I've been cooking for as long as I can remember. I don't remember starting to cook, or not yet cooking. I think I prepared food for myself starting when I was in grade school. By the time I was in high school cooking vied with listening to music, watching movies, and making out for the title of favorite activity. In my teens and twenties I always had groups of friends who could be gathered together to cook and share the pleasure of eating. The years of graduate school were solemn and lonely for me in many ways--not utterly, but substantially. Living in St. Louis, trying to finish a Ph.D., having young children, living at times below the poverty line, all took a toll on my mental health. Since graduate school I have gradually and not always gracefully tried to acclimatize to adulthood. Imagine my shock looking up in the past few months to discover that as I inch towards mid-life a rich, full, viable adulthood seems to be coming into focus.
The richness of my life was thrown into releif last night sharing a mexican dinner with Ellen, and our friends Kristen, Jason, Keeril, and Chrysa, and overseeing a slumber party for Coleman's ninth birthday at the same time. I have plenty of things to be happy for--a tenure-track professorship at a major public university, fair health, a deep and beautiful marriage of more than a decade with Ellen, loving brother and sisters, old friends and new friends, and on and on--but nothing quite reminds me of how sweet, and how savory life is than good food and good company.
I was inspired by Kristen's remark that these dinners should be documented. Of course. Somehow it seems delightful to have a place to keep track of the spectacular food we make, the equally spectacular failures on the way to making good food, memories of cooking, eating, and the rest of life, books, movies, and so on. With a little luck I'll manage to post a couple of times a week.
For now, I'll post recipies for the three salsas Ellen and I made:
Pico de Gallo
This is the ultimate fresh salsa. I've made this based on recipies in an old cookbook by Elena Zelayeta, in Rick Bayless' various books, and lord knows where else.
Ingredients: Tomatoes, onion, chiles (Serrano or Jalapeno), garlic, limes, and cilantro. It's pretty hard to describe the quantities. I'd say 3 or 4 tomatoes, depending on size, 1/2 to 1 onion, 3-10 chiles, depending on how hot they are, how big they are, and how hot you want the salsa to be, 3 cloves garlic, 1-3 limes depending on how juicy they are, and a handful of cilantro, leaves and stems.
Chop and combine everything in a bowl. I think the tomato pieces should be a bit bigger than everything else. Many books reccomend rinsing the onion after dicing, to mellow it, but it doesn't seem like it makes a real difference to me. Some books reccomend removing the seeds and ribs from the chiles. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't, depending on whether I want a hotter or a more vegetal salsa. Last night I did remove them, because the other salsas were hot. Many recipies say not to put the cilantro in until right before serving, as the herb breaks down in the lime and tomato juice. I don't usually make salsa much in advance, so I don't worry about it.
The other two salsas are deeply simple, but fabulous recipies from Bayless' Mexican Everyday
Ingredients: garlic cloves (3? 4?), tomatillos (4? 5?), 2-3 canned chipotles with adobo, salt.
Roast the garlic and halved tomatillos in a cast iron pan (I have a little 8 inch number that I use for this and toasting tortillas and pretty much nothing else). Transfer to blender along with chipotles, adobo sauce, and 1/4 cup water. Blend. Salt to taste and allow to cool before eating.
Guajillo Chile Salsa
Ingredients: Oil, 2 dried guajillo chiles (Bayless suggests arbol chiles as a much hotter variation), garlic cloves (3? 4?), tomatillos (4? 5?), salt
Remove seeds from chiles and tear into little pieces. Heat a little oil in a skillet and fry chiles till they become aromatic. The smell is fruity and sour and flowery, and can make your eyes water. Transfer chiles to blender, drain most of the oil, and fry halved tomatillos and garlic in the skillet. Transfer to blender along with 1/2 cup water. Blend. Salt to taste and allow to cool before serving. This salsa should be plenty watery.