Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eternal Optimist

It seems to me that one has to be, at heart, somewhat of an optimist to cook.

Whether you believe in some larger picture of the universe, or some particular religion, or are simply wallowing along in your own happy bubble, transforming raw ingredients into something more substantial requires a fundamental belief in the idea that the reward will exceed the time and effort put into the cooking.

You consider all the demands placed on the proposed dish – low fat, something new and exciting, use up that stuff in the back of the fridge, it’s a school night and everyone has to get to bed early, clothes are not fitting so well anymore, etc..

You consider the choices – seasonal produce, amount of gas left in the car, anticipated trade off between criticism and complements from different family members based on final dish prepared, the thought of having to eat rice / potatoes / pasta / whatever for the third night in a row.

You look at the alternatives – watch Monday Night Football and try to shut out the moans and whining of the starving family, make what ever you really want and try to shut out the moans and whining of the unhappy family, skip out to the nearest bar for a few weeks and try to shut out the moans and whining of the ex-family in divorce court.

In the end, you chose a path that more or less resolves all these conflicting issues. A choice that likely reflects a somewhat balanced compromise. A choice fraught with a huge logic-defying dose of optimism.

So it was. A simple weeknight. The demands already registered. A survey of the refrigerator contents already done. An agonizing resolution of the Monday Night Football dilemma more or less achieved (turns out the game was not that great).

My goal was to use up the tomatillos. And keep the dinner simple – both in execution and in clean-up. And mollify the conflicting fractions as best I could.

Solution: tostadas on whole wheat tortillas, brown rice, and fresh salsa verde. TeenBoy is happy about the Mexican food and rice, even if brown and whole wheat. TeenGirl is happy that this is basically a salad, is fairly low fat, and is all whole grain. I am initially happy in my delusion that this will be easy in both preparation and in clean-up. Optimism reigns supreme.

And, actually, each individual component of the tostada was easy. Tomatillo salsa does not take a long time. Home made refried beans are also easy, if time consuming. And taco-style ground turkey is done in no time. Chop some avocados, lettuce, cheese, and it’s go time.

But, as the evening unfolded, my optimism was put under steady and withering attack. The usual barrage of teen issues, homework (Is it done? All of it? Really done? Or just half done like last time?, etc), innocent comments misinterpreted (requiring protracted explanations of the obvious), dog behaving badly, and so on. My easy little dinner was under full attack, and with three pans plus the oven going and two chopping boards in use, optimism was fading as fast as dishes were piling up.

In the end, watching the tostadas being inhaled with frightening speed, faster than the taste sensation could possibly travel from the tongue to the brain, and surveying the looming clean-up effort in the kitchen, I think I could have just as easily tossed the entire pile of ingredients in the blender and microwaved the result. This could have then been super-injected into the teen mouths at an even faster pace, with a lot less mess to clean up.

But I did get complements from all sides. Except from the dish washing crew. The complements were not specific, as I do not think taste or visual appeal registered in the feeding frenzy, but it was enough to rekindle the almost extinguished spark of optimism for yet another day.

Tostadas with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

3 pounds of ground turkey
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp tomato paste
Generous amounts of: chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, onion powder, dried oregano (season based on your personal tastes)
2-3 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
12 whole wheat tortillas
Three 15 ounce cans of black beans
2 dried ancho or New Mexico chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut in half
6 cloves garlic, peeled, left whole
1 bunch cilantro
1 jalapeno chili pepper, chopped roughly, including seeds
juice of one lime
1-2 tsp salt
2-3 cups romaine lettuce, sliced thinly
1 ripe avocado, cut in half, pit removed, peeled, and flesh cut into this slices
2 cups Monterey jack or cheddar cheese, grated
Brown rice as an accompaniment

In a large skillet, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil until soft. Add the garlic, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ground turkey. Increase heat to high. Sautee turkey, breaking up clumps, until most of the pink is gone. Reduce heat to medium. Add the tomato paste, and all the spices (I add a lot of chili powder and cumin, some like less). If necessary, add a little water. The meat should have a thick sauce, not be watery. Sautee the meat mixture, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover, and reserve.

Place 2/3 of the beans and their liquid, the dried chili peppers, and the minced garlic in a heavy pot over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid, and place in a food processor, removing the dried chilies, and puree. Add some of the liquid as necessary. Place the pureed beans back in the pot. Add the remaining beans. Bring the mixture to a boil, adding additional liquid if it is too dry. Reduce the heat to low, and cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until thick. Turn off heat and reserve.

Line a heavy skillet with tine foil, and heat over high heat. When hot, place the tomatillos, cut side down, one the tine foil (do this in two batches to avoid crowding). Place the whole garlic on the tin foil as well. Roast the tomatillos and garlic for 5-6 minutes, until well browned. Turn the pieces over, and roast on the other side for an additional 3-4 minutes, until the tomatillos are well softened. Remove them to a plate to cool. Transfer the tomatillos and garlic to a food processor. Add the cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and salt, and either pulse (for chunky salsa) or puree. Reserve.

Heat tortillas in a dry skillet over high heat, one at a time, on both sides until crisp.

To assemble, place two tortillas on each plate. Spread some of the bean mixture over the tortillas. Scoop some of the meat mixture over the beans. Spoon some salsa verde over the meat. Top with avocado slices, shredded lettuce and grated cheese.

Serve with additional salsa verde and brown rice on the side. Enjoy!

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Blogger chrispy said...

yummy looking post. now i am kicking myself for letting the tomatillos go bad this summer. Oh well I will just have to troop over to the Mexican section and grab some from the market.

3:26 PM  

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