Posted in Main Dishes on February 8, 2011 |
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My friends Juana and Rosa came to my kitchen and cooked sopes for me. One of the things I most love about cooking and recipes is so much of what and how we know to cook something is passed down through generations. Intentionally or not. There have been times when I’ve asked my Mom to show me how she makes something or to give me the list of ingredients. But more times, I just watched. I’ve watched my Mom cook always, still do. We stand and talk, or I help chop or peel and she cooks. I bet there are things you know how to do in the kitchen that you don’t know how you know it. Which spoon you pick up, when to lift a corner and peek to see if it’s done. Why when you make tomato sauce that you automatically gather together the basics of what you’ll need. Chances are you watched someone cook. It’s by far the best way to learn. Recipes and cookbooks are fabulous tools, but the best thing about them is that when you make a recipe exactly as they ask you to, you learn a method and a technique that you’ll take with you to another recipe.
Juana and Rosa came to this country with their family from Mexico City. They were in 16 and 10 when they got here so they had already been helping in the kitchen, watching their mother and grandmother cook. They brought those memories with them and continued making the same dishes with their own families. We’ve been talking about the food they grew up with and they agreed to come and cook something for me. They chose to make sopes. I wasn’t sure what they meant but they came and showed me. It was so much fun watching them, they’ve obviously cooked together before. They brought all the ingredients, and I asked questions, took pictures, and watched. Of course, after checking the web, there are as many different versions as there are kitchens to cook them in, but this is Juana and Rosa’s version. Anytime someone lets you into their life, even for a short time, shows you their traditions, tells you their stories, makes food for you, it’s a great gift. I’m very grateful and happy that I was given this glimpse into their memories and that I got to share the food with them. iGracias, Juana y Rosa, fue maravilloso!
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Where to start, where to start? It’s a new year, as you all know. The time where we typically try to reinvent ourselves into the better, kinder, thinner person we think we ought to be. We all know how that usually turns out. I have some wishes for this new year myself. I don’t know about you, but I think 2010 was a tough year. When I look back, I see all these high points, some new friends, some new places, I got to see my family a bit more and Prince Charming still holds my hand. Good huh? I think so. For some reason though, when I think of last year I think it was a struggle and felt relieved that it was over with. So, it is with hope and wishes that I start 2011. I hope that we are all surrounded by the ones we love, our tables are filled with smiling, happy people eating and drinking. I wish that we all look back on this year with a smile. Oh, yeah, and world peace. I want world peace.
What has that to do with White Chicken Chili? Not one thing. I was faced with the first post of the new year and decided to smush them together. The only resemblance White Chicken Chili has to traditional red chili is the word “chili”. Red chili is in your face flavor. It can light you up like a firecracker with heat or slowly build and burn you for hours. Red chili has the time to build layers of flavors, and depending on the maker and the region, ingredients that differ as much as there are ways to put them together. Now, White Chicken Chili is a whole ‘nother thing. A distant cousin of red. A quieter, softer, more pinky finger in the air sort of cousin. Good stuff, tho’, good stuff. Yes, it’s made with cream (well, half n half) but you can get some serious heat in there if you choose, so before you turn your nose up and think it’s the wimpy stuff, give it a try. Just might surprise you. Oh, and it’s National Soup month, so I hear. Who thinks these up? So this is a New Year’s post, a regular recipe post, and a National Soup month post….nice..a triple score for sure!
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The Jersey Shore. Seaside Heights, Long Beach Island, Asbury Park. Those are the places that I can shut my eyes and see when I think of the shore. Especially Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island. When we were kids we always spent a few days in Seaside Heights, playing in the sand, running in and out of the waves and then just hopping and jittering till we could get to the boardwalk. As young adults down there on our own, it was the place to get out of the sun, cool off with vodka lemonade and find something to eat. Walk away Sundaes (A block of Neapolitan Ice Cream in a specially sized square-topped cone with chocolate and a cherry), fried shrimp in a cup, salt water taffy, and sausage & pepper sandwich. The boardwalk was magic when you were young, flashing lights, music, games of chance and food stalls, a virtual kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells changing every few yards. A carnival stretched out along an elevated wooden sidewalk along the beach. Every hundred yards or so there would be another sausage and pepper vendor, usually with lines waiting for their turn to bite into their “must have one” at the shore. It seems like such a simple thing, Italian sausage, peppers, onions on a roll. It actually is simple. Put them all together, browned, juicy sausage, melting onions and peppers, and a sandwich roll that’s soft but with a firm bite and a bit of a crunch to the shell. The whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Every time I make them I can see those big flat top grills, piles of onions and peppers on one side, sausage split down the middle lined up on the other and space in the middle where a they came together and spent a minute forming their special alchemy before getting scooped up with a wide flat spatula into a waiting bun with a napkin already under it to be handed to the next person in line. It’s a special place in heaven, where you can lean against the wooden railing, with the waves crashing behind you and a salt air breeze cooling your shoulders. Watching the crowd walk by, listening to the music from 10 different places, the screams of joy from the people on the rides. You eat your sandwich and look at the sky where the stars seem to smile down at all the fun. The Jersey Shore. Sausage & Pepper sandwich. Life can be so good.
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