Tag Archives: Mama

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: KHEER (RICE PUDDING)

I have a sweet tooth.  A serious, serious sweet tooth.


As a kid, my mom managed the sugary contents of our house with an iron fist; that is to say there weren’t really any sugary contents in our house.  Well, there was sugar, and I am ashamed to admit that more than once I snuck spoonfuls of the powdered sugar from the baking pantry and grabbed furtive handfuls of the Cinnamon Red Hots my mom kept as a secret ingredient for her holiday-time hot punch.

The first time I spent the night at a friend’s house, I opened her freezer to discover pints and pints of ice cream.  Just SITTING there.  Available for eating…whenever she wanted.  Staggering.

To be fair, my mom had good reasons to be strict about sugar.  My father developed typed-II diabetes when I was a little kid, and she was determined not to let genetics win with me.  But the truth is, much like a teetotaler’s kid, I went a little bit nuts with sugar when I achieved the freedom of adulthood.  My freshman 15 had nothing to do with beer and everything to do with Chef Roger, who took over my residential college’s kitchen and had a real way with pastry.

Those who know me know the affairs I’ve had with various kinds of ridiculous sugar products: Smarties, Bottlecaps, Laffy Taffy (but only the grape & strawberry flavors).  Chocolate isn’t safe around me, either.  I could SO have been one of those Willy Wonka kids.

In the last few years, though, I’ve worked to consciously change my tastes.  No more movie-theater-sized boxes of candy or cartons of Ben & Jerry’s for me.  Smaller spoonfuls of sugar in my tea, sometimes no sugar at all.  It’s amazing how I’ve been able to retrain my palate to the point where I can appreciate desserts and flavors I would have previously overlooked.

As a kid, kheer never appealed to me—not nearly sweet enough, of course.  But now, I love the subtlety of the cardamom and rosewater, tinged with just a bit of sweetness and finished with the salty texture from the nuts.

So I’m proud to say that my tastes have become a bit more sophisticated, though I have been known to buy a small bag Laffy Taffy at Walgreen’s every now and then…just don’t tell my mom!

KHEER (Indian Rice Pudding)

Kheer isn’t particularly difficult to make, but it does require patience.  Cook it slowly on the stove whenever you’re already planning to be in the kitchen for a while.

The best part? Kheer keeps extremely well—in fact, you may even find that it tastes better after a few days in the fridge.

ingredients:

4 cups milk*
½ cup basmati rice
½ cup chopped almonds and/or pistachios, toasted
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T ground cardamom (I love this flavor, but if you don’t, cut the amount in half)

optional: rosewater

Rinse the rice while heating the milk over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Drain & add the rice to the milk, stirring to combine with a wooden spoon.

The main object while cooking kheer is to keep the milk from scorching at the bottom of the pan.  You don’t have to stir constantly, just regularly, and err on the side of caution when it comes to managing the heat on the stove.

As it cooks, the kheer will thicken.  If you prefer a thinner pudding, feel free to add extra milk.

When you’ve reached the thirty minute mark, check the rice for doneness.   Once it has been cooked through, remove the pot from the heat.  Stir in the cardamom, then swirl in the sweetened condensed milk, then check for sweetness—you may want to add a bit more.

Serve the kheer hot, warm, or cool.  Sprinkle each bowl-full with a handful of nuts and a teaspoon or so of rosewater.

*please use 2% or whole milk, it makes for far superior kheer.

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MY MOM’S SHRIMP CREOLE

I don’t really know how my mom got to be such a badass cook.

{Facts about woman who brought me into the world—
She does not care for: goat cheese, the word “widow,” or folks who do not vote.
She is rather fond of: peanuts in all forms, the Allman Brothers song “Rambling Man,” & character-driven fiction.}

Like most Southern-women-who-can-make-anything-taste-good, she never had any formal training.  She can make thrifty one-pot or decadent dinners, improvise or plan something elaborate.  She has dishes for which she’s famous, the kind folks often request, she keeps a well-stocked pantry, bar, & wine rack, and of course, will insist that whatever item of hers you just ate which made you seriously think about licking your plate was “really no big deal.”

However, unlike many other Southern-women-who-cook-real-good, my mom isn’t actually from the South.  She was born in the mountainous and politically troubled region of Kashmir, India, and grew up in a household without a mother to learn from in the kitchen—though she did pay attention to the cooks her father employed.  When she and my father were newly married, my mom was suddenly responsible for all of the household cooking (and for an extremely fussy husband, I might add).

What I admire especially about my mom is that she never does anything halfway.  A new position at work means she’ll throw herself into graduate-level classes (even though she already has TWO masters degrees) to ensure she does the best possible job.  A trip to the wine store is always accompanied by a well-researched list and notes.

So in moving to a new continent and into myriad new food cultures, my indomitable mother took it all on.  She experimented until she could reproduce her and my father’s favorite dishes from home, inventing plenty of her own along the way.  But she also dove into learning America’s food culture—woman makes mean spaghetti & meatballs, squash casserole, and this shrimp creole.

Growing up, we ate this every New Year’s Day, so I’m actually running about a week late in posting it.  The bright side, though, is that while this dish is warm, homey, and comforting, it’s actually not so bad for you, so if you’re experiencing post-holiday-food-and-drink-consumption-guilt (I know I am), you can still fit this on your January meal plan.

Up until a few months ago, I had only ever eaten this dish over wild rice, and for good reason—it’s yummy that way.  But when I had some leftovers hanging out in my fridge and no wild rice in my pantry, inspiration struck.  I did have polenta, and topping it with this creole made for one of the best plays on shrimp & grits I’ve ever experienced.

My mom taught me pretty much everything I know about food, passing on her passion for collecting cookbooks, stocking the fridge with a million condiments, and clipping recipes for an ever-expanding file.  Though she makes fun of me now for going through “so much trouble” to try strange or elaborate dishes, she’s the one who once made her own pomegranate liquor, so I don’t think she has much room to talk.

Love you, Amma.  Lots & pots.

SHRIMP CREOLE

Like most dishes that originate from my mother’s kitchen, this one’s not fond of exact measurements.  I’ve done my best to accurately capture the method & flavor here, but this recipe is designed for tinkering.  Fiddle away—it’s still bound to taste good!

This concoction is best made ahead, and therefore is conducive to dinner guests.  Just be sure to reheat the sauce separate from the shrimp, adding them at the end so they don’t get rubbery.

1 ½ – 2 lb. shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/3 cup ketchup
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T garlic powder
1 tsp. (½ if you’re heat-shy) Tabasco sauce

Gently mix the above together.  Stash in a non-metal bowl in the refrigerator while you prep the vegetables or for up to two hours.

2 medium yellow onions
2 green bell peppers
4 ribs celery
— (fun fact: the above three items are considered “the trinity” of Cajun cooking, a riff on French cuisine’s mirepoix of onion, celery, & carrot)–
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (14 oz.) cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 small can diced tomatoes with green chiles
2-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock, for thinning*
1 tsp. oregano
olive oil
salt & pepper

Peel & dice the onions, seed & dice the peppers, trim the ends off of & dice the celery.  You want everything to be about the same size—I like ½ inch cubes.

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven, pour in a generous swirl of olive oil and bring up to medium-high heat.  Cook the shrimp (in batches if necessary) until pink, just a few minutes on each side.  Remove shrimp to a bowl but don’t clean out the pot.

Toss in the onions and garlic first.  When they begin to sweat, add the bell peppers.  Celery comes last.  Once all of the vegetables have cooked, add the tomatoes & oregano.  Thin with your desired amount of stock and let simmer at least thirty minutes, but up to a few hours.

At this point, I like to taste the base and will probably toss in some extra Tabasco & Worcestershire sauce, plus salt if it’s needed and lots of pepper.  Once things are tasting dee-li-cious, add the shrimp and any accumulated juices back in.  Turn off the stove at this point–the creole should be hot enough to re-warm the shrimp without any added heat.

Serve over wild or white rice, polenta or grits, even pasta.

*I like my version of this dish to be quite chunky, while others prefer a thinner sauce.

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MARINATED SALAD

I can’t take any credit for this recipe. All of it goes to Veena.

marinated salad top view

This is one of those dishes that acquires a following, the kind that makes people come back for seconds and beg a recipe card, the kind they start making themselves and hooking others onto. Like those charts they showed us in high school about how quickly & widely an STD can spread, only far less terrifying.

There’s nothing unlikeable about this dish (I know, Emma, I can hear you protesting—go ahead and leave out the capers, okay?)

a) You can make it ahead of time, in fact, in tastes much, much better that way.

b) It lasts an incredibly long time in the fridge.

c) Works equally well in all seasons.

d) Is dirt cheap.

e) OH YEAH, it’s also crazy-delicious & good for you.

I’ve served this alongside sandwiches and burgers, in the midst of a potluck spread, with pita & hummus, as an easy dinner-party vegetable. I bring it to work on a regular basis because it keeps so darn long and goes with almost anything else I decide on for lunch. This salad is also a great choice to make for a family who is grieving, just had a baby, or is in a similar state of overwhelm—you can provide a healthier counterpoint to the usually carb-and-cheese-laden dishes that tend to be delivered in such circumstances.

My mom’s been making this salad for as long as I can remember; the tradition in our family evolved such that we always had it on New Year’s Day, along with the equally famous shrimp creole (that’s coming this winter, ya’ll, don’t worry) & wild rice. Marinated salad works wonderfully alongside this main course, but also serves another purpose; allowing everyone to fulfill their black-eyed pea quotient in a tasty way.

If you are not familiar with the food commandments down here below the Mason-Dixon line, one very strong and non-negotiable one is that you must eat black eyed peas on the first day of the new year, or face twelve months of bad luck. For kids who were tortured by the taste, the compromise became one bean per month, but I’m pretty sure with this dish, you and/or your kids won’t have any trouble eating more than twelve peas.

MOM’S MARINATED SALAD

This is dead easy to make, I promise you can’t mess it up. Feel free to substitute fresh herbs for the dried or dried beans for the canned. You can also used canned corn instead of fresh, but since corn on the cob is so plentiful, cheap, & delicious right now, I recommend you go that route.

Any combination of beans will work, so throw in what you have on hand (cannelini beans are nice, as are pintos). Make sure not to use any with added salt or flavor. If you normally object to red onion, I heartily encourage you to try it here—the vinegar will cut much of the bite, and it just looks so much prettier than white or yellow would.

ingredients: marinated salad

1 can each:

dark red kidney beans

garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas)

black eyed peas

green beans*

2 ears’ worth of fresh corn kernels corn

1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped

Drain the beans in a large colander & rinse. Transfer to a sizeable bowl, then add corn and artichoke hearts.  Heat the following in a small saucepan:

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

Once the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture boils, remove from heat.

Stir in:

½ red onion, very thinly sliced

2 T capers

1 T dried parsley

1 T garlic powder (less if you aren’t a garlic fan)

1 tsp. chives, minced salt & pepper (be generous!)

Let the vinegar mixture sit for about 5 minutes, then pour over the vegetables. Mix thoroughly and then drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. For the best taste, allow to sit on room temperature for 1 hour before serving or storing in the fridge for future use.

*If you want to use fresh green beans, you’ll need to blanch them first.

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ARE YOU READY FOR MOTHER’S DAY?

It’s getting down to the wire, huh, folks?

Should you be in need of some inspiration, here are a few non-floral suggestions culled from the world-wide-web. Rush shipping is available from the bigger retailers, and there’s always the “better-late-than-never” approach (if your mom is flexible like that).

If you need to present something in person on Sunday, I recommend heading to your local art museum and checking out the gift store. I’ve found that they are often really great resources for lovely, unusual gifts.

AND, if all else fails…cook something delicious for the woman who birthed you! Check back tomorrow for an easy-to-assemble Mother’s Day breakfast/brunch menu.

GIFT IDEAS:

tender hooks

For new moms, I strongly recommend Beth Ann Fennelly’s poetry collection, Tender Hooks. Written after the birth of her daughter, Fennelly’s poems are honest and touching but not overly sentimental. I bought this for my dear friend Katherine following the birth of her twins, and knew it was a good choice when she ordered six copies to send to all of her new-mom friends.

For mothers-in-law, check out The Body Shop’s Wise Woman skincare line. It’s been written up in a bunch of glamorous magazines, but more importantly, the 40-something and 50-something woman I’ve gifted these products to, swear by them (especially the Intensive Firming Mask!)

body butterFor pregnant ladies, I’ll endorse The Body Shop again, this time for their body butter. All kinds of good smells (or go with scent-free Vitamin E for women with sensitive skin), plus intense moisturization that helps prevent belly stretch marks. Throw in some bubble bath or shower gel for a nice package, or even a gift card so she can indulge. lemon platter

For kitchen goddesses, browse the Mother’s Day section of Sur la Table. I’m a big fan of this knife (comes with a free bamboo cutting board!), these beautiful, Italian baking dishes, this lovely lemon platter, & the fire-engine-red Cuisinart ice cream maker (which is on sale!)

bird spoons

For the quirky mom who has it all, check out The Spoon Sisters. They carry a random assortment of items, but there are gems to be found, the kind of items that make you think–hey, I know someone who needs that! Like the sky umbrella, the heart paper clips, the designer duct tape (I’m so not making this up), or these totally gorgeous bird-topped measuring spoons.

Last but not least, consider making a donation to a worthy organization in honor of your mom, aunt, grandmother, wife, step-mom, etc. Charitable contributions are often the first thing to be cut during “tough economic times” such as these, and of course we all know that they are needed now more than ever.

heifer There are many worthy causes out there, but may I humbly suggest Heifer International? Your donation will provide a worthy family with an animal (hive of bees, gaggle of geese, pair of goats) that can be used for food and profit. When the animals produce offspring, the recipient family “passes the gift” to another family in the community. Make a donation and design your own e-card to inform your mom that you’ve given in her honor to such a cool cause.

Anybody else have last-minute gift ideas to share?  Or plan-ahead ideas for next year?

BLUE JEAN GOURMET IS BORN!

Salud! L’Chaim! Cheers!  cheers-bright-light1

Welcome, welcome, welcome—whether you are an avid foodie, beginning cook, food-blog enthusiast, or just here for the pretty pictures, I hope you’ll find Blue Jean Gourmet to be a fun, un-intimidating resource for really good food and straightforward kitchen advice.  Please make yourself at home.

We’re launching today on Cinco de Mayo–I can’t think of a better occasion!  What other holiday gives me an excuse (not like I need one) to whip up a batch of guacamole and a blender-full of margaritas?  I’m so excited to share these two recipes with you as they are the perfect encapsulation of what the Blue Jean Gourmet philosophy is all about: really good food does not have to be really fussy.  Both of these recipes are a cinch to make with quality ingredients and a little practice.  Sure, pre-prepared guacamole and bottled margarita mix are readily available, but neither can hold a candle to their homemade counterparts.   You’ll wow everyone (including yourself) and never go back to the packaged stuff.

I also love these recipes because they literally tell the story of how I ended up here in the first place.  You see, long ago my newlywed parents worked at a Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee.  My father was the manager, my mom a bartender–I really love the fact that my Indian immigrant mother used to tend bar in a Mexican restaurant in the deep South–only in America, right?

Mom’s good looks earned her many tips and opportunities to hone her margarita-making skills, and my father continued to work for Pancho’s for many years, cementing my family’s love affair with all things Tex-Mex.  When I make my own version of these recipes now, I feel I have earned my place in my family’s rich, weird culinary history.

Since Blue Jean Gourmet is just now making its way into the web-world, please check back periodically for added features and new posts.  You can also follow BJG on Twitter, become a BJG fan on Facebook, or use good-old-fashioned email to contact the Blue Jean Gourmet herself (that’s me!): bluejeangourmet (at) gmail (dot) com.  I’d love to have your thoughts and feedback: is there a food item you would like to see featured?  Cooking technique you want to master?  Let me know and I will do my best to help you out.

In the meantime, invite some friends over and give these recipes a whirl.  You can make Cinco de Mayo last all week!

MEMPHIS MARGARITAS

a well-stocked liquor cabinet

Makes 4 generous servings, doubles well!

8 oz (1 cup) fresh-squeezed lime juice (trust me, it’s worth the trouble)
juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup tequila (the better the quality, the better the margarita)
1/4 cup Cointreau or other orange liquor (Triple Sec, Grand Marnier)
2 T Minute Maid frozen limeade (more if you prefer a sweeter drink)*

Frozen margaritas–Fill a blender with 3 cups of ice.  Pour in liquid ingredients; blend, serve.
Margaritas on the rocks–Stir liquid ingredients together in a pitcher; serve over ice.
To salt glasses–Rub the rim of an empty glass with a lime wedge.  Pour 2 T kosher salt (looks pretty, but regular will do just fine) onto a small plate.  Turn glass upside down and, using a rocking motion, dip the rim in salt, rotating to coat the entire rim.

margarita-solo-avec-lime3

IT’S HANDY: Leftover margarita mix keeps perfectly well in a tightly-sealed jar in the fridge.  Cocktails at a moment’s notice!

* This is my mom’s genius secret ingredient–it’s cheap, keeps forever in the fridge, & saves you from having to make simple syrup.

GUACAMOLE

3 ripe avocados*
juice of 1 limeguacamole-serving-bowl
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic (less if you aren’t a fanatic like me)
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp jalapeño, finely chopped (optional)
salt
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

First, sprinkle the garlic with a generous pinch of salt.  Using a knife with a wide blade, chop the garlic with the salt at an angle, making a kind of paste–mince the garlic, then smush it with the back of the knife, go back to mincing, etc.

Transfer the garlic/salt paste to a bowl with the onion, jalapeño (if using), and lime juice.  Muddle these ingredients together with a fork.  Next, halve the avocados, removing the seeds and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.  Add the avocados to the lime juice mixture and smash the halves with the back of a fork until the desired texture is reached (I like mine a little chunky).

Unless you are one of those people who think cilantro tastes like soap (and if you are, I feel sad for you), garnish with the chopped cilantro, stirring a bit of it into the mix.   Serve with blue or white corn tortilla chips.

* Okay, avocados.  Sometimes people are intimidated by them, but there’s no need!  I can offer two tricks:
1) Only buy the little, dark, bumpy Haas avocados, if you can get them.  You want fruit that gives a bit when you give it a squeeze–no mushy spots!

2) Ripen them at home on the counter using a paper bag & an apple or a banana.  Apparently, apples and bananas naturally give off gasses which conveniently help avocados to ripen.  I promise, this trick works.  Enjoy!

chips-margaritas2