Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birthday Soup
What’s cooking? Hazie’s White Chili

Today is my younger son’s birthday – 28 years old. A victory of sorts, as his philosophy of life could at times have been described as “Fire, Aim, Ready.” This is the son who went out for a pass and crashed into a tree. The one who lost so many winter jackets – I think four was his record for one season – that it often seemed he was running his own charity coat drive. And the one who could get a bad grade in a class simply because he was disappointed that the teacher wasn’t smarter. (“You know,” I’d say, “you’ll have to carry that grade with you for the rest of your life, while she’ll just get a new class and move on.” Ah, well...)

We worried about him, despite his charm and contagious enthusiasm – worried that he’d run off a cliff or into a fist, or – worse – that he’d spend so much time Firing, he’d miss out on the greatness of Ready and Aim.

But for the worriers among you – do parents ever stop worrying? – you should know that today he’s in med school. It took him five years of Ready and Aim, so I think he’s got that part down now. And, in my totally unbiased opinion, those people who encounter him as their doctor will be lucky indeed.


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One place where my son remains fearless is in the kitchen. Here’s a recipe he should like – cheap, hearty, easy. From my southern friend, Gusty, who passed it along from yet another southerner. Isn't sharing wonderful?

The recipe makes a hefty amount of soup – tripling it will feed 50+ if you add salad and bread. For the true Southern experience, I think cornbread is a must; but it’s probably very good with French bread as well.

Hazie’s White Chili

For the chicken:
5-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (enough to make 4 c cooked chicken, diced or shredded)
10-12 sprigs fresh thyme
3-4 thin slices lemon
garlic salt & pepper

For the chili:
4 16-ounce cans navy beans, drained (set aside one can for puréeing)
6 cups chicken broth (include broth saved from cooking chicken breasts)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less)
1½ teaspoons chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken breasts in one layer in an oven-proof dish. Arrange thyme and lemon slices on top. Salt and pepper the breasts. Cover with foil and bake at 350º for 30 mins or until done. Remove the breasts, reserving the broth, and discard the lemon slices and thyme. Chop or shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a soup pot and sauté the onions 10 mins; reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic for another minute (don’t let it burn). Add three of the four cans of beans and the rest of the ingredients, including the chicken. Purée the fourth can of beans in a blender and add it to the soup. Simmer the soup for about 30 mins, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Today’s Insanity
What’s cooking? Grilled Korean-style Steaks with Cilantro Sauce

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” A Google search reveals that saying to be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, Rita Mae Brown, Albert Einstein, handbooks for Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, and an old Chinese proverb. I don’t care who said it – it’s obviously true. And it doesn’t apply just to humans.

We have a crazy cardinal at our house. He shows up every morning that’s even moderately bright, pecking away at various windows, starting around 7am. He moves from one pane to another, banging away, apparently trying to scare off the cardinal he sees reflected in the glass. Then he flies off, but returns after a suitable interval and goes back to his task. He’s been repeating this behavior for at least the past year.

I watch him – and hear him – and think how nutty he must be, and I wonder if his mate appreciates his efforts, or if she just rolls her eyes and says, “Whatever.” But I also recognize aspects of my own behavior in his actions. Back when my children were living at home, for instance, it was the clean-up-your-room battle. Also, the pick-up-your-shoes battle (which apparently my daughter-in-law still faces, though she recently gave up and allowed the dog to eat a pair of my son’s favorite flip-flops – a tactic I never thought of). These days, it’s more about getting my husband to put his dishes into the dishwasher.

For my own part, I love to have a dinner party, but I usually make myself so crazy getting ready that I’m exhausted for at least a couple of days afterward. The dinner party I wanted to have this week was for friends visiting from New Jersey, and they’d be staying for several days – I could hardly afford to spend the whole next day in my jammies.

So I had to find recipes that would allow me to actually participate in the party. Something to be grilled – that much was clear. Marinated, too. And the sauce had to be easy and do-ahead.

From the grease stains and notes to self on this recipe, I recognized the following as one of the all-time greats. From the June 2001 issue of Gourmet:

Grilled Korean-style Steaks with Cilantro Sauce (serves 6)

The steaks:
4-5 boneless beef top loin (strip) or rib-eye steaks, about an inch thick and ½ - ¾ lb each

The marinade:
¾ c soy sauce
¼ c Madeira
3 Tbl sugar
1 ½ Tbl minced garlic
1 Tbl Asian sesame oil
1 tsp dried hot red pepper flakes

The sauce:
A medium-sized bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped (including roots and stems) – at least 1 cup
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Optional: ½ teaspoon minced, seeded fresh habanero or serrano chile [Kitchen Goddess note #1: Despite my Texas upbringing, I’m a bit of a wimp in the hot chile category, so I opt to omit the chile. It’s still a winner.]

Stir together the marinade ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Place the steaks in a 13x9 baking dish, and pour the marinade over them. [Kitchen Goddess note #2: My preference – for any marinating – is to pour the marinade into a gallon zip-lock bag with the steaks. They fit better in the frig, and you can turn them without splashing marinade all over yourself.] In either case, marinate the steaks 1-2 hours, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by putting all ingredients into a food processor and pulsing several times until well chopped but not pureed.

Grill the steaks on a medium-hot grill, 3-4 min per side for medium-rare. Let steaks stand on a cutting board – without cutting – for 5 mins. [Kitchen goddess note #3: I know you want to just take a little peek and see if the steaks are really done, but resist that urge. The five-minute rest allows the heat to equalize across the whole piece of meat, producing a more evenly cooked, steak that actually retains the juices better. You can still put it back on the grill if it needs more cooking.] Cut the steaks lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices and drizzle the sauce over them. Serve remaining sauce on the side.