once before and loved.

WARNING:  This is going to be a long, long, looooooooooong, picture intensive post.  But I will give you the complete recipes for everything at the end.  And just so's ya knows, one of the projects I’m working on, and trying to figure out how to accomplish, is to have a separate page with a sorted list of the recipes I’ve posted.  The links will click you back to the original post with the recipe.  I know how annoyed *I* get when I’m blog cruising, and find a great recipe, and have to cut and paste in 45 different steps to get it so I can print it and use it.  But that’s in the Future Machine right now.  So bear with me, there are a couple of gems in here.

Oh, and we had cilantro slaw too, but that won’t be covered here, since we’ve talked about it before.  Basically, shredded cabbage, chopped cucumber, chopped onion and chopped cilantro, dressed with olive oil, lime juice and minced garlic.  It’s good !

Onward to La Fiesta En La Cocina Pequeña!

The first thing I did was to make the dessert.  It’s a frozen lemon curd/cream cookie sandwich, and the filling needs time to harden, so getting it into the deep chill chest as early as possible was critical.

You start with these guys:

That’s the overwrap for a container of crème fraiche, a box of obscenely good butter waffle cookies (I believe from Belgium), a naked lemon that had already had its zest shaved off with a Microplane and a jar of commercially prepared lemon curd.

Um, see…I had already MADE the filling when I remembered I hadn’t gotten the class picture.  Hence the naked lemon, the used jar of lemon curd and only the overwrap for the crème fraiche.  What can I say, it was earlier in the morning than I’m usually functional.

Yes, I’ve made lemon curd from scratch before, and it’s amazing and not difficult.  That day however, I knew I had (as we’ll see) plenty ‘o’ other tasks to get done in the little kitchen, and Trader Joe’s lemon curd is excellent.  Plus, I wasn’t sure if homemade curd would set up the way the commercial stuff needs to for this application.

Onward, then.

Into a chilled, smallish bowl (there I go with that technical cooking talk again !), put the crème fraiche, the lemon curd and the lemon zest.  Take a mixer (stand mixer or hand, either work) and beat them together until you get nice, stiff peaks.

Ummmmmmm, I forgot to chill the bowl (Roberta’s recipe ADHD strikes again….), but it worked just fine.

Line your favorite, small, skanky baking sheet with a piece of wax paper (or parchment would work), and place 6 of the obscenely rich and good butter cookies on it.

Then, take your whipped crème fraiche/lemon curd mixture, and give a good schmeer.  Use more than this.  I actually went back and took the tops off of all the what-I-thought-were-completed-sandwiches, and added more filling.

And then top each with another obscenely rich and delicious butter cookie.  (Can you tell these cookies are really good?)

Again, that was before I de-topped, re-schmeered and re-topped.  But you get the general idea.  I ended up with sandwiches that were considerably, shall we say, *plumper* than those.  Plumper, in this case is good.  Shoot for about half-a-inch of filling.

Then take that sheet pan and put it in the freezer for at least a couple of hours, or until you’re ready to serve them.  No need to cover, unless it’s going to be a day or so.

When you’re ready to eat them, take some unsalted pistachios, and chop them up fairly coarsely.  Then roll the edges of the sandwiches (where the cream is exposed) in the chopped nuts.    This time out, I didn’t think the pistachio deal worked so well with the Mexican flavors of the rest of the meal.  (Yeah, because crème fraiche, lemon curd and Belgian butter cookies are so traditionally South of the Border…..oy !)  But seriously, I thought the flavor profile would be a bit off, yet I couldn’t come up with something I thought was better.  I had briefly considered pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), which ARE traditional in Mexican cuisine, but that didn’t sound right to me either.  I finally settled on salted Marcona almonds, and they were spot on.  Marcona almonds are a bit smaller, softer and “oilier” than regular almonds, with a bit more of an intense flavor.  They’re served with tapas a lot in Spain, as a nibble with your Sherry.  I love them, and they really did work well with these cookies.  Even the saltiness seemed a plus, to brighten the lemon a bit.

Sadly, again, no pictures of the cookies with the almond accent.  I didn’t do that until after we’d eaten, and possibly had consumed some adult beverages (I’m pretty certain Margaritas were involved…).  But I’m sure you can visualize them.  They were pretty.

Dessert made, it was onto the salsas, since they could hang out in the fridge while everything else was in process.  First step, wash up a honkin’ mass of cilantro, again in highly technical culinary terms.  I love cilantro…..one of the first real “out of the box” experiences I had with food was the first time I smelled cilantro.  I’d never smelled anything like it, and it knocked my socks off.  That seriously was the beginning of my exploration of cuisines other than Mid-Western meat and potatoes.  But as usual, I digress.

Then, we made “Tomato, Onion and Serrano Chile Salsa”.  You could certainly consider this a pico de gallo, or a salsa fresca.

Here’s our players (before use, this time):

In addition to some of that honkin’ mass of cilantro, that’s a lime, some plum tomatoes, red onion, and serrano chiles.  You’ll also need salt and pepper.  (By the way, Microsoft spell check….”chile” with an “E” refers to the peppers.  “Chili” with an “I” is the stew-type dish made with beef and spices.  Stop flagging “chile” as incorrect, will ya?  Thanks.)

Cut some of the tomatoes in half, and scoop out the seeds.

And then dice them up.  A medium-small dice is good, these won’t be processed and you want them for texture in the finished salsa.

Roughly chop up the onion, serranos, and remaining tomatoes.  Place them in the bowl of your Cuiz, along with the lime juice and salt and pepper to taste.  Leave seeds in the chiles as you desire and can handle.  I pulled them out.

Blitz that around until the mixture is smooth.

Add in some of that honkin’ mass of cilantro, and pulse until it’s just chopped and mixed in.  We don’t want to totally puree the cilantro.

Then mix that into the bowl with the tomato chunks, stir to blend, and taste and adjust seasonings.

Cover with plastic wrap and stash in the fridge until dinner time.

Next up, Avocado Salsa.

For that we need avocados (duh), tomatillos, serrano chiles, onion and, yep, you guessed it, cilantro.

By the time the class assembled for the photo, I’d already peeled the husks off of the tomatillos, and rinsed off any residual stickiness on the skin.  But we all know what tomatillos in husks look like, right?

This puppy’s even easier than the first salsa.  Put EVERYTHING in the Cuiz, roughly chopped, or not, as your little heart desires, and pulse to a chunky puree.  Taste for salt.

And scoop into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down directly onto the surface of the guacamole.

Stash in the fridge until dinner.

By the way, if you ever need to save half of an avocado, and I frequently do, this technique really, really works.

Leave the pit in, and wrap it TIGHTLY in plastic wrap, sort of twirling the ends at the bottom to get a really tight seal.  The avocado half will stay edible for a day or two in the fridge, though you may need to slice off just a sliver of the surface if it does oxidize.  I’ve read some suggestions to use lemon/lime juice on the cut surface, but I don’t find that essential.  But then, maybe I just eat the leftover half fast enough that it’s not an issue !

Time for tortillas.

Gotta have masa.

Even in Southern California, the dried masa harina is much more readily available than the wet, fresh masa.  Mainly because fresh masa is very perishable.  You can find fresh masa around Christmas, when it’s traditionally used for tamales, but usually most people use the dried masa harina.  "Maseca" is probably the most widely available brand, and has really become synonymous with masa harina, much like Kleenex or Band-Aid.

Corn tortillas are simply nothing but corn masa and water, with a touch of salt for flavor.  All you’re really doing when you make the tortilla dough is rehydrating the masa harina.  For about 16-18 tortillas, I use 230 grams (yes use your scale, yes, get one that weighs in both ounces/pounds and grams, there’s usually a button to switch between the two) of the masa harina and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt.  Mix that around, then mix in 400 grams of hot water (doesn’t need to be boiling, tap-hot is fine).  You’ll want to start out with a spoon, and then you’ll need to move to working the dough with your hands.  Bring it together into a ball,

and then let it rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.  You want the dough to be about the consistency of Play-Doh.  It shouldn’t stick to your hands excessively.  As with all dough, you may need to tweak the amount of water or masa harina (usually the water) to get the right consistency.

While your dough is resting, set up your tortilla assembly line.

You’ll need a press (unless you learned to pat them out by hand at your abuelita’s knee)...

…a cast iron (or other heavy) skillet or griddle…

…and a quart-sized sturdy plastic food storage bag.  Take the bag, cut off the zippy-top, and slit it down both sides, so you have a flat sheet of plastic.

Preheat your pan on medium to medium-high heat for the 10 minutes that the dough is resting.

A couple of observations:  Yes, that’s a handle cozy on the cast iron skillet.  Yes, I’ve grabbed it when it was screechin’ hot before, more than once, and it’s not an experience I would prefer to repeat.  Thanks for askin’ !  Yes you could use a thinner piece of plastic than the heavy duty zippy bag I use.  I have most success with heavier plastic.  And yes, you could roll out the tortillas with a rolling pin, but I can’t.  Tried.  Failed.  Got a press.  Make tortillas nice now.   However, I *do* use a rolling pin for my flour torts with great success.  The corn ones are a little bit fussier, me thinks.

Oh, and you’ll need a place to plop the finished corn goodies….a clean towel is just such a place.

So, the pan’s radiating enough heat to warm most of my block, the dough’s rested, I think it’s time to start making tortillas.

Take some of the dough, and form it into a roughly golf-ball sized ball.

Sometimes I use Mr. Bench Knife to portion out roughly equal blobs of masa (for this, I don’t obsess about weighing, they’re tortillas, not a semi-conductor), and sometimes, like this time, I just scoop the masa out of the bowl with my hand.

Line the press with the plastic, and put the masa ball onto the plate, everso slightly off-center.  Smoosh it down a bit to flatten the blob.

Extra points for leaving your finger ridges on the top !

Then, close the press, and press gently on the handle.  You want the “hinge” of the bag on the hinge side of the press, by the way.

Open it, and the tortilla should mostly cover the surface of the plate.  Feel around the edges, and if you find a thick spot, rotate the plastic so that the thicker spot is by the handle.  That’s where you’ll get the most pressure.  But DON’T make them too thin.  That will give you grief and tsuris.  Not to mention a bad attitude.

Now’s when the pictorial goes off track.  It’s REALLY hard to photograph these next steps when you’re working solo.  Something about not having 3 or 4 hands….

So I’m gonna do my best to just paint those beautiful word pictures like I do (what….huh….?)

Peel back, gently, it might stick, the top layer of the plastic, and then flop that, top (dough) side down, onto the flat, open palm of your dominant hand, and then, again, VERY GENTLY, peel back the plastic from the now-top side of the tortilla with the other.  It *will* want to stick.  Go slow and patiently, and if a little tear starts to develop, come at it from the other angle.  Once you get a good start on it, it will go much more smoothly.  It’s the edges that are trickiest.

Then…”with the courage of your convictions” take your hand, and from as close as you can get it to the hot surface of your pan (this is why griddles are preferable, you can get closer for the delivery to hot metal), rapidly turn your hand palm-side down, and allow the tortilla to fall off, and onto the screechin’ hot pan.  If you’ve lived right, and the Tortilla Gods are smiling upon you that day, it will fall smoothly, and not wrinkle.  If not, well, I usually have at least one sacrificial tortilla out of each batch.  Some methods say to let one edge of the tortillas dangle over your fingers, and then lower that edge to the pan’s surface, and “sweep” your hand out from under the balance.  That takes WAY more coordination than I’m possessed of, and as I said, I have a strong aversion to having my skin meet cast iron that’s been on a live flame for 10 or 15 minutes.  Maybe I’m just a wuss….

But whatever works for you, works for you.  You will need to find your own groove as to how you get the tortilla from hand to pan.  But once you’ve got it, it goes pretty smoothly.

Once the bottom sets (anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds, depending upon your pan, the phase of the moon, the happiness of the Tortilla Gods, your karma), flip it over and bake the second side.  Sometimes I need to use a wide, thin metal spatula to flip, sometimes I can slide the edge of a pair of tongs under the lip, and flip it that way.  I never know, and it’s never consistent.  Again, whatever works at the moment, works at the moment.

Once flipped, it’ll look something like this:

You should see patches of darker brown, and the surface should look “cooked” and sort of opaque.  It may or may not bubble up, and have the two layers separate.  If it does, groovy, that’s actually very desirable.  If it doesn’t, your tortillas will still be better than store-bought.

Let the second side cook about 10-15 seconds, flip again, another 10-15 seconds, flip again and the final 10-15 seconds.  The first side takes the longest.  Don’t be tempted to overcook if you don’t get the magic bubbling.  That will only give you dry, chewy tortillas.  Look at the surface and also smell the aroma.  Subtle toasted corn smell is good.

And then, pull out and plop on that clean towel.   Cover the growing stack in between each one, to keep them soft.

When you’re all done, tuck in all the edges of the towel, and set aside until dinner.  If you eat them the same day you made them, they’ll hold without needing to be reheated for 3 or 4 hours.  For storage of any leftovers (which there won’t be, because they’re so good), put them in a zippy bag, but only close the zippy top about halfway.  The next day they WILL need to be warmed, either over the burner, or in the nuker.

Onward to carnitas !  My absolute favorite Mexican meat dish.  Well, OK, carne asada’s pretty awesome as well, but I’m still a sucker for good carnitas.  And these were pretty good.

Carnitas traditionally are chunks of pork slow cooked, almost braised, in lard (oy), and then allowed to fry in their own fat to crisp up.  The meat’s then shredded, and used as a filling in tacos or burritos, over rice or whatever.  Carnitas are gooood.  Sinful, but good.  These are possibly a tiny bit healthier, but I doubt by much.

Boneless country-style pork ribs (which are strips of pork shoulder), orange juice, garlic, salt, orange peel and brandy.  Plus some water.

Cut the pork into large chunks, and trim off only the really excessive large chunks of fat.  But SAVE them.  Carnitas is all about the fat baby.  Dump the pork, pork fat, orange juice, orange peel, garlic and salt into a deep sauté pan.

Bring that to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and let perk away slowly until the meat is fall-apart tender.  That’ll take about an hour and 45 minutes.  You may need to add more water to keep the pork partially submerged.

Once the pork is tender, uncover the pan, bring the liquid back to a fast boil, and reduce it by half.  Add in the brandy and boil until the liquid goes away and the meat starts to brown and get yummy crisp.

Remove any large chunks of loose fat, and then shred the pork into strands.  Oh yeah…….that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout.

At this point, the pork can sit and wait for you to want it.  And, trust me, after smelling it cook for 2 or so hours, you WILL want it.  Leave it covered on the back burner (or fridge for longer term).  To serve, add a splash of water and stir it around over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes.  Porky bliss.

While the carnitas were simmering in the OJ, I got to going on the beans.  I needed these:

Plus some white onion, garlic and Monterey Jack cheese.  Ran out of picture taking mojo by the time I used them, plus THE WHOLE ENTIRE DINNER WAS COMING TOGETHER AT THAT MOMENT so I didn’t really have the spare hand/time to hold a camera.

Sort and rinse the beans as usual, and if you’re me, use your second-favorite skanky small baking sheet (since your favy-fav’s still in the freezer with the dessert) for the sorting.

Put the beans in a large, heavy pot and add water, green onions and (preferably) lard.  Sadly…. (very) my lard was like 2 months past its expiration date, and since I’m still relatively a lard novice, I ditched it and used canola/vegetable oil.  I also tossed in a sprig of epazote I have in the freezer from a few months ago, when it was in my CSA share.  If you can lay your hands on epazote, use it.  If not, no worries, you won’t miss it and the beans will still be fine.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and partially cover.  Let that cruise for about an hour, mix in some salt and let it go another 20 or so minutes.

Heat more lard (or oil) in a frying pan, and sauté some onion and garlic.  Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to the skillet.

Then grab Granny’s potato masher...

...and get all of your frustrations out on those beans.  Mash ‘em on down to a nice, lumpy puree.

Oh yeah, frijole porn.

And to gild the lily, top with the shredded cheese, adjust salt and pepper, and mix on in.

That would be “real” refrieds.

Final dish, Red Rice.  I’m on the fence about sharing this.  Of all the dishes I made that day, it was the one that wasn’t stellar.  It really was barely adequate.  I have other recipes for Mexican rice that are much better, most notably the one in Rick Bayless’ Mexico Every Day cookbook.  That one never, ever fails me, and this one just didn’t float my boat.

But I promised you (and me), I’d be honest, so we’ll at least take a look at how this comes together.

You start out with these:

Which you blitz down in the Cuiz to make the tomato puree you see in the back of this.

Rice, carrot, frozen peas and corn, more of the honkin’ pile of cilantro, and chiles.  I used one jalapeño and one serrano, and I didn’t seed them.  The chiles go in whole, and get pulled out before service, so the heat is tamed a bit.  The onion just wanted publicity, I guess.  He doesn’t get used after you make the puree.

Heat some oil in a medium sized saucepan, and brown the rice for about a minute or so.  Add in the tomato puree, some hot water, the carrot, peas, corn, cilantro sprigs, salt and chiles.

Cover and cook about 12 minutes, then uncover and cook another 10 or so, until all the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from heat, slap the cover back on, and then let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff and discard the cilantro sprigs and chiles.

Possibly….possibly…my pan was a skosh too small, and there wasn’t enough room for the rice to move while it cooked.  It turned out sort of dry and crunchy.  It also clearly hadn’t cooked enough, and possibly it needed more water.  Or, possibly, use the juice from the tomatoes, too, and don't drain it off the way the recipe instructed.  I dunno.  I have issues with rice anyway, so it could just be my bad rice karma.  The flavor was fine, so I’m sharing, but the texture was off.

And this, my friends is a party for sure !

Try making tortillas.  You’ll never be satisfied with the store-bought cardboard ones again.  And those carnitas, those carnitas are amazing.  Rich and soulful and crunchy and soft all at the same time.  They made pretty damn fine tostadas (with the refrieds) a couple of days later, and the leftover tortillas (surprisingly there were a few) made the most killer quesadillas you will ever want to experience the next day.

Here are the promised recipes, because this post just isn’t long enough without ‘em !

Pork Carnitas
Adapted from “Bon Appétit”, May 2008
8 servings

4 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs
2 cups (plus additional if needed) water
1&1/2 cups fresh orange juice
6 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. grated fresh orange peel
1/4 cup brandy
Warm corn tortillas
Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows)
Fresh Tomato Salsa (recipe follows)

Cut pork crosswise into large chunks, and remove any excessive chunks of fat, but do not discard.  Leave smaller pieces of fat on the meat.  Combine pork, pork fat, orange juice, garlic cloves, salt and orange peel in deep 12-inch skillet.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to keep liquid at a simmer.  Cook until pork is tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  You may need to add water by 1/4-cupfuls to keep the pork partially submerged.

Uncover, raise heat and bring liquid to a boil until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the brandy (off the flame), and boil until all the liquid evaporates and the meat begins to brown and crisp, stirring often, about 15 minutes.  Cool meat slightly, then discard any large pieces of remaining fat.  Shred meat  into strips.

Immediately before service, add 2 tablespoons water to the skillet.  Cover the pan and rewarm the pork over medium-low heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  Adjust seasoning with salt.  Serve with tortillas and salsas.

Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from “Bon Appétit”, May 2008
Makes about 2&3/4 cups

3 large ripe avocados, halved, pitted peeled and coarsely chopped
8 ounces fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed and coarsely chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped white or brown onion
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Using on/off pulses, process until chunky puree forms.  Transfer to medium bowl.  Season to taste with salt.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressed against surface of salsa, and refrigerate until use.

Tomato, Onion and Serrano Chile Salsa
Adapted from “Bon Appétit”, May 2008
Makes about 2 cups

1&1/4 pounds plum tomatoes, cut in half
1/3 cup chopped red onion
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro

Seed and dice 10 tomato halves and transfer to a large bowl.  Place remaining tomatoes in blender or food processor.  Add onion, lime juice, chiles, salt and pepper, and process until smooth.  Add cilantro, and pulse until just mixed in.  Add puree to tomato chunks, stir and adjust seasonings.  Cover and refrigerate until use.

Hand-Mashed Pinto Beans with Cheese
Adapted from “Bon Appétit”, May 2008
6 servings

1 pound dried beans, picked over and rinsed
10 cups (or more) cold water
2 cups chopped green onions (about 8)
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup lard or corn oil
1 or 2 sprigs fresh, or fresh-dried (or frozen) epazote
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups (packed), coarsely grated Mexican queso manchego or Monterey Jack cheese (about 8 ounces)

Place beans in large heavy pot.  Add the 10 cups water, green onions, epazote if using and 1 tablespoon fat.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring as needed to keep beans from sticking.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially with lid, and simmer for about 55 minutes or until beans are just tender.  Mix in the salt, re-cover partially and simmer for another 20 minutes or so, or until the beans are very soft.  You may need to add cupfuls of water if the top of the water falls below the level of the beans.

Heat the remaining 1/3 cup fat in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté until it starts to brown, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and stir for one minute.  Remove epazote if used.  Using a slotted spoon or a spider, add the cooked beans to the pan and mash to a coarse, lumpy puree with a hand-potato masher.  Use enough of the bean cooking liquid to keep the mashed beans nice and moist.  You’ll probably need about 1/2 a cup.  Mix in the cheese and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Reserve bean cooking liquid if beans will be reheated.  Mix in as needed when reheating to ensure the bean mixture stays moist.

Classic Red Rice
Adapted from “Bon Appétit”, May 2008
4-6 servings

1, 14&1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, drained
3 tablespoons chopped onion
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup corn oil
1 cup medium-grain white rice
1 cup hot water
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/3-inch pieces
1/3 cup shelled fresh peas, or frozen
1/3 cup fresh corn kernels, or frozen
6 fresh cilantro sprigs, tied together with kitchen twine
2 to 3 serrano chiles, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon salt

Puree tomatoes, onion and garlic in blender or processor until smooth.  Set aside.  Heat oil in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add rice, stir until rice is pale gold, about 1 minute.  Stir in the tomato puree, the water, carrot, peas, corn, cilantro, chiles and salt.  Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat to low and cover.  Cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes.  Uncover and cook until all liquid is absorbed, another 10 minutes or so.  Remove from heat, put the cover back on and let stand for 5 minutes.  Discard cilantro bundle and chiles.  Fluff with fork and serve.

Frozen Lemon Cream Sandwiches
Adapted from The 150 Best American Recipes, Fran McCullough & Molly Stevens
Makes 6 sandwiches

1, 7-ounce container crème fraiche
1/4 cup lemon curd
Finely grated zest of one lemon
12 crisp butter waffle cookies
1/4 finely chopped unsalted pistachios (or salted Marcona almonds)

Place some wax or parchment paper on a small baking sheet.  Chill a small mixing bowl, then put in the crème fraiche, lemon curd and lemon zest.  Beat with a handheld mixer until firm peaks form.

Arrange half of the cookies on the sheet.  Spoon or spread, using a spatula, the lemon crème mixture onto the centers.  Make sure it spreads all the way to the edges of the cookies, and make the filling at least 1/2-inch thick.  Top with the remaining cookies, and put the baking sheet in the freezer for at least 4 hours to firm up the lemon crème.

Spread the chopped nuts on a plate and roll the edges of the sandwiches in them.  Serve at once.  Sandwiches can be held in an airtight container, in the freezer, for up to a week.

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